Many of the species found in the region migrate thousands of miles each year, connecting this conservation effort to a vast array of important bird habitats around the world.
Birds of Prey
Birds of prey, or raptors, are keen hunters that are highly adept at spotting and capturing their meals. A group that includes eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons, these meat-eaters are exciting to watch on the prairie, a place where their hunting prowess is always on display. The prairie is home to more than two dozen species of raptors, including imperiled and rare species such as Burrowing and Snowy Owls, Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawks, Prairie and Peregrine Falcons, and Northern Harriers.
Upland Game Birds
Upland game birds on the prairie include Gray Partridge, Greater Sage Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasant, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and Wild Turkey. Late spring and early summer are ideal times to catch both species of grouse in action as they gather in concentrated areas, called leks, for elaborate mating dances. In the fall, the public can take advantage of the American Prairie’s enrollment in Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Block Management program, which provides sportsmen with access to private lands to hunt.
Situated on the edge of the prairie pothole region, the American Prairie landscape is dotted with ponds, streams, and wetlands that provide waterfowl with crucial seasonal habitat. Ducks, geese, and swans make up the order of birds called Anseriformes, and American Prairie is home to 27 species of waterfowl according to the most recent surveys. Birders should be on the lookout for rare species including Barrow’s Goldeneye, Cinnamon Teal, Hooded Merganser, Tundra Swan, and Wood Duck.
Shorebirds & Wading Birds
Those unfamiliar with the grassland birds of the northern plains might be surprised to learn that almost a quarter of the species found on American Prairie are classified as shorebirds and wading birds. This group consists of a wide range of water-dependent birds such as herons, egrets, pelicans, sandpipers, and plovers, many of which travel exceptional distances to spend part of their life cycled on the prairie.
Perching Birds, Kingfishers & Woodpeckers
Perching birds, or Passeriformes, make up the largest group of birds on the prairie and in the bird kingdom. Combined with Kingfishers and Woodpeckers, orders Coraciiformes and Piciformes respectively, these species add vibrancy and a symphony of songs to the grassland ecosystem. Because of their size and abundance, bird watchers find an enticing challenge in identifying these birds by sight and sound, whether sitting on a grassy hilltop or driving slowly with the windows down.