How Many Of The Raptors Of Big Sky Country Can You Spot?


Montana’s vast terrain and abundance of public lands makes it an ideal place for raptors to thrive. When you head into the endless backyard of Big Sky Country, it’s likely that you’ll spot a raptor if you know what to look for.

Whether you’re skiing, biking, hiking, rafting, snowmobiling, driving, or fishing, keep your eyes peeled for the raptors of Big Sky Country. Raptors are birds of prey that dominate the skies. It’s always exciting to spot one.

A keen eye might spot a raptor perched on a telephone pole alongside Highway 191, swooping in for a kill along the Madison River, screeching from a tree as you ski tour through Yellowstone National Park, or soaring through the skies as you ride the chairlift at Big Sky Resort.

Spotting the wildlife of the skies requires a bit of luck. You’ll need to be in the right place at the right time. But when you spot the easily identifiable features of a raptor, you’ll know it. When you see a powerful predator in flight or eyeing you from the safety of a high perch, it’s like something straight out of National Geographic.

Montana is lucky to be the home to numerous different species of raptors. According to RaptorsOfTheRockies.org, there are 31 species of raptors that can be spotted in Montana. These birds of prey come from the Order Falconiformes and the Order Strigiformes.

Based on the list featured at RaptorsOfTheRockies.org, here are the raptors of Big Sky Country:

  1. American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
    • Length: 10.5 in
    • Wing Span: 23 in
  2. Bald EagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus
    • Length: 31-37 in
    • Wing Span: 70-90 inches
  3. Barn Owl – Tyto alba
    • Length: 16 in
    • Wing Span: 42 in
  4. Barred Owl – Strix varia
    • Length: 21 in
    • Wing Span: 42 in
  5. Boreal Owl – Aegolius funereus
    • Length: 10 in
    • Wing Span: 21 in
  6. Burrowing Owl – Athene cunicularia
    • Length: 9.5 in
    • Wing Span: 21 in
  7. Coopers HawkAccipiter cooper
    • Length: 14-20 in
    • Wing Span: 29-37 in
  8. Ferruginous HawkButeo regalia
    • Length: 23 in
    • Wing Span: 53 in
  9. Flammulated Owl – Otus flammeolus
    • Length: 6.75 in
    • Wing Span: 16 in
  10. Golden Eagle – Aquila chrysaetos
    • Length: 30-40 in
    • Wing Span: 80-88 in
  11. Great Gray Owl – Strix nebulosa
    • Length: 27 in
    • Wing Span: 52 in
  12. Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
    • Length: 22 in
    • Wing Span: 44 in
  13. GyrfalconFalco rusticolus
    • Length: 20-25
    • Wing Span: 50-64 in
  14. Long-Eared OwlAsio otus
    • Length: 15 in
    • Wing Span: 36 in
  15. Merlin – Falco columbarius
    • Length: 12 in
    • Wing Span: 25 in
  16. Northern GoshawkAccipiter Gentiles
    • Length: 21-26 in
    • Wing Span: 40-46 in
  17. Northern HarrierCircus cyaneus
    • Length: 17-28 in
    • Wing Span: 38-48
  18. Northern Hawk OwlSurnia ulula
    • Length: 16 in
    • Wing Span: 28 in
  19. Northern Pygmy-OwlGlaucidium gnoma
    • Length: 6.75 in
    • Wing Span: 12 in
  20. Northern Saw-whet OwlAegolius acadicus
    • Length: 8 in
    • Wing Span: 17 in
  21. Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
    • Length: 22-25 in
    • Wing Span: 58-72 in
  22. Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus
    • Length: 16-20 in
    • Wing Span: 36-44 in
  23. Prairie FalconFalco mexicanus
    • Length: 15.5-19.5 in
    • Wing Span: 35-43 in
  24. Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
    • Length: 22 in
    • Wing Span: 50 in
  25. Rough-legged Hawk – Buteo lagopus
    • Length: 22 in
    • Wing Span: 56 in
  26. Sharp-shinned HawkAccipiter striatus
    • Length: 10-14 in
    • Wing Span: 20-28 in
  27. Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus
    • Length: 15 in
    • Wing Span: 28 in
  28. Snowy Owl – Nyctea scandiaca
    • Length: 23 in
    • Wing Span: 52 in
  29. Swainson’s Hawk – Buteo swainsoni
    • Length: 21 in
    • Wing Span: 52 in
  30. Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
    • Length: 27 in
    • Wing Span: 69 in
  31. Western Screech Owl Otus kennicottii
    • Length: 8.5 in
    • Wing Span: 20 in
Great Horned Owl | Pixabay Image
Great Horned Owl | Pixabay Image

To learn more about each of these raptors, visit RaptorsOfTheRockies.org. On that site, you can find a full fact sheet about each bird and a map highlighting their seasonal distribution. For even more information (and a slightly different list), visit FieldGuide.MT.gov.

If you love the raptors of Big Sky country, you might be interested in attending the free, annual Bridger Raptor Festival at Bridger Bowl. It’s typically held in October to coincide with the largest known Golden Eagle migration in the United States. Curious to learn more about raptors? The Montana Raptor Conservation Center in Bozeman is a great resource.

Did you spot any raptors during your trip to Big Sky? Any chance you captured your raptor sighting on camera? Please share your images  on social media with #visitbigsky . We can’t wait to see your shots!

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