Birding in the Gallatin Valley

Hiking Montana's mountain trails is enjoyment in and of itself, but when you add the thrill of birding, it takes on a whole new level of wonder and excitement – like turning a lazy, late-afternoon river float into a safari expedition.

Birding is an audio and visual discovery tour. You may hear something that you've never heard before, or maybe you have, but you just can't remember where. You can't see where the sound is coming from, so you search for the source. Then, suddenly, from behind a tree, you get a flash of color: a yellow head, a pair of red wings...but only enough to tantalize. Then, suddenly, the mystery animal emerges from its hiding spot, brazenly perched on a branch in full view. A spectacularly colorful view of a Western Tanager or Lazuli Bunting – birds you've never seen before!

With each new observation you can't help but wade into a deepening appreciation of the mysteries of nature. Those spectacular colors: why do birds have them? Did the birds migrate here? If so, how did they know when to arrive, and how do they know where to go next? A birder can explore these mysteries whenever and as much as he likes.

During July and August, birds are busy raising families. It's an excellent time to hike just about any wooded trail and watch fledgling flickers or jays learning how to feed and fly. It's an excellent time to stroll the riverbanks and watch ospreys teach their young how to dive for trout just beneath the surface. It's an excellent time to drive old farm roads and watch Mountain Bluebirds fledge from nesting boxes placed on roadside fences. Beyond the alfalfa fields, hawks and eagles nest on remote cliffs. Summer is also an excellent time to kick back on your back patio and watch this year's batch of chickadees learn the ropes of eating at your feeder.

During September and October the ancient spectacle of fall migration repeats itself. Birds pack on weight in preparation for their endurance flights to warmer climes. Now's the time to hike to the top of Bridger Bowl and witness the largest golden-eagle migration in the continental United States. Or drive over to the Heeb Rd. pond and other area lakes to watch thousands of geese, ducks and swans traveling through our area. Autumn is also a great time to keep a keen lookout at your backyard feeder for that unusual bird: during the fall migration, magic is literally in the air.

For some of the best birding spots in the Gallatin Valley, obtain a copy of the Sacajewa Audubon Society's Birding Hotspots of the Gallatin Valley, available at Wild Birds Unlimited in Bozeman and other stores around town. If you desire general information about birding, or want to delve further into the ways and mysteries of birds, visit Western Birder's website at or the Wild Birds Unlimited website at