Birds & Science

We use the best available science to ensure the survival of Montana's birds and other wildlife.

The Montana Hotlist Project

Six of our native birds with uncertain futures

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Contact Amy Seaman at 406.210.9449, [email protected]


 

MT Hot list Black SwiftThe Black Swift is listed as Climate Endangered by the recent Audubon Climate Report, because 0% of its breeding range is stable, and 71% is expected to disappear by 2080. Black Swifts are not known to winter in North America, so there is no predictive data for that season.

Black Swifts are one of the species most impacted by climate change, and their unique life history traits, like nesting behind waterfalls, make it clear why.  In order to do so, Black Swifts start breeding late in the season once high levels of spring runoff subside. They are reliant on permanent snowpack and glaciers to feed the waterfalls into September when their single nestling is ready to fledge.

It is only recently that we have learned about Montana’s role in supporting and conserving Black Swifts. Researchers found their inaccessible nests in the state for the first time in the mid 2000’s. To date we know of 14 nest sites scattered throughout the Bitterroot National Forest, The Mission mountains, Flathead National Forest, and Glacier National Park, and that number is growing as researchers refine and expand their efforts.

In Montana, Black Swifts are a species of concern, and a species of greatest inventory need.  There is still so much we can learn about them. They were one of the last North American birds to have their nests discovered, and it wasn’t until 2012 that the scientific community learned where these birds spend their winter.

Black Swift nest footage in Glacier National Park.

Read more about the Black Swift and the climate report.

Read more about where Black Swifts go for the winter.

What you can do for the Black Swift:


Clark's Nutcracker Hotlist imageThe Clark’s Nutcracker is listed as Climate Endangered by the recent Audubon Climate Report, because 68% of its wintering range and 72% of its breeding range are expected to disappear by 2080. Further, only 16% of the winter range and 25% of breeding range are expected to remain stable.

Clark’s Nutcrackers are well known for their excellent memory that allows them to bury and relocate tens of thousands of pine seeds throughout the year. They have a specialized sublingual pouch which they can fill with seeds plucked straight from ripening cones. This behavior is part of a mutualistic, beneficial relationship with the pine trees in which the birds help the tree disperse its seeds and the tree provides food for the birds.

This behavior is also unique in allowing the Clark’s Nutcracker to breed early in the season (even as early as February) by raising their young on pine nuts.

Read more about the Clark’s Nutcracker and the climate report.

What you can do for the Clark’s Nutcracker:


Loon Hotlist image

The Common Loon is listed as Climate Endangered by the recent Audubon Climate Report, because only 44% of its breeding range is expected to remain stable in 2080. Although some increases in summer range farther north are expected, it is uncertain whether appropriate habitat will be available. Further, only 25% of the winter range is expected to remain stable.

Loons prefer large (>24 hectares) clear water lakes with dynamic shorelines, abundant fish, and islands to raise their small broods (only 1-2 eggs). They are very sensitive to water clarity and pollution, requiring clear water to fish, which makes them excellent indicators of environmental health. Lake size is also important because a loon needs a long runway to generate enough lift for its massive body to take flight. Its feet are located so far back on its body that it is incapable of walking on land.

Montana is home to only 1% of the global population of Common Loons, but it is listed as a Species of Concern in the state because of declining numbers and breeding habitat, especially shrinking emergent wetland ecosystems. It is also a species of greatest conservation need. Climate change presents great challenges to the Common Loon’s wetland habitat.

The Common Loon relies heavily on the Canadian boreal forest for nesting, brood rearing, and migration stop-over habitat and its importance is expected to grow as the climate changes. The Boreal forest is known to support 3 billion nesting birds of more than 300 species. About 90% of the birds that breed there migrate south in the winter – meaning many of them rely on healthy Montana habitats during part of their journey. Further, the boreal forest stores more carbon than any other ecosystem, and currently only 12% of this crucial habitat is protected while 30% is designated for development.

