Sacajawea Audubon

Recent Bird Sightings – Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl - photo by L. Harris

This small, ground-dwelling, diurnal owl with it's long legs is nearly unmistakable when seen in the field.  Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) most often use burrows for nesting dug by other animals, such as badgers, marmots, prairie dogs, skunks and ground squirrels.  They will often line the burrow entrance and nest cavity with dried livestock manure which serves as bedding for their eggs and chicks.  This is known to attract insect prey and signal occupancy to other owls.   They primarily feed on insects and small mammals.  They hunt insects by walking, running or hopping along the ground, or by fly-catching from a perch.  Prey is caught by the feet, then transferred to their beak for carrying.  Burrowing Owls will migrate south beginning in late August, and primarily winter in the southwestern United States.


May 26th Field Trip Report – E. Gallatin Recreation Area

John Parker, Doug Smith & Tim Preso scan for warblers.

Not to be deterred by cold, wet weather, three birders joined John Parker on his Saturday morning field trip  on May 26th. The original destination of Mount Ellis was changed to the East Gallatin Recreation Area due to snow and windy conditions. It was definitely the right decision. Despite temperatures ranging from 31 - 37 degrees, a total of 53 species were found, including a breeding male Chestnut-sided Warbler.  But the bird of the day was a male Black-throated Gray Warbler, only the 11th record for the state. The Black-throated Gray eluded the group for some time, hearing it sing for over an hour, hidden deep in thick vegetation, then finally getting a couple of short diagnostic looks.  Among the other bird species seen were: Western Grebe, Wilson's Snipe, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Least Flycatcher, Gray Catbird, Swainson's Thrush & Evening Grosbeak. There were also four swallow species feeding over the water at Glen Lake, including Violet-green, Tree, Northern Rough-winged, and Bank Swallows.


Fish Hatchery Field Trip Report – May 19th

Gray Catbird

The May 19th field trip to the Fish Hatchery and Drinking Horse Mountain started out quite chilly at 34 degrees, but that didn't deter the four participants or leader Lou Ann Harris.  Birds were quite active despite the cold.  We had great looks at a female Red-naped Sapsucker as she excavated a nest cavity, while a male Ruffed Grouse drummed not far away. Singing Gray Catbirds seemed to pop up everywhere, as did Yellow Warblers.  One of the best birds of the morning was a male Calliope Hummingbird.  Thanks to Norm Bishop's handy scope, everyone had excellent looks at North America's smallest hummer.  Several sparrow species were noted, including Chipping, Lincoln's and Song Sparrows, as well as a singing Spotted Towhee.  By the time the group disbanded around 11 a.m., the temperature had risen to a more comfortable level, and a great time was had by all.


Recent Sightings – February

Great-tailed Grackle (Photo by Nate Kohler)


A large blackbird has been causing quite a stir among the Montana birding community.  First sighted Feb. 2nd, this Great-tailed Grackle has been frequenting a local Mexican fast-food establishment over the past 2 weeks.  More likely to be seen in Texas or Arizona than Bozeman, this grackle is only the 3rd reported sighting in the state.  What would bring such a bird to Montana in February?  Well, the Great-tailed Grackle, once rarely seen north of Mexico, has seen a rapid expansion of its North American range.  By the end of the 20th century, it had nested in at least 14 states and was reported in 21 states and 3 Canadian provinces.  This coincided with habitat changes such as irrigation and urbanization.

The male is glossy black with purple iridescence, a long keel-shaped tail, large bill and yellow eyes.  In its normal inland habitat, it forages in open grasslands, pastures and lawns.  It has adapted to find food in dumpsters, lawns and trees in urban areas.  The grackle's diet includes insects, small vertebrates, plant matter and garbage.  Thanks to Nate Kohler for providing us with a great photo!


Recent Sightings – January 2012

Gyrfalcon - Photo by Lou Ann Harris

This adult Gyrfalcon was spotted recently in the Gallatin Valley.  A relatively rare winter visitor to Montana, Gyrs are the most northern diurnal raptor.  They inhabit circumpolar arctic and subarctic regions, but some birds will move south during fall and winter.  The Gyrfalcon is our largest falcon, and extremely variable in plumage, ranging from nearly pure white to almost uniform dark gray-brown.  The most common coloration we see in North America is an intermediate "gray" plumage.  It primarily feeds on birds, mostly ptarmigan in the far north, but also will take passerines, seabirds, shorebirds, waterfowl and some mammals such as hares.

Gyrfalcons show pronounced reverse sexual size dimorphism, with males weighing 65% less than females.

This particular bird seemed unfazed by interstate traffic, ambulance sirens and a passing train.


2011 Christmas Bird Count Reports

Photo by Ed Harper

Ennis Christmas Bird Count Smashes Previous Record

On Wednesday Dec 14, 2011 twenty-six intrepid souls gathered at Yesterday's Cafe prior to scouring the countryside for the  Ennis CBC.  The participants came from Ennis, Stevensville, Helena, Livingston, Deer Lodge, Sacramento and Bozeman.  The Ennis CBC was established in 1958 by Dr P. D. Skaar and, as luck would have it, his son Don was on hand to contribute to this year's stunning new record high count of 73 species.  Ed Harper was around way back in 1977 when an earlier record of 55 species was set and was also on hand for last year's new high count of 61.

