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montana audubon - citizen science opportunities

You don't need to be a professional biologist to contribute to science and have a great time doing it. Consider joining one of these citizen efforts and provide invaluable information of the birds, wildlife, and natural systems of Montana and beyond. These are a mix of projects in which Montana Audubon is directly involved together with those we like and recommend!

  • Christmas Bird Count - Join us! Over 30 counts in Montana (opens new page). The longest citizen science program ever, and everyone is welcome. The 2015-2016 season will be here before we know it...

    Jim Brown surveys for birds
  • Your Bird Sightings - please submit! It is incredibly valuable for birders to share their Montana bird sightings and lists. Collectively, this helps contribute to our understanding of where birds live and how their distribution and populations change over time. There are various methods to report; use whichever system you find most effective and convenient. These different programs collaborate and share.

    • eBird. This real-time, online checklist program is a collaboration between Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon. An easy way to submit your bird checklists, it's now one of the largest biodiversity data resources (to the eBIRD website).

    • Montana Natural Heritage Program's Tracker. Within this system there are a few different ways to submit your bird data. Find the one that works best for you. The data the Heritage Program receives are quickly utilized in on the ground conservation and used for the Montana Bird Distribution (to our MBD web page).

    • Adopt a QQLL. This Montana Audubon effort to engage Montana's talented birders is another way to contribute to P. D. Skarr's Montana Bird Distribution (links to our QQLL page within the MBD section of our website).

  • Breeding Bird Surveys (BBS) across Montana. This long-standing and continent-wide volunteer summer survey effort is gearing up for expansion in 2015, and we need birders! Details are here.

    Hummers Home
  • Hummingbirds at Home. An AWESOME project by National Audubon. These tiny birds live such high energy lifestyles, and they must sync their migration and nesting times with the flowering of nectar-bearing plants. Climate change threatens to throw off this delicate balance, with unknown repercussions. We know that scientific research is essential to help us understand how global warming is affecting hummingbirds and what we can do about it. We need you to help monitor birds at your feeder or home or favorite spot. Thanks!

  • Important Bird Areas Program - we conduct volunteer surveys on many of our IBAs. This link will take you to the IBA program section of our website.
    Black Swift
  • Nesting Black Swifts. We are excited to again search for nesting Black Swifts during the summer of 2015 (and beyond). There are only 12 handful of known nest sites in Montana, and half of these were found in the last 4 years, some by volunteers. What could be better than a summer hike to plunging waterfalls (some travel/gas monies can be provided)?

  • Greater Sage-Grouse Adopt-a-Lek - Montana Audubon is the home of this great citizen monitoring program. Surveys are conducted in April. We had a great season - 51 leks and 29 volunteers. Consider helping. Thanks Ben Deeble for leading.

  • Nightjar Surveys - A national survey with routes available to adopt in Montana. We welcome - and need - surveyors in our state during the summer (links below).

  • Golden Eagle Nest sites. If you know of any nesting Golden Eagles, we'd like to know the location. As part of our work with the Montana Bird Conservation Partnership's Golden Eagle Working Group, we are helping to fill the gap and better map these nests (links to our Raptor page).

  • Bridger Raptor Migration Count - this link will take you to our Raptor Page.

  • Colonial Waterbirds - with Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks. Opens new Waterbird Page.

  • Great Backyard Bird Count - This count takes place in February every year. Yearly highlights are posted (link takes you to the GBBC page).

  • Project FeederWatch - Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Enhance the winter by counting feeder birds for science. (link will take you to Cornell's PFW page).

  • BUDBURST - a national project to track the impacts on plant phenology with our changing climate. A very cool program - and easy to take part.

  • US National Phenology Network (NPN). NPN brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students of all ages to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the United States.


If you find a banded or color marked bird, report to the Bird Banding Laboratory.

If you know of citizen science projects in your community, contact Amy, and she'll add a link! 

More citizen science ideas and opportunities from National Audubon Society

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nesting black swifts in Montana

Black Swift nesting area
Falls in the Bitterroot Natn Forest

During 2015, we will once again help to organize interested volunteers to look for nesting Black Swifts. Only a handful have ever been found in western Montana, and we hope to document where they are (and are not). They nest behind waterfalls and are most likely to be discovered right at dusk or dawn - searching for nests is not for the faint of heart.

