It’s ALIVE in Montana!

Here at DIG HQ in Seattle, the team is getting ready for a 2-day drive to Hell Creek! We’ve been busy putting together a few new resources for this year, including diagrams of the stratigraphy as well as a “cheat sheet” of living animals you might see wandering around Montana. That’s right, folks – not all of Montana’s inhabitants are millions-of-years-dead! In fact, what looks like a barren wasteland from far away is actually home to an amazing variety of animals, especially birds that feast on all the insects.

Ferruginous hawk
The ferruginous hawk’s name gives you a hint to identifying it in the field! (Photo from the USFWS.)

Among the birds you might see are bald eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, ferruginous hawks, and Swainson’s hawks. Ferruginous hawks (from the Latin Ferrugo meaning rust) hunt everything from amphibians and other birds to jackrabbits and ground squirrels by flying fast and low, or by swooping down from a hovering position or a perch. Like other raptors (the bird kind ;), they kill using the talons on their feet.

Common Nighthawk
The common nighthawk likes to perch branch-like during the day.

One bird you might hear but not see is the common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor). Like their name suggests, nighthawks are most active at dawn and dusk, when they scoops up insects from as many as 50 different species. Their owl-like eyes help them see better in low light, and their bat-like erratic flight is easy to recognize. Bark-like feather coloring makes the nighthawk difficult to see during the daytime, especially since they like to perch horizontal on tree branches. Click here to listen to a common nighthawk. Read more about them at Animal Diversity Web.

(cc) Dick Daniels,

One bird you might be surprised to find hanging out in eastern Montana is the killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). These shorebirds actually have huge ranges. Killdeer live year-round in diverse habitats from the Gulf of Alaska to the Andes Mountains, migrating only if temperatures get below 50F (10C). Their name comes from their extremely loud and piercing “kill-dee” call. They eat a variety of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. Scroll to the bottom of this page to listen to their call and watch a video of a killdeer performing a “wounded bird” routine to distract a predator (with a videocamera) from its nest.

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