Idaho & Western Montana
Kate Stone, Regional Report Compiler
The Idaho & Western Montana region boasts a diversity of native plant communities including mixed-grass prairie, montane grassland, dry to mesic conifer forests, aspen groves, cottonwood river bottoms, sagebrush steppe, and deciduous shrublands. Large tracts of agriculture and ranching add to the mix. Though lacking in ocean coastlines, the region contains many lakes, wild rivers, and manmade water features that offer birds habitat and respite. The transition between these natural and manmade habitats is often abrupt, and birders may find themselves moving through a diversity of plant communities within a few miles or just a half day’s birding.
The region has one of the highest proportions of public land in the lower 48; with 60% of Idaho and 30% of Montana in public ownership (over 50 million acres combined), birders can explore and travel in ways difficult to replicate elsewhere. Large wilderness areas, rugged terrain, and low road density mean many areas go under-birded. For birders of an exploratory nature there is much to discover contribute to our collective knowledge of species occurrence and distribution.
We still have much to study and learn about how birds breed, move through, and overwinter in the region, which sits between the Pacific and Central flyways. Luckily, many regional research institutions—including universities, government agencies, and private entities—are making rapid headway on this topic. With several permanent hawkwatch sites, an expanding Motus wildlife tracking array, migratory songbird banding, and research using satellite transmitters and other technology, we know the region represents a crossroads for birds making hemispheric movements. Birders gather to marvel at staging Snow Geese, Tundra and Trumpeter swans, and Sandhill Cranes. Birders routinely find rare birds from both the east and the west during migration.
Breeding-season wonders include everything from Long-billed Curlews to Harlequin Ducks to Black Rosy-Finches. Every year adds additional Trumpeter Swan breeding sites. The region also claims one endemic, Cassia Crossbill. Winter birding offers delights of the conifer forests: seed-eaters like Clark’s Nutcrackers, Red Crossbills, and Pine and Evening grosbeaks, and various chickadee and nuthatch species. The area also plays host to overwintering species from the north, such as Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Snow Bunting, Northern Shrike, and Lapland Longspur. Golden Eagle and Bald Eagle numbers swell during this season.
Like many places, Idaho and western Montana face challenges that affect bird habitat and populations. Largescale habitat alteration from forces including wildfire, climate change, and human population expansion means some birds may experience local and regional population shifts over time. Human communities in the region tend to be outdoor-oriented, conservation-minded, and welcoming of the economic benefit that birding brings to rural areas. All of these qualities bode well for the future of birds in the region.
The ABA gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Idaho & Western Montana Regional Report Compiler Kate Stone to promoting knowledge and understanding about the birdlife of the continent.