Montana Audubon

Montana Audubon works at the local, state and national policy levels to protect our natural heritage.

On Birding

Birds, Natural History, People & Nature

Wild Turkeys and Gratitude

By David Cronenwett

WTurkey.MartinkaAs we slide through the increasingly short days of November, thoughts understandably turn to turkeys. The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), is not a native species to Montana, but a successfully introduced addition to our game birds. Another species more directly associated to a specific holiday would difficult to find. Turkeys are large and unmistakable; a big male (tom) can weigh nearly twenty-three pounds. The sexes exhibit pronounced differences in plumage. Toms have striking feather highlights of red, purple, green, copper, bronze, and gold iridescence where female markings are more subtle and muted. During mating season, male turkeys strut about, fan their showy tail feathers and puff themselves up substantially to attract females. Their brilliant red-blue-white head and neck coloration also serves them during mating displays.

(more…)

Greater Sage-Grouse

By David Cronenwett

“Remember that the yield of a hard country is a love deeper than a fat and easy land inspires, that throughout the arid West the Americans have found a secret treasure…a stern and desolate country, a high bare country, a country brimming with a beauty not to be found elsewhere.” – Bernard DeVoto 1943

GreaterSageGrouse_BMartinkaThere are still places in Montana where the increasingly rare Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) can be observed. The bird’s story and precipitous decline is intimately tied to its shrub-steppe habitat which, like most non-forested landscapes, has suffered greatly at our hands. The species’ mating ritual is highly stylized, occurring each spring typically in open areas with sparse vegetation. Males compete with one another in an elaborate dance to establish mating dominance; feathers fanned with yellow air sacs on their breasts inflated, the birds swagger about producing a variety of strange coos, pops and chortles, occasionally battling one another in the process. Females will observe these strutting displays, often for several days before deciding whom to copulate with.

(more…)

Common Raven

By David Cronenwett

Common Raven1Most of us can easily recall our encounters with rare or uncommon birds. Species that are especially striking or that show up in unusual circumstances are memorable. I can think of neat experiences over the years with Godwits, Ferruginous Hawks and others as if they occurred yesterday. But the more prosaic species, the ones that regularly accompany our lives, become difficult to recall in the same way. When we think of birds that are not only common but often the target of our derision, then likely we have no attention to spare and little capacity for their remembrance at all.

(more…)

American Robin

By David Cronenwett

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Despite the predictably-unpredictable weather this time of year, spring is in fact, upon us. For me, one of the simple joys of the season is during early morning, when Robin song often sifts in to my dreams. It is a lovely and humane means of greeting the day. Throughout it’s range, robins are frequently the first to begin singing before dawn and the last to stop in evening’s twilight. The American Robin (Turdus migratorious) could be the most well-known and regularly observed native bird in the country. Robins were named early on by north American colonists who saw a resemblance to the European Robin. However, the two birds are not closely related; ours are members of the thrush family and the European version is classed with the Old World chats and flycatchers. Both species do sport a rusty breast though, which accounts for the misplaced association long ago.

(more…)

Feed the Birds?

By David Cronenwett

One of my earliest memories of visiting a National Wildlife Refuge when I was young was a conspicuously placed sign along the trail; “Please do not feed the wildlife.” It’s self -evident message instantly made clear to my nine year old mind. A visitor to any National Park or other agency-managed natural area is quickly greeted with similar proclamations. Feeding wildlife creates dependency, can negatively alter behavior, sicken animals and in some cases seriously endanger people.

(more…)

Cats, Dogs, and Wildlife

By David Cronenwett

catwithbird_USFWSphotoA recent study detailing the effects of domestic cat predation on wildlife has caused an uproar among the animal welfare and conservation communities. Researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in a report entitled The Impacts of Domestic Cats on Wildlife of the United States, determined that the little felids kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals per year, most of them native species. This paper represents the most thorough attempt to date at quantifying such predation. It’s results astonished everyone since they are about three times higher than previously assumed mortality figures. Our cats are tremendously efficient predators, and now we have a better picture of just how much so.

(more…)

Snowy Owl

By David Cronenwett

SnowyOwl_Casey2011Because flight enables unfettered movement across vast landscapes and diverse habitats, it is sometimes said that birds remind us of interdependency in nature. Spring and fall migration are much anticipated seasons for birders in Montana since some species occur in our state only briefly during these times. But migration implies a certain predictability and there are many instances when birds end up in unusual locations due to other factors. During winter, many people understandably become enthusiastic when sightings of Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) are reported. These iconic birds, North America’s largest owl by weight, do not arrive in Montana by conventionally understood migratory behavior; they do so because they are nomads.

