An Illustrated Intro to Montana Birds

"In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence."

Robert Lind

Here in Montana, I have had the pleasure to be surrounded by more wildlife, open spaces, and wilderness than I will probably ever see again elsewhere.  At MSU Bozeman I had the opportunity to take a bird watching class this past summer session. The class was demanding. We met at 6:00 a.m., then drove off around southwest Montana to find the right habitat for different species. I have been snowboarding in Montana for near 20 years now and previously just considered bird sounds ambient background. We were tasked to keep a field notebook as well as journal of all of the birds we encountered each day. Here are some of the birds I listed.  Now not only can I determine a bird species by looking at it, but also I can hear birds in the distance. These birds have now become part of my Montana experience.

Downy Woodpecker

(Picoides pubescens)

Showing a white back, the Downy Woodpecker is similar to the Hairy Woodpecker, the Downy Woodpecker tail feathers sport white spots.  It is seen in suburbs, parklands, orchards, and forests. It is a staple woodpecker of Montana.

Mountain Bluebird

(Sialia Currucoides)

Sky blue from above, pale blue from below, a white underbelly… the blue bird of higher elevations. The only thing that separates this species from the Western Bluebird is the lack of a red-orange flank. It nests in cavities, generally inhabiting elevations above 5,000 feet.

Bullocks Oriole

(Icterus bullockii)

Once considered the same bird as the Baltimore Oriole due to some interbreeding on the Great Plains, the Bullocks Oriole was named recently. Sporting a black head and a magnificently yellow-colored body, this bird stands out in Montana. With a white patch on the wing, this bird truly seems exotic for Montana. 


(Pandion haliaetus)

A large eagle-like raptor with reversible toes, the Osprey is dark from above and white from below.  In flight their long narrow wings are bent back at the wrist. Osprey are formidable predators. Eating mostly fish these birds nest near water atop perches, poles, or trees. 

Black-capped Chickadee

(Poecile atricapillus)

With a tiny plump body the Black-capped Chickadee sports a black head and bib on the front of its body. It has a white belly and a slightly yellowish side and white, black, and gray wings. Inhabiting higher elevations, the Black-capped Chickadee primarily stays in open woodlands and suburbs, found in low branches of trees. 

Red-winged Blackbird

(Agelaius phoeniceus)

Their vivid black and orange is an interesting sight in its usual backdrop of reeds and sticks near a pond or still water. A blackbird in family, the Red-winged blackbird travels in packs during winter. Abundant near marshes, sloughs, and dry fields.

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