Bird Watching in Montana: Your Comprehensive Guide to Top Spots and Species


Welcome to Big Sky Country, where the mountains touch the heavens and the birds soar freely. 

If you’re an avid bird watcher or just starting to dip your toes into the world of ornithology, Montana offers a treasure trove of avian wonders waiting to be discovered. 

In this extensive guide, we’ll take you on a journey through the diverse landscapes of Montana, highlighting the best spots for bird watching and the fascinating species you can encounter along the way.

Why Choose Montana for Bird Watching?

Montana isn’t just another state—it’s a haven for birds and bird enthusiasts alike. With its vast expanses of wilderness, diverse ecosystems, and relatively low human population density, Montana provides the perfect environment for a wide variety of bird species to thrive. 

From the majestic Rocky Mountains to the sweeping prairies, every corner of Montana offers unique opportunities for bird watching.

The Top Bird Watching Spots in Montana

  • Glacier National Park: As one of the crown jewels of the National Park system, Glacier National Park is a paradise for bird watchers. With over 260 bird species recorded within its boundaries, including iconic species like the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon, Glacier offers endless opportunities for birding enthusiasts of all levels.
  • Yellowstone River: Flowing through the heart of Montana, the Yellowstone River is not only the longest undammed river in the contiguous United States but also a haven for birds. From waterfowl like ducks and geese to shorebirds like sandpipers and plovers, the Yellowstone River provides critical habitat for a wide variety of bird species, especially during migration season.
  • Bitterroot Valley: Nestled between the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphire Mountains to the east, the Bitterroot Valley is a bird watcher’s paradise. With its mix of forests, wetlands, and grasslands, the valley is home to an incredible diversity of bird species, including the elusive mountain bluebird, the majestic sandhill crane, and the charming American dipper.
  • Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge: Located in the scenic Bitterroot Valley, the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is a bird watcher’s dream. With over 240 bird species recorded within its boundaries, including rare and endangered species like the trumpeter swan and the bald eagle, the refuge offers unparalleled opportunities for birding year-round.
  • Makoshika State Park: Known for its dramatic badlands landscapes and rich fossil deposits, Makoshika State Park is also a fantastic destination for bird watchers. Keep your eyes peeled for birds of prey like the ferruginous hawk and the golden eagle, as well as songbirds like the western meadowlark and the lark bunting.

Must-See Bird Species in Montana

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides): With its vibrant blue plumage and cheerful song, the mountain bluebird is a symbol of the American West. Found throughout Montana, especially in open grasslands and mountain meadows, the mountain bluebird is a welcome sight for bird watchers of all ages.

American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus): Known for its unique habit of diving into rushing streams in search of aquatic insects, the American dipper is a true Montana icon. Found along fast-flowing rivers and streams in the western part of the state, the American dipper is a fascinating bird to observe in its natural habitat.

Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis): Standing over three feet tall with a wingspan of up to seven feet, the sandhill crane is one of the largest birds in Montana. Known for its distinctive bugling call and graceful courtship dances, the sandhill crane is a sight to behold during the spring and fall migrations.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus): With its striking black-and-white plumage and impressive fishing skills, the osprey is a common sight along rivers and lakes throughout Montana. Watch in awe as these magnificent raptors dive from the sky and emerge from the water with a fish clasped in their talons.

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana): With its bright yellow body and black wings, the western tanager is a strikingly beautiful bird that can be found in forests and woodlands throughout Montana. Listen for its distinctive song, which sounds like a hoarse robin, as you explore the state’s scenic trails.

Tips for Successful Bird Watching in Montana

Plan Ahead: Before heading out on your birding adventure, do some research on the best birding spots in Montana and the species you’re likely to encounter. Consider investing in a field guide or downloading a birding app to help you identify birds in the field.

Dress Appropriately: Montana’s weather can be unpredictable, so be sure to dress in layers and wear sturdy footwear. A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are also essential for protecting yourself from the sun’s rays.