(more…)

Black-Billed Magpie

By David Cronenwett

Blackbilled_magpie_BMartinka_webHunting this fall, I rounded a bend and flushed a gaggle of magpies from a deer carcass. I was clumsy and sleepy in the twilight but immediately knew what the commotion of black and white birds meant; stop what you are doing, wake up and look around, immediately. The streamside forest was incredibly dense and a known travel corridor for grizzly bears and other toothy beasts. This wasn’t the first time I’d been warned by magpies to pay attention, and I’m always grateful for the heads up. In this instance there was no big predator in the area but the event did get me thinking about the birds.

(more…)

Blue Jay

By David Cronenwett

BlueJay_BMartinkaThe ashes and cottonwoods around Choteau are rapidly de-leafing. Although there is still some good color here, when the autumn winds begins in earnest, our broadleaf trees will become bare. This fall transition is one I remember fondly from my childhood, growing up around the deciduous woods of the East. Not only is the color-show breathtaking, but the openness of naked trees reveals more to birders. Because my community on the prairie is dominated by cottonwood, I occasionally get autumnal flashbacks to my youth, wandering through woodlots and easily spotting common birds like Northern Cardinals, Black Capped Chickadees and Blue Jays. Imagine my surprise one October about four years ago, when I spotted a Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) perched in a clump of chokecherries here, in northern Montana.

(more…)

Snow Goose

By David Cronenwett

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It has grown quiet up on the Front recently. Although still ridiculously warm for the most part, diminishing hours of daylight and cool nights have chased many of our bird species far to the south. Still, the Big Event won’t happen for a while yet; the autumnal migration of Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) to their wintering grounds. We rarely imagine this bird as an individual, since their breathtaking migratory displays are how they’re usually observed. Our time with the geese in Montana is rather short; a stunning but brief event that punctuates the transitional seasons here.  And one day they mysteriously leave, just as we’ve become accustomed to their presence in the country. To many birders there is something disheartening about missing the migration. The seasonal changes feel somehow incomplete if we haven’t seen the biannual spectacle.

(more…)

Feathers

By David Cronenwett

feather_bwWhen we think of birds, the mind immediately turns to flight. That birds can fly and have adapted to a life of flying the world over is miraculous. Much of what allows the Aves taxonomic class to take to the air involves feathers. For a long while, the prevailing theory explaining the appearance of feathers among reptile-birdlike creatures of the Jurassic went like this; since flying was a way to avoid terrestrial predation, evolutionary processes selected feathers as a means to an end, that is, to support flight. This assumption was largely based upon the strikingly feathered Archaeopteryx specimen found in Germany in 1861. Newer fossil evidence beginning with multiple discoveries in China during the late-1990’s completely reversed this long held belief and demonstrated that flight was in fact, an incidental benefit of a feathered body.

(more…)

Birding and Technology

By David Cronenwett

A pronounced trend in birding lately is the proliferation of handheld devices loaded with avian-specific software. For a while, I thought myself a pretty hip guide by using a sophisticated bird “app” on my iPod. With it, I could quickly reference a species including recordings of its songs, images, population information and other natural history data. Once, I even played a gag on a renown bird-nerd friend of mine, effectively convincing him that there was a Canada Warbler flitting around the willows of a high Montana valley.

(more…)

Montana Audubon depends on your financial support

News

Inside Citizen Science: Black Swift Research

Read about Montana Audubon’s efforts to train legions of surveyors in the quest to learn…

Happy Birthday Clean Water Act – You’re 45 years old!

What the Clean Water Act means to Montana As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of…

View All Articles

Join Our Online Network

By joining our online network, you will receive timely conservation updates, action alerts, legislative news, our monthly eNews, information about upcoming events and more.

Make an Online Donation & Support Our Efforts

Montana Audubon depends on your financial support to continue our ambitious conservation work around the state.

Take Action

Take action on timely conservation issues Montana Audubon is engaged with. Your help will protect Montana’s birds and other wildlife into the future.

Join Our Online Network

Get updated on the latest Audubon programs and initiatives

Montana Audubon - © Copyright 2017 All Rights Reserved