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Bird watching in Montana


Big Sky Country lacks not for fly space, and from its glacier-carved canyons and rolling hills to its open fields and meandering rivers the state supports a range of bird species that befits its ecological diversity.

Even close to the state’s larger cities like Billings or Bozeman it’s possible to enjoy a peaceful day of bird watching with minimal effort thanks to the proximity of both urban parks and protected wildlife areas. In Montana generally, camping and hiking are both popular activities, and dovetail nicely with birding along the Bitterroot Bird and Nature Trail for one, or a scenic detour through Glacier National Park for another. Also of interest is the area around Fort Peck in the northeastern corner of the state, where seabirds and songbirds from both the East and the West converge in season, making for unique hybrid sightings and exceptional bird variety.

Parks around Bozeman offer an easy glimpse of the region’s bird life, from Sharp-shinned Hawks and Bohemian Waxwings to Calliope Hummingbirds, Yellow Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and even the occasional Great Gray Owl. Habitats vary, from the foothill transition zones of Kirk Hill to riparian areas in East Gallatin Recreation Area. Try the Sourdough Nature Trail, which follows the Bozeman Creek through deciduous habitat, for migratory passerine sightings in season.

Glacier National Park:
Home to more than 260 bird species, Glacier National Park offers the bird watcher both splendid scenery and plenty of sightings. Watch for Harlequin Ducks, the American Dipper and swifts at lower elevations, White-tailed Ptarmigans, Timberline Sparrows, Rosy finches and noisy Clark’s Nutcrackers in the alpine tundra.

Missoula Valley:
This glacier-carved valley is a mix of environments, from wetland ponds to pine forests, riverside habitats and cottonwood-shaded islands to areas shaped by wildfires. Local nature trails offer ready access to the region where alert bird watchers may glimpse the Black-backed Woodpecker, Great Blue Heron, Willow Flycatcher, Barrow’s Goldeneye and other winged creatures.

The Bitterroot Birding and Nature Trail encompasses an expansive area to the south of Missoula, with a short branch running west to Lolo Pass. Collectively, the trail takes in wildlife refuges, parks, alpine wilderness, forests, open fields and assorted lakes and creeks. Campgrounds and hiking trails along the way offer convenient entry into this stretch of glacier-carved country, where one can species like the Clark’s Nutcracker, Western Tanager, Great Blue Heron, Catbird, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler and in Blodgett Canyon, Peregrine Falcon or White-throated Swift.

Fort Peck Campground and Interpretive Center:
East meets West at the Missouri River here, where gulls from both the Atlantic and Pacific rest over in winter. Look also for unique hybrid birds (like a mix between the Bullock’s, Orchard or Baltimore Oriole), and a variety of songbirds from both sides of the country bound north in spring and south in winter. Keep an eye out also for Bald Eagles and hawks.

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