Birds Over Montana: Surveys Supporting Conservation

A key aspect of conserving and stewarding land is understanding the health of that land, and what flora and fauna call it home. One tool to complete this work are natural resource surveys, which provide information about what plants, water features and wildlife a property may hold. From ranches in the Flint Creek Valley to streamside habitat at our Rock Creek Confluence Property, to the Clark Fork River-Grass Valley Important Bird Area west of Missoula, the Five Valleys Audubon Society’s bird surveys have been key in this regard.

Most surveys involve canvassing different locations across a property and recording the species encountered and in what numbers. This is done either by sight, or by identifying birds by ear—a talent honed over years of birding. Not only do these surveys help Five Valleys understand the health and biodiversity of a property, but this information is useful when developing restoration or stewardship plans, or when applying for certain types of project funding.

Recently, Five Valleys Audubon undertook a unique survey of birds flying over Mount Dean Stone, by recording the nighttime calls that migrating birds frequently give. Over a roughly three month period in 2018, Audubon recorded over 6,000 individuals of 30 species flying over Mount Dean Stone at night. The most abundant bird families were sparrows, wood warblers and thrushes, but the survey also revealed a few uncommon species, such as Northern Saw-whet Owl, Sora, and Upland Sandpiper, and two Montana Species of Concern: the Veery and Lapland Longspur.

Five Valleys Audubon Society members installing recording equipment on Mount Dean Stone. Photo courtesy of Five Valleys Audubon.

Many of the recorded birds probably used Mount Dean Stone as stopover habitat during migration. Migration is an extremely difficult and dangerous undertaking for birds, making stopover habitat critical. Thanks to this survey, we now know that the grasslands and forests of Mount Dean Stone play an important role in the survival of migrating songbirds; and knowing what species are using Mount Dean Stone is helping to inform plans for trails routes and forest stewardship, both key aspects for future management of this complex.

Header photo of white crowned sparrow by Jim Brown


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