Among the celebrated highlights of the count were Northern Goshawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Virginia Rail, Northern Pygmy Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker (2), Marsh Wren, Gray Catbird, Western Meadowlark and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.  In addition, a Blue Jay and 6 Evening Grosbeaks were seen today for count week.  But the bird of the count was certainly the Barn Owl that Ed Harper observed and photographed.  Clearly the CBC gods were smiling on Ennis on this December 14, 2011, the first day of the Christmas Bird Count season.  To read a recent article about the Ennis count in The Madisonian newspaper go here:

Photo by Ed Harper

Warm Temps and New Species Highlight Bozeman CBC

The Bozeman CBC was held Saturday December 17th, with near ideal conditions, sunny skies, calm, with highs in the forties. Thirty-nine participants from around Gallatin Valley covered 13 different routes within the Bozeman count circle.   A total of 59 species were seen this year, including three new species:  Snow Goose (8), Ross' Goose and Hermit Thrush.  Other unusual birds for the Bozeman count included Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Coot, Marsh Wren (only the second time on the count, with 4 wrens seen at two locations) and White-throated Sparrow. Also, there were lots of Bohemian Waxwings, and record numbers of Cedar Waxwings.  Because of an extra effort to cover the foothills of Gallatin Valley, there were new high counts of Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee and Townsend's Solitaire.

An extra special "thank you" goes out to Jean Perkins, who has hosted our after count gathering for many years.  She greets each person at the front door with a mug of hot cider and a smile, and of course, we all look forward to her delicious cookies!  Thank you, Jean!

Jean greets Joel Evers with a cup of cider.

The Keefer daughters select their cookie.

Ed Harper about to sample one of Jean's cookies.



The thirtieth Three Forks CBC took place on December 26.  Weather was pleasant and mild, with temperatures ranging from 25-39 degrees.  The wind came up later in the day, but probably did not exceed 10 mph.

Twenty observers participated, and recorded 6,568 individual birds of 59 species, not a record, but still a very impressive count.

Three species new to the Three Forks count were recorded, including one Sora, one American Dipper, and 3 Chipping Sparrows.  A high count was recorded for 8 species, including Trumpeter Swan (30), Canada Goose (1971), Sharp-shinned Hawk (4),Prairie Falcon (6), Eurasian Collared Dove (273), Black-billed Magpie (343), Canyon Wren (2), and Lapland Longspur (200).

Virginia Rail

Following the count, the group gathered at Joan Ryshavy's house to consolidate totals from the various teams.  Joan hosted the group for chili and crackers.  Thanks, Joan!



Birdathon Surprise

Photo by Ed Harper









This little gem of a warbler was seen Sunday at Sourdough Nature Trail by "The Lonesome Doves" Birdathon team.  The Northern Parula has been seen less than 20 times in Montana, so it was quite a surprise!  One of North America's smallest wood-warblers, the Northern Parula is more likely to be found in the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada from Manitoba to the Maritime Provinces.



The Skinny on the Saw-whet

Photo by Sami Swisher

















These two juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owls were seen recently south of Bozeman.  Saw-whets are secondary-cavity nesters, using previously excavated cavities of the Northern Flicker, but will also use nest boxes.  They lay their eggs (3 to 7) directly on whatever debris has been left behind.  The female incubates the eggs for 27-29 days.   The male provides all the food for the female and young, until the female leaves the nest.  The female broods the young until the youngest nestling is 18 days old, then she roosts elsewhere.  After the young fledge (leave the nest), they remain together outside the nest, continued to be fed by the male, and sometimes the female as well, for at least one month.  Fledglings can fly immediately after leaving the nest, unlike many other owl species, which can only glide and clamber at that stage.  Juvenile Saw-whet Owls become independent within 6 to 8 weeks of fledging.

Saw-whets hunt almost entirely at night, from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise.  They hunt from a low perch in forest openings.  Their prey, primarily mice and voles, are detected by their excellent hearing and low-light vision.  Food not eaten is often stored on branches.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is one of our smallest owls, measuring about 8 inches in length and weighing 2.5 to 3 ounces.




Recent Bird Sightings Around Bozeman

Photo by Johnny

This adult Sandhill Crane was seen recently near Bozeman, sitting on its nest.  Sandhill Cranes usually lay 2 variably colored, subelliptical eggs.  Both parents will incubate the eggs during the day, with the female only at night.  Hatching takes place after 28-36 days.  The chicks are precocial, mobile, and covered with down at hatching.  They leave the nest within hours of hatching and follow their parents on foot.  Both the male and female feed their young, which fledge at around 50 days to 18 weeks.  The young cranes will stay with their parents in a family group until the end of their first spring, and rely on them to teach them the route to their wintering grounds.

Sandhills are monogamous and pairs mate for life.  During courtship, they perform "dancing" displays.

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