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Waterfowl Migration Update

WATCH: What to Expect and How to Prepare for Your Visit. Middle Creek’s manager explains the variety of ways to safely view snow geese during the 2021 migration.

Migration Magic—A Story Map: Your one-stop shop for information on Middle Creek then and now, snow goose natural history and migration, breeding and wintering grounds, and visiting Middle Creek.

Printable Map and Viewing Tips (PDF)

What wildlife is enjoying the lake? This livestream from Willow Point at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County is brought to you by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and HDOnTap. The best times to view snow geese on the lake are sunrise (before they leave to feed in neighboring fields) and sunset (as they return from feeding to roost). Other species of waterfowl including tundra swans, Canada geese, and many species of ducks can be viewed throughout the day. Learn more about the snow geese migration at Middle Creek in this webinar. Enjoy! And remember, nature can be difficult to watch.

View periodic estimates of the numbers of various waterfowl visiting and annual summaries below the live feed.

Middle Creek livestream

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. These updates are submitted by Lauren Ferreri, Middle Creek manager.

January 25, 2021

Today is the first official migration update for 2021. Middle Creek staff looks forward to sharing our observations with you as the migration season continues. While the last year has certainly been challenging and different, the snow geese and other waterfowl that call Middle Creek home at this time of year didn’t get the memo as they have been continuing their migration on schedule.

While most of Middle Creek Lake is frozen, snow geese, tundra swans, Canada geese, and a variety of duck species are still utilizing the lake as an overnight roost. Currently, Middle Creek and the surrounding landscape is free from snow offering waste grains for waterfowl to feed on during the day. With snow and icy precipitation in the forecast, followed by sub-freezing temperatures, I expect that the number of waterfowl using the lake will decrease in the next week. But don’t worry – the best is yet to come!

     Snow Geese: 8,000
     Canada Geese: 1,500
     Tundra Swans: 500

Are you planning a visit to Middle Creek this year? Please take a look at the additional content located on this page to make sure you are prepared for your visit. While Middle Creek welcomes visitors during the 2021 migration season, there are a few changes to be aware of, mainly that the Visitors Center (including the restrooms) will remain closed this¬ year. Check out the “What to Expect and How to Prepare for Your Visit" video and the map and viewing tips to see where alternative restroom facilities and informational kiosks are located.


2020 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
      Snow geese: 125,000 on 02/18/20
      Tundra swans: 3,000 on 02/07/20
      Canada geese: 3,000 on 02/03/20   

2019 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
      Snow geese: 150,000 on 03/12/19
      Tundra swans: 5,000 on 03/04/19
      Canada geese: 3,000 on 03/04/19   

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.

Middle Creek