We use the best available science to ensure the survival of Montana's birds and other wildlife.
Black Swifts were the last avian species described in North America, discovered in 1857, and were one of the most mysterious until their interior western North American waterfall nesting habitat was discovered in 1919. It took until the 1960s for Black Swift nesting sites, or nesting colonies, to be discovered in Montana, and up until 2015, there were still just seven known sites. Not surprisingly, the Black Swift is listed as a state species of conservation concern, and a state species of greatest inventory need.
Since the 2014 field season, Montana Audubon has been organizing volunteer and professional research teams to search for this elusive species throughout western Montana. We are partnering internationally, regionally, and close at home with Glacier National Park, Glacier National Park Conservancy, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to find out just where our Black Swifts are active and breeding. So far, our efforts have helped bring the total number of known nesting sites to over 50, a five-fold increase in just five years.
Continuing to inventory this elusive species through 2020 is paramount, as climate change threatens to impact the Black Swift’s glacier-fed waterfall habitat, and as aerial insectivores experience declines across the country. Our urgency to understand this species has increased in light of Black Swifts receiving “endangered” status throughout Canada in 2015.
Black Swift survey reports across Montana: 2019
Citizen efforts to monitor Chimney Swifts have emerged across North America to help track the decline of this unique aerial insectivore. Found throughout eastern Montana, the Chimney Swift’s behavior of communal roosting and nesting in chimneys throughout cities and towns make them a fun and interesting species to monitor. During spring and fall migration, Chimney Swifts fly most of the day, only roosting between sunset and dawn. However, during the breeding season in June and July, pairs will separate from the communal roost to nest alone in individual chimneys, and occasionally hollow cottonwoods. Like other aerial insectivores, Chimney Swifts are experiencing a decline throughout their range, however, the number of observations in eastern Montana is on the rise.
In our state, we are working with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks throughout eastern Montana to find out just where our Chimney Swifts are active and breeding. Since 2018, we have been supporting citizen chimney surveys, and volunteer training opportunities. And, our series of “Swift nights out” was a success. Joined by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks staff, we visited with over 30 volunteers and conducted sixteen evening surveys. We found seven occupied chimneys throughout Miles City, Billings, and Glasgow. But, there are still hundreds of chimneys left to visit as we start the 2020 survey season. Be sure to check back for our “Swift night out” dates in 2020.
The Great Blue Heron is a species of conservation concern in Montana. Their concern status is a result of a 2.2% annual population decline measured by Breeding Bird Surveys from 1966 – 2010. This colonial waterbird relies on intact rivers and streamside habitat to establish their nesting colonies, with one impact, it can affect many at one time. There are many rookery sites all over Montana and many can very difficult to find or to access. Currently, most of the surveys are conducted by aircraft which can be an expensive and challenging method. Flying over all the waterways of Montana within a year is simply unrealistic to carry out surveys on a regular basis.
That is why we have partnered with the Montana Natural Heritage Program to ensure better state-wide coverage of annual heron rookery surveys. From the comfort of our own desk, we used Google Earth’s aerial photography and satellite imagery to look over five sections of Important Bird Areas along major Montana Rivers. Believe it or not, we found 94% of historic rookeries by using this survey technique! Now comes the part where we need to get into the field and confirm our findings. We are looking for citizen volunteers state-wide to help confirm potential new rookeries, visit historic rookery locations, and help us get nest estimates at individual rookeries.
Great Blue Heron: Experimental Mapping Using Aerial Imagery
The Long-billed Curlew is an icon of the Great Plains and America’s intermountain grassland basins. It is a relatively large, conspicuous shorebird endemic in short to moderate height prairie. The Long-billed Curlew is a Montana species of concern, and the Montana Bird Conservation Partnership (MBCP) has identified the curlew as a flagship species or one that is likely to resonate with the public and thus garner support for conservation action. It is declining across its range, but in Montana, healthy populations remain. We’re working with many partners to learn more about Curlews and protect the grasslands and agricultural lands they need to for breeding. Based on curlew presence, threats, and opportunities, we’ve determined the Mission Valley, Helena Valley, Blackfoot Valley, and nearby grasslands are an ideal focal area for our partnership.
Montana Audubon has been involved in with the Long-Billed Curlew Initiative since 2014, citizens have helped document hundreds of curlew sightings in and around Montana’s intermountain valleys.
Since 2017 Montana Audubon has worked with Glacier National Park and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, to mark breeding pairs of Harlequin Ducks in and around Glacier National Park. Harlequins have experienced declines throughout their range, with the exception of Glacier National Park (an Important Bird Area where more than 25% of chicks are produced in the state), and as a species of conservation concern, we need to understand why. Climate change has been indicated as a significant threat to these birds, given their dependence on the timing of spring runoff, but they are also threatened by having a limited amount of suitable habitat from the outset, along with their sensitivity to human disturbance and habitat loss (due to altered runoff). Marking breeding pairs (implanting males with satellite transmitters, and outfitting females with geolocators) This will help managers answer questions about the species’ biology that are key to understanding home-range characteristics, site fidelity, the timing of seasonal movements, barriers to dispersal, and more. Though we put forward much larger efforts in 2017 and 2018, this effort continues as part of our Montana Audubon River Initiative. As the project forges ahead there is always a need for hardy volunteers, and a desire to collect as many records of Harlequin Duck sightings as possible. In 2020 we are especially interested in trying to find broods late in the season.