The Basics

Montana Wildlife

There is probably no other state in the continental U.S. that offers the abundance of wildlife viewing as Montana.

Both white-tailed and large-eared mule deer dot the countryside as you drive through the state. Montana is home to more than 150,000 Rocky Mountain elk, which can often be viewed from the roadside. Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and grizzly bears are more likely to be seen high in the slopes of the Rockies. Moose are common but typically avoid humans. Montana's vast wilderness areas serve as valuable homes for many of the country's threatened and endangered species including the gray wolf, whooping crane, white sturgeon, grizzly bear and bald eagle. Mountain lions are also residents of Montana and can show up in unlikely spots, such as the city parks of Missoula or the streets of Columbia Falls, though this is not common.

Magpies, loud, large black & white birds, seem to monopolize Montana's airways, but there are also many other less-aggressive birds. Some to look for in the eastern part of the state are grouse, bobolinks, horned lark, western meadowlark (Montana's state bird), goldfinches and sparrowhawks. In the mountainous western area of the state, you may catch the thrill of a bald eagle gliding across the valley or perched on a branch in a tree near the highway. Other birds that frequent the west are owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, ospreys, western tanagers, jays and Rufous hummingbirds. However, these are only a few of the 294 species that have been documented as reliably occurring in Montana.

Over 2,500 species of wildflowers and nonflowering plants can be found in three different areas within Montana: above the timberline (6,000-7,000 feet elevations) in northwestern Montana, mountain forest beginning at 5,000-feet elevations, and those found in open terrain of desert, plains, valleys, and foothills.

There are several colorful flowers that can be frequently seen while driving. One is the Shooting Star, which has a rosy purple ower banded with a red and yellow ring pointing downward; elk and deer relish this adornment for meals. Also common is the Wild Rose Scrub, which grows from three to eight feet tall and in the fall produce small red rose-hips (or berries) that make a pleasant tea rich in vitamin C. The Indian Paintbrush usually has red blossoms that bloom from June to early August in dry to moist soils. The most common ora of Montana is the Wood Violet which comes in a variety of colors ranging from white to purple. It blooms in early spring in wet, wooded areas, usually on slopes and ledges of deciduous forests. The petals of this plant can be eaten in salads or made into jelly, jam or candy. Wildflower meadows of Glacier lilies, Alpine poppies, columbine, asters, arnica spread their colors in midsummer hillsides while Dogtooth violets and Mariposa lilies grow a little farther down the slopes.

A mainstay for the bears of Montana is the huckleberry bush. A grown bear can consume 80 to 90 pounds of food per day, 15 percent of this poundage may consist of huckleberries. Late July is a good time to hunt huckleberries. They require a good amount of moisture and grow best on a north slope at elevations of 3,500 to 7,000 feet.

Most of western Montana supports lush growth dominated by coniferous forests. This area is usually divided into two categories: lower mountain and higher subalpine. Ponderosa pines dominate the lower slopes. A little higher, the Douglas r takes over and above that are the lodgepole pines so common in Montana-made furniture. Western cedar, grand r, white pine, aspen, and birch are also prevalent.

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