Bird Sightings for February 2023

Feb 9 – I spent the morning at Giant Springs again today (February 9). We found the pair of great Horned Owls right off sitting almost next to each other in a spruce tree. There wasn’t a dense number of birds on the river, but the numbers added up. Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Mallards, Canada Geese, Hooded Mergansers (12-15), Common Mergansers (5-7), American Coots. I didn’t go downstream below the hatchery to see if Redheads and scaup (Greater/Lesser – both have been seen) were in the groups I could see in the distance. As expected, there were House Finches, Chickadees, and a few Starlings. Also noted were: Sharp- shinned Hawk, Bald Eagles, Pied-billed Grebe, Ruddy Ducks (2), Downy Woodpecker, Magpies (one group of 13+), Common Raven, Belted Kingfisher, American Robin, Townsend’s Solitaire, Bohemian Waxwings (42!) (They do like to be in crowds). Beth Hill

Feb 11 – A (very white) leucistic Magpie was seen out a window at Benefis East (Lab) last fall & this week. – Nora Gray

Feb 15 – Shane Sater writes about his recent raptor survey in the Helena Valley (in his blog below). https://

Shane Sater’s blog is highly informative, and beautifully illustrated. Highly recommended. Wayne Phillips (Copied from the blog) Jan 18 Today we’ve found 11 red-tailed hawks and 37 rough-legged hawks. We’ve counted 12 bald eagles, three merlins, one sharp-shinned hawk, and one northern harrier. No survey will find everything that’s present. Today we haven’t found prairie falcons or American kestrels, for example, two uncommon winter raptors that we know birders have seen quite recently in this area. But by repeating these surveys in the same way each time – and by conducting them not just here, but in hundreds of other places across the northwestern United States – a detailed picture of our wintering raptor populations is beginning to emerge. Shane Sater, a scientist with a passion for the landscape.

Feb 16 – I’ve had no new recent sightings. The same old Canada Geese and Mallards by the hundreds at Giant Springs today. There was more ice along the edges of the river and some interesting frozen water droplets. The other day I had 9 American Robins grazing in the picnic area of the park, but not today. I am seeing 2 Great Horned Owls on every visit. They move around from tree to tree but are often together or within eyesight. Nesting for Great Horned Owls can be late February through March in Montana. I haven’t seen them in the nest box tree. – Beth Hill

Feb 17 – For the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count I thought I’d check out a different area so I took a drive around Highland/Gibson Flats/Gerber Rd/Fields Rd/Lower River Rd this morning. I was hoping I’d see a few raptors. Well, I saw 20 magpies at Highland Cemetery, along with 4 Eurasian Collared Doves. I spotted 5 rooster pheasant in fields along Gibson Flats Road. That was pretty much it, another magpie and about 40 geese on the river. It seemed so empty. I hope we see a few more birds Saturday when the ‘raptor route’ will be checked out. – Beth Hill

Feb 18 – On the second day of the Great Backyard Bird Count Velda and I drove the raptor route from Great Falls to Cascade and back. It really was a nice day, not too windy. Temperatures ranged from 32-42 de- grees. A few flurries as we neared Ulm at the end. Our first Bald Eagle was in the field just before the Big Bend fishing access. It was on a carcass that attracted a couple ravens and magpies. The same field also had 6 or more rooster pheasants. When we saw Rough-legged Hawks they were in pairs (twice) and a single bird. Yeah – just 5. A single Golden Eagle that was sitting in a tree within spitting distance of a pair of Bald Eagles. The rapid flight of a bird with “pointy” wings caught our attention. When it tilted the dark “armpits” were clearly visible – we had a Prairie Falcon! There was one group of about a dozen ‘huns’. We saw some unidentified “little brown birds” flit away to disappear several times. Some showed some white, others did- n’t. They got noted as “LBB”. Overall, not a large number of raptors or birds total but a satisfying half-day looking for birds.

We recorded: 190 Canada Goose, 9 Mallard, 1 Common Goldeneye, 4 Common Merganser, 12 Gray Partridge, 7 Ring-necked Pheasant, 17 Rock Pigeon, 2 Eurasian Collard-dove, 1 Golden Eagle, 14 Bald Eagle, 5 Rough-legged Hawk, 1 Prairie Falcon, 29 Black-billed Magpie, 1 American Crow, 5 Common Raven, 3 Europe- an Starling, 1 diurnal raptor sp. Comparing the 2023 February count with the 2022 February count there is quite a stark difference – about half as many raptors. I hope it was just the day. – Beth Hill

Feb 18 – I went to the cemeteries, not much too report. Highland: 26 Magpies, 2 Pigeon, 1 Eurasian collared dove. MT Olivet: 5 Chickadees, 1 Nuthatch.

Feb 25 – The only interesting Birds (that I’ve seen lately) are two Oregon Juncos that continue to hang around. – Richard Mousel

Feb 26 – I saw the first California and Ring-billed Gulls this morning at Giant Springs. I was looking yesterday but didn’t see any. Today….as soon as we stopped the car at Steamboat parking area they were there on the ice and bouncing in the air. Their flight is so different than all the overwintering ducks there is no miss- ing them. – Beth Hill

Feb. 28 – Today I made a quick trip out to the West Bank area the first thing I saw were 8 big, bulky, upright standing birds…. all Bald Eagles. They were a mix of all ages. There were another 150 and counting Canada Geese coming in to land at the tip of the big island. It wasn’t long until one took off, then another and then ALL the geese, soon there was just one. There were some other walkers headed in the direction of the geese that may have triggered the mass exodus. Later that afternoon, my husband filled the feeder and stood still while Chickadees descended on the feeder. He said he counted 20!!! Usually, we will see 4-6 at a time and it seems like more. – Beth Hill

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