But you can help! If you are out anywhere in western Montana near a plunging waterfall keep your eyes out for the elusive Black Swift flying in or out from the falls.

Swifts may arrive very quickly and quietly (or their vocalizations cannot be heard above the noise of the falls), and they will fly directly to their nests without circling the falls.

Here are what are thought to be specific "requirements" for swifts in the Rockies. Some variation exists so don't necessarily discount a waterfall if it's not a perfect match, but we're interested in looking at falls where:

  1. water, varying from a trickle to a torrent but usually moderate flow with space behind (or in some cases next to) the falls such that water isn't plunging into actual nests;
  2. high relief, offering a commanding position above surrounding terrain;
  3. inaccessibility to terrestrial predators;
  4. darkness, such that "the sun never shines on the nest of a Black Swift";
  5. unobstructed flyways, which are a corollary to high relief.

If you happen on a waterfall like this, or, better yet, know of one and would like to make a point of viewing, give your self ample time. During the days swifts seldom return to the nest, though the older the nestlings, the more they feed. The best time to look is right at dusk, but this can make the return hike challenging (unless you can camp nearby).

Also - if you are looking for an actual nest, they are usually small and mossy and on what looks like impossibly small ledge, especially for a bird with an 18 inch wingspan. We often find more than one pair at falls.

If you would like to learn more about assisting this summer, contact Amy. Some funding is available to cover travel costs.

There's so much to learn about this coolest of birds. In fact thanks to our colleagues in Colorado, we are just learning where this species migrates. Check out this fascinating report of the first ever wintering information from the Denver Post.

Read about our concerns for Black Swifts as our climate changes.

More at Montana Field Guide

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US Nightjar Surveys

Common Nighthawks and Common Poorwills in Montana may be in serious decline. Nation-wide some species of Nightjars appear to be declining but data from Montana are limited. These are amazing birds. The Common Nighthawk was the 2012 "Bird of the Year" by the American Birding Association.

Working with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, we hope to increase efforts in our State. If you are interested, contact Amy Cilimburg or Catherine Wightman with FWP.

Learn more about this NATIONWIDE SURVEY.

The U.S. Nightjar Survey Network is fast becoming a vital program to gather data on the population distribution and population trends on this group of declining species. All birders and conservationists are welcome to participate in the program by adopting Nightjar Survey Routes.

Nightjars are the group of nocturnal, insectivorous birds that includes species such as the whip-poor-will, common poorwill, chuck-will's-widow, and the nighthawks among others. The U.S. Nightjar Survey Network was introduced in the southeast in 2007 and then expanded in 2008 to gain full coverage across the conterminous United States. We are grateful to the number of participants already involved in the program. The beginning years of data collection has already helped in explaining how the composition of habitats in local landscapes influences nightjar abundance. In turn, these data will one day help to explain population declines. However, there is still need for more routes to be surveyed, greater geographic and species coverage, and longer-term count data.

Nightjar Surveys are standardized counts conducted along census routes at night. Observers count all Nightjars seen or heard for a six-minute period at each of 10 stops along the route. The entire survey will not take much more than one hour to complete and only needs conducted one time per year. We have produced a series of routes in each state with many that are still in need of adoption by survey participants.

Please consider adopting a Nightjar Survey Route in your area. The continuing success of Nightjar Survey Network relies entirely on volunteer participation.

For details on route locations, methods of survey, and more go HERE.

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Flammulated Owls Citizen Surveys in Western Montana

With funding from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and in collaboration with the University of Montana's Avian Science Center and the Helena National Forest, Montana Audubon has organized this citizen science program to survey for Flammulated Owls. This project is currently on hold (2012-13); we may pick it up again as interest and funding allows.

Members of the Five Valleys Audubon Society Chapter and friends adopt owl survey routes in and around the Missoula area. And members of the Last Chance Audubon Society Chapter and friends can do the same on the Helena National Forest and City of Helena lands. A special thanks to Birds & Beasleys in Helena.

REPORTS: 2010 Flam surveys; 2009 efforts

More information about these surveys (2005-2010) - can be found at the ASC's website: Flammulated Owl


Montana Audubon's Amy Cilimburg (406-465-1141)

Avian Science Center's Megan Fylling (406-360-9814).

Helena National Forest's biologist Denise Pengeroth (406-449-5201).

Above, Matt Seidensticker photo

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