Read more about the Common Loon and the climate report.

What you can do for the Common Loon:


ferruginous Montana Hotlist

The Ferruginous Hawk is listed as Climate Endangered by the recent Audubon Climate Report, because it is at risk of losing 84% of its breeding range within the United States and Canada by 2080. Only 6% of the breeding range is expected to remain stable. On the other hand the winter range is expected be 84% stable, potentially increasing another 71%.

This largest of the North American hawks (possibly largest Buteo in the world), is iconic of open prairies, arid grasslands, and shrub-steppe ecosystems. Their presence is strongly tied to prairie-dog colonies of the west, and their occasional use of cottonwoods and willows for nesting ties their survival to healthy riparian ecosystems and shelterbelts.

The Ferruginous Hawk is a Species of Concern in Montana because of declining numbers and breeding habitat, especially the sagebrush ecosystem. It is also a species of greatest conservation need. Their habitat is primarily threatened by loss of native prairie and native sagebrush ecosystems through plowing and cultivation, and the often subsequent loss in food availability due to aggressive pest management. Some habitat is also lost as pines expand into grassland habitats.

On September 30th Congress voted to allow the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to expire. From 1965 onward this program allocated $540 million to projects in Montana, and has contributed to preserving lands in all 50 states. Fortunately, the battle is not over yet, and both of our State Senators are helping sponsor legislation to revive the program.

Read more about the Ferruginous Hawk and the climate report.

More about Montana’s Species of Concern.

What you can do for the Ferruginous Hawk:


 

avocet MT Hotlist imageThe American Avocet is listed as Climate Endangered by the recent Audubon Climate Report, because it is at risk of losing 96% of its breeding range within the United States and Canada by 2080. While only 30% of its wintering range is stable, it is expected to expand about 33% into new areas.

Avocets were historically present all along the eastern seaboard, but over-hunting (in the 1900’s) reduced the current range to a western distribution. Since shorebirds are no longer hunted in the United States, more individuals are beginning to show up within their historic range.

Wetlands that Avocets need to survive are diverse and constantly changing. Many of these habitats, including saline and alkaline lakes, freshwater marshes, ephemeral wetlands, impoundments, or playas are impacted by climate change and our growing demand for water.

As an example, about half of the North American population of Avocets (~500,000) has been estimated to stage for fall migration at Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Currently the water level is only 2 feet higher than the historic low in 1963. Despite the loss of water, plans are moving forward that would further diminish the lake, a situation that will be exacerbated by climate change.

When wetlands like this dry out, the salt concentration in the water builds up and can be difficult for birds to tolerate. American Avocets, though, do have an adaptation to help them remove salt from the crustaceans, insects, and plankton they like to eat. Both their tongue and bill are designed to filter water from their prey before they swallow. They also have salt glands above the eyes that help them eliminate salt from their bodies. So, if you see an Avocet “crying”, it is really just eliminating excess salt.

Read more about the American Avocet and the climate report.

What you can do for the American Avocet:


rufus hummingbird Hotlist picThe Rufous Hummingbird is listed as Climate Endangered by the recent Audubon Climate Report, because it is at risk of losing 100% of its wintering range within the United States and Canada and 41% of its breeding range by 2080.

For its size, the Rufous Hummingbird is a very long-distance migrant, traveling nearly 4000 miles between Alaska and Mexico each year. Their population is declining by 3% per year, and scientists think that it is a combination of drought conditions and a timing “mismatch” between when flowers are blooming and when birds are migrating.

Similar to bees and butterflies that also feed on flower nectar, this tiny, vibrant and aggressive bird plays an important role in pollinating plants over long distances as it feeds. Pollination is essential for plants to produce fertile seeds, and almost all flowering plants require pollination.

You can help the Rufous Hummingbird by planting native flowers that provide nectar early in the spring, and by being careful about pesticide use in and around your flowerbeds. Click here to learn about gardening for birds.

What you can do for the Rufous hummingbird:

 

 

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