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Waterfowl Migration Update

ADVISORY: Please note that these numbers are estimates and subject to rapid and dramatic change. Major weather events including snow and freezing temperatures can quickly impact the number of birds that can be found at Middle Creek. The best times to see Snow Geese on the lake are sunrise (before they leave to feed in neighboring fields) or sunset (as they return from feeding to roost). If you are unable to make it for sunrise/sunset there are still many other species of waterfowl that will be around Middle Creek for you to see including Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, and many species of ducks. These updates are submitted by Lauren Ferreri, Middle Creek manager.  Learn more about the snow geese migration at Middle Creek in this webinar.

2019 Snow Goose Migration Updates 

Friday, February 15:
Waterfowl numbers have not changed much at Middle Creek. There are roughly 7,500 snow geese on the property. With warmer weather, numbers are anticipated to increase. The lake is still mostly frozen and the fields are still covered with snow so the peak for migration will still be a little further in the future.

    • Snow Geese: 7,500
    • Tundra Swans: 600
    • Canada Geese: 2,500

Just as a reminder, the Visitors Center will be closed on Monday for President’s Day.

Monday, February 11:
Snow goose numbers have dropped with snowfall in the area. Tundra swans and Canada geese numbers are holding strong but Snow goose numbers are down. The weather will play a role this week in snow goose migration patterns, but their numbers could pick up later in the week after the current weather system moves through.

    • Snow Geese: 2,500
    • Tundra Swans: 500
    • Canada Geese: 2,500

Friday, February 8:
Groups of birds have started to arrive at Middle Creek. The warm spell we had in the middle of the week allowed the main lake to unfreeze in certain areas and melt most of the snow covering nearby fields. At this point there are roughly 10,000 snow geese. With the forecasted weather to stay above freezing, the bulk of the migration should be starting shortly. Remember, snow goose numbers can change dramatically in hours and the best times to see them at Middle Creek are at dawn and dusk. Today, most of the birds left Middle Creek to feed around 6:45 AM. Other waterfowl species are starting to arrive in masses including many duck species, Canada geese, and Tundra swans.

Monday, February 4:
Due to the majority of the lake being frozen and snow covered fields, there are very few snow geese at Middle Creek currently. Continue to check back as it gets warmer outside. Snow geese need a mostly unfrozen lake and snow free fields to feed. This page will contain updates as numbers shift throughout the migration season.

2018 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
Snow geese: 200,000 on 02/21/18 (largest number on record)
Tundra swans: 5,500 on 02/22/18
Canada geese: 7,500+ on 02/15/18

2017 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
Snow geese: 70,000+ on 02/22/17
Tundra swans: 4,500+ on 02/6/17
Canada geese: 5,000+ on 02/10/17

2016 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
Snow geese: 65,000+ on 02/29/16
Tundra swans: 3,500+ on 02/29/16
Canada geese: several hundred on 02/09/16

MIGRATION BACKGROUND: The period that annually attracts the most birds, and visitors, remains late winter. During this timeframe, large numbers of migrating waterfowl normally appear. In recent years, more than 100,000 snow geese, 10,000 tundra swans, 10,000 Canada geese, and a wide variety of ducks have stopped at Middle Creek while pushing north to their breeding grounds. It's also a great place to see northern harriers, or "marsh hawks," nesting and immature bald eagles, and more common creatures such as white-tailed deer and red-tailed hawks.

There are many variables that determine the arrival of migrating waterfowl. The most significant is icing. When the ice on the main impoundment thaws to create areas of open water, the birds begin to arrive. Snow cover on the surrounding agricultural fields also influences the arrival waterfowl because it can limit access to the waste grains these birds depend on for food. Therefore, areas of open water and limited or no snow cover on adjacent fields strongly influence Middle Creek's drawing and holding power for migrants.

Many of the migrants that come to Middle Creek winter south of Pennsylvania and usually begin to push north in conjunction with spring thaw. During extreme winters with a late thaw, however, there's always a chance waterfowl will fly over Middle Creek, or stop only briefly. Timing is critical for migration and nesting.

Exactly when birds arrive can be difficult to predict. Generally, the birds, when conditions permit, begin to arrive in late February or early March. For those planning a trip to Middle Creek, the first weekend in March would be a good time to visit. A map of the area is available at the Visitors Center, as are the latest updates and bird sightings. Make sure to bring along binoculars, and field guide to help identify some of the birds you'll see. Warm clothes also an important consideration if you plan to drive with your windows open. A camera also is usually worth taking, because sometimes tremendous photo opportunities arise at Middle Creek.

After stopping by the Center, visitors follow the self-guided driving tour to Stop #1, located at the lower end of the lake. This is normally an excellent site to view tundra swans. Another suggestion would be to hike to Willow Point. At dusk or dawn, this provides the best vantage for snow geese. To fully appreciate Middle Creek, a drive through the interior on the Tour Road shouldn't be missed. Weather and driving conditions permitting, the Tour Road will open March 1. A significant portion of the interior remains Propagation Area where entry is prohibited. It is because of the Propagation Area that waterfowl are attracted to Middle Creek. Within these areas, the habitat and lack of human disturbance remain the primary reason why Middle Creek has become such a vital stop to migrating waterfowl.

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