Wildlife


Wildlife

Wildlife watching in Missoula requires vigilance, a deft eye and a clean pair of binoculars for optimal viewing. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, osprey, deer, bighorn sheep and the rest of these animals in Missoula and the surrounding wilderness.

Wildlife in Missoula

Antelope Antilocapra americana

Lifespan 11 years
Habitat Open, expansive terrain
Diet Shrubs, grasses, forbs

Male antelope, or bucks, have horns about a foot long, with prongs that curve at the tips. Mature females, or does, have horns as well. However, their horns are much smaller and average about two inches long. The fork in antelope horns is characteristic of antlers, and this is what part of makes antelope unique. It's the only animal to have branched horns, which is how it gets the name "Pronghorn Antelope." Another unique aspect of antelope: the shed their horn sheaths each year, and are the only horned animal to do so. How about another interesting tidbit? Believe it or not, the antelope's closest genetic cousin is in Africa. Genetically, antelope are more similar to Thompson's Gazelles than they are to any ungulate in North America Bucks are usually larger, weighing around 125 pounds; does weigh around 100. The bucks are fairly territorial in the spring, summer and fall, but join the herd to forage in winter. Herds may roam many miles in search of food. Does usually have two fawns per year that stand up and learn to and run within a few minutes of being born; at just four days old they can keep up with the herd. Antelope are easy to spot because they live in the open prairie all across the eastern two-thirds of Montana.

Badger Taxidea taxus

Lifespan 11-13 years
Habitat Dry, open country
Diet Mice, woodchucks, voles, ground squirrels, toads, snakes, small animals they can dig for

American badgers are built to dig. They move dirt faster than any other mammal, including a person with a shovel! Strong shoulders, sturdy claws, and partial webbing between their front toes allow them to scoop soil out quickly. They are naturally protected from flying dirt by transparent membranes that protect their eyes and stiff hairs that keep their ear canals clean. They use their back feet to kick the loose dirt out of the way. Badgers dig in pursuit of prey and then expand tunnels into sleeping burrows. They are solitary, have a keen sense of smell, and are more active at night than in the day. American badgers prefer dry, open country, avoiding forests and areas with rocky soil. Primarily found in the great plains of North America.

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Lifespan 20 years
Habitat Along waterways, lakes
Diet Fish and waterfowl

For the most part, bald eagles prey on fish and waterfowl, so it stands to reason that you'll see them along waterways and lakes. In Montana, bald eagles tend to congregate and feed on salmon on the Missouri River below the dams - hundreds have been counted in one day. Fall is the best time of year to spot bald eagles as they migrate from Canada and Alaska to winter in Montana. Immature bald eagles are difficult to identify because their plumage tends to vary, and the characteristic white head and tail aren't acquired until the bird is a full five years old. Bald eagles are the largest birds of prey; they're about three feet from head to tail with a wingspan of up to seven feet.

Bighorn Sheep Ovis canadenis

Lifespan 15 years
Habitat Rocky, mountainous
Diet Grasses and shrubs

Bighorn sheep live in herds or bands led by the dominant ewe (female). Bighorn rams (males) are famous for head-to-head combat to win over females. Horn size determines their status and fights occur only between rams with horns of similar size. They use their horns to smash into their opponents at speeds of 30 km (19 mi) per hour. With as many as five head clashes an hour, combat can last up to 25 hours or until one of the males gives up. Bighorn sheep can stand on mountain ledges as narrow as 5 cm (2 in) wide. They leap from ledge to ledge with great speed, and can jump across spans as wide as 6 meters (20 feet). Lives between the rocky slopes of mountainous terrain and open meadows; alpine meadows, temperate foothill regions of forests, low-lying scrubland, grasslands and deserts; Western United States.

Bison Bison

Lifespan Up to 20 years
Habitat Open Plains, prairies
Diet Grasses and sagebrush

American bison are the largest land-dwelling mammals in North America. With a shoulder height of up to 2 m (6.5 ft), they can weigh from 544-816 kg (1200-1800 lb), yet they can run up to 50 km (30 mi) per hour. They can pivot on both their front and hind legs and quickly change or reverse direction, or jump. Also strong swimmers, bison can swim across rivers over 1 km (.6 mi) wide. The bison's hump is a mass of muscles that support his or her heavy head. The bison's tail can signal a warning. When the tail is standing straight up, the bison is ready to charge! Bison prefer grasses, but will eat sagebrush when food is scarce. They drink water once a day, and need to eat about 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of forage each day. Bison originally lived on the open plains and prairies of the United States and Canada; now only in parks and reserves.

Black Bear Ursus americanus

Lifespan Up to 25 years
Habitat Forests, lowlands, wetlands
Diet Fruits, nuts, vegetables, breads and meat

The primary difference between the black bear and Grizzly is the size. The black bear has only a slight shoulder hump and wears a coat that is black, brown or blond and occasionally has a white spot on the chest. A male black bear of breeding age weighs 125 - 500 pounds while the female is smaller at 90 - 300 pounds. Historical ranges of the black bear show that the species populated most of North America except for the desert regions in the southwest. Black bears live in large forests with many different kinds of fruits and nuts. Lowlands and wetlands provide tender and juicy vegetation. Streams and woodland pools provide water for drinking and cooling.

Blue Heron Ardea herodias

Lifespan 15 years
Habitat Rivers, wetlands, trees overlooking waters
Diet Fish

These four-foot-tall birds are all legs, which they use to their advantage by wading into shallow pools and feeding on tadpoles and tiny fish. When fishing, great blue herons will wade with gentle, easy steps that don't disturbing the water; then, with lightning-quick reflexes, they pluck up their food. Because they rely on water for survival, the best places to see these magnificent birds is along rivers or in wetland areas. They usually nest in tall cottonwoods overlooking the water and return to the same nesting sites year after year.

