Montana Bird Identification

Montana Bird Identification
A birdwatcher in the state of Montana has as many as 423 separate species of birds that she may encounter, according to the Montana Audubon website. If you were to go into the field with binoculars, a notebook, a reliable field guide and a solid game plan, you would have a good chance at identifying many of these species. Montana is home to diverse ecosystems, such as prairie, forests and mountains. It will help greatly if you have a grasp of what types of birds you can expect to find in each one.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Binoculars notebook and pencil Field guide to Montana bird species Audubon Montana bird species list
  • Binoculars
  • notebook and pencil
  • Field guide to Montana bird species
  • Audubon Montana bird species list
Step 1
Recognize the western meadowlark, Montana's state bird, by its vibrant yellow chest. Notice that the meadowlark has brilliant yellow from the base of its throat to its underparts, with a black "V" beneath its throat. You will often find it perched on fence posts in fields where it sings a very loud song.
Step 2
Realize that Montana has over 30 types of birds of prey. Focus on the tree branches overlooking rivers, ponds and roadsides and look for large birds like the bald eagle and red-tailed hawk sitting and watching for movement below. Identify the osprey by its ability to carry large fish that it dives in the water to catch. The northern harrier will sweep low over the ground and actually listen for small mammals below. The smaller but swifter birds of prey such as the merlin, gyrfalcon and peregrine falcon will catch other birds in flight and possess superior speed in the air.
Step 3
Prepare for the presence of various water birds in Montana's plethora of lakes, rivers and streams. Watch for those that stay on the shores such as killdeer, plovers, sandpipers and curlews. Observe closely for long-legged wading species like the great blue heron, sandhill crane and the very rare whooping crane. Scan the water with your binoculars for birds like geese, ducks, teal, loons, scaup and grebes and note the colors of their feathers, especially on their heads to aid in identification.
Step 4
Remember that Montana has many birds that prefer open grasslands and forest borders such as wild turkeys, ring-necked pheasants, grouse and ptarmigans. The flight of these birds when flushed can frequently give away the identity of the particular species. Your field guides will often describe the flying pattern of these types of birds.
Step 5
Be aware that Montana has over 100 species on its species list that are so infrequently spotted that the state urges bird watchers to file reports on them. These birds include the greater prairie chicken, green heron, wood stork, willow ptarmigan, Arctic tern and yellow-bellied sapsucker. You can access a rare bird report form on the Montana Audubon website and send it to Montana Audubon, P.O. Box 595, Helena, MT 59624 with the details of your find.

Tips & Warnings

Focus on waterways and bodies of waters to find and identify birds in the eastern portion of Montana. This is a drier climate and many types of birds will be near the water.

The Latest from the Community

Nice easy flat trail that leads to beautiful red rocks.
Stunning hike but extremely steep and tiring! Bring plenty of water.