Bring Binoculars and a Field Guide: A good pair of binoculars and a field guide are essential tools for any bird watcher. Look for binoculars with a wide field of view and good low-light performance, and choose a field guide that covers the birds of Montana specifically.

Be Patient and Observant: Bird watching requires patience and keen powers of observation. Take your time, sit quietly, and let the birds come to you. Pay attention to their behavior, calls, and movements, and you’ll be rewarded with memorable sightings.

Respect Wildlife and the Environment: Remember, you’re a guest in their home. Always observe birds from a safe distance and avoid disturbing their natural behavior. Leave no trace and take care to minimize your impact on the environment.

Get Involved

Are you ready to embark on your own birding adventure in Montana? Share your experiences, tips, and photos in the comments below! And don’t forget to spread the word by sharing this guide with your fellow bird enthusiasts.

Bird Watching in Montana


In conclusion, bird watching in Montana is not just a hobby—it’s a deeply enriching experience that connects us to the natural world in profound ways. From the rugged peaks of Glacier National Park to the serene valleys of the Bitterroot, Montana’s diverse landscapes provide the perfect backdrop for unforgettable birding adventures.

As you explore the top bird watching spots and encounter the magnificent species that call Montana home, remember to cherish each moment and savor the beauty of the birds and their habitats. Take the time to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of nature, and you’ll find that every bird sighting is a gift to be treasured.

Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a novice enthusiast, Montana welcomes you with open arms and endless opportunities to discover the wonders of the avian world. So grab your binoculars, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on your own birding adventure in Big Sky Country. Who knows what feathered marvels you’ll encounter along the way?

Thank you for joining us on this journey through the birding paradise that is Montana. May your future birding expeditions be filled with joy, wonder, and endless discoveries. 

Happy birding!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the top birding spots in Montana?

Some of the best places for bird watching in Montana include:

  • Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area – Known for huge concentrations of migrating snow geese and Ross’s geese in spring and fall
  • Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge – Remote refuge in the Centennial Valley with breeding eared grebes, western grebes, long-billed curlews, and marbled godwits
  • Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge – Diverse wetlands, riparian forest, and grasslands near Missoula with over 240 recorded species
  • Glacier National Park – Home to over 260 species including harlequin ducks, white-tailed ptarmigan, and gray-crowned rosy-finches
  • Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge – Important stopover for migrating birds and home to species like Nelson’s sparrow and sedge wren

What are some of the most common or notable bird species found in Montana?

Montana is home to a diverse array of birds, with over 445 species recorded as of 2024. Some of the most notable species include:

  • Western meadowlark – The state bird of Montana
  • Greater sage-grouse – Iconic prairie grouse with leks in areas like the Centennial Valley
  • Ferruginous hawk – Nests at the highest density in the world at the Kevin Rim area north of Great Falls
  • Trumpeter swan – Breeds in Montana and can be seen at refuges like Lee Metcalf
  • Harlequin duck – Glacier National Park is one of the best places in the lower 48 to see this species

What makes Montana a unique birding destination?

Montana offers a diverse array of habitats for birds, from the arid grasslands of the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. The state has a high per capita number of birders and provides habitat for many species that are declining elsewhere. Birding in Montana also presents unique challenges like gumbo roads and long distances between sites.

When is the best time of year to go bird watching in Montana?

Spring and fall migrations bring large numbers of birds to Montana, so April-May and September-October are excellent times for birding. However, the state offers great birding year-round, with breeding birds in summer and wintering species like raptors and waterfowl in winter.

What are some tips for birding in Montana?

  • Bring Terry McEneaney’s book “Birding Montana” as an essential guide
  • Be prepared for diverse weather conditions, from June snowstorms to hot, dry weather
  • Visit national wildlife refuges and Important Bird Areas which provide excellent habitat
  • Explore the Montana Birding Trail which has loops in different regions of the state
  • Use eBird to track your sightings and contribute to citizen science