Bobcat Lynx rufus

Lifespan 12-13 years
Habitat Forests, deserts, mountains, swamps, farmland
Diet Small mammals, birds, reptiles

The bobcat primarily occurs in scrubby country and broken forests, but adapts to swamps, farmlands and arid lands if they are rocky or brushy. They range from coast to coast throughout southern Canada. Bobcats are gray with distinct black spots. The tail is short and stubby with 2 or 3 black bars. The face has broken black lines that radiate onto the cheek. An excellent climber who often waits in the trees to pounce on their prey that includes rodents, hares, squirrels and birds; they also may take the occasional deer. Predators of the bobcat include cougars, coyotes, wolves and humans, who use their fur for trim.

Canadian Lynx Lynx canadensis

Lifespan 15-21 years
Habitat Coniferous forests near rocky areas, bogs and swamps
Diet Snowshoe hare, birds, deer

The Canada Lynx is a medium-sized cat (about 10 kilograms for males and 8 kilograms for females) with silver-gray to grayish-brown upper parts and a white belly and throat. Lynx have long legs and a relatively short, compact body. The total length averages approximately 92.5 centimeters for males and 89.5 centimeters for females. A facial ruff surrounds the face except directly beneath the snout. The facial ruff is longest on either side of the snout and has black markings on these longest hairs. The ears are 70 to 80 millimeters long and have a long, 30 millimeters black tuft at the end. The backs of the ears are darker than the rest of the body and have a central white spot. The feet are large and round (10 x 10 centimeters) and heavily furred. The tail is short and the tip is entirely black. About 75% of the lynx's diet is made up of the snowshoe hare. It also eats birds, meadow voles, carrion and sometimes larger animals like deer and caribou.

Coyote Canis latrans

Lifespan 16-10 years
Habitat rocky, mountainous
Diet Grasshoppers, birds, deer, small mammals

The coyote has grayish-brown to yellowish-brown fur on top and whitish fur on its underparts. It has large triangular ears on the top of its head and a long, narrow muzzle. It has a black nose; yellow eyes; and a long, bushy tail. One way to tell the coyote apart from wolves and dogs is to watch its tail when it runs. The coyote runs with its tail down. Dogs run with their tails up, and wolves run with their tails straight out. Diet carnivorous. Most of its diet is made up of mammals, but it also eats birds and snakes. It prefers to eat fresh kill, but it will eat carrion. In the fall and winter, the coyote often eats fruits, vegetables, and berries.

Elk Cervus canadensis

Lifespan 14-26 years
Habitat Coniferous forests, meadows, grasslands, burns, logged areas
Diet Grasses, forbs, young trees, conifers

Originally ranging across the great North American continent, the elk species have reduced their range to the northern reaches of the United States and into Canada, yet dipping down south as far as Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. Elk are larger than deer and can weigh up to 500 pounds for a cow, and 700 pounds for a bull. Their color is deep copper brown to light tan with a light beige rump patch and legs and neck that are often darker than the body. Subsisting mostly on grasses and forbs throughout the year; shrubs, tree bark and twigs make their way into their winter diet as well. Much like a dairy cow, the elk's stomach consists of four chambers. The first chamber stores food while the other three digest.

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos

Lifespan 15-20 years
Habitat Rocky, trees
Diet Fish, mice, rabbits, various rodents

The giant wingspan of golden eagles (typically about seven feet) gives them ultimate control in flight, and they can easily navigate with even the slightest movement of their wingtip feathers. Golden eagles usually begin mating at age four, and often keep the same mate for life (typically 15 to 20 years). They nest on rocky crags or trees, and mated pairs may return to the same nest year after year. Golden eagles usually raise one or two young each year; like the adults, the young eat fish, mice, rabbits, hares and various rodents. Golden eagles have escaped heavy DDT contamination because (unlike bald eagles) they don't rely on fish as their primary food source.

Gray Wolf Canis lupus

Lifespan 10-18 years
Habitat No particular habitat preference except for the presence of native ungulates within its territory on a year-round basis
Diet Deer, elk, moose

The Gray Wolf is the largest of the wild dogs. Adult male Gray Wolves in Montana weigh around 47 kilograms (104 pounds) and females weigh around 36 kilograms (80 pounds). Males average approximately 186 centimeters (73 inches) in length, while 180 centimeters (70 inches) is the average for females, with the tail compromising a little less than one-third of the total length in both sexes. About half the Gray Wolves in Montana are black with the other half gray. Both color phases may be found in a pack or in a litter of pups.

Grizzly Bear Ursus arctos

Lifespan 25 years
Habitat Meadows, seeps, timber, alpine slab rock habitats
Diet Berries, roots, fungi, grasses, fish, carrion, small mammals, insects

Grizzly Bears have a massive head with a prominent nose, rounded inconspicuous ears, small eyes, short tail and a large, powerful body. The facial profile is concave and there is a noticeable hump above the shoulders. The claws on the front feet of adults are about 4 inches long and slightly curved. Grizzly Bears range widely in color and size. The most prevalent coloration of Grizzly Bears in Montana is medium to dark brown underfur, brown legs, hump and under parts, with light to medium grizzling on the head and back and a light patch behind the front legs. Other forms, lighter or darker with varying levels of grizzled hair patches, occur in lesser numbers. Although extremely variable depending on the season, adults are around 185 centimeters long and weigh around 200 kilograms in males and 130 kilograms in females.

Marten Martes americana

Lifespan 10 years
Habitat Conifer, mixed wood forests
Diet Small mammals, birds, fish, insects, fruits, nuts

This house cat-sized animal is distinctly weasel-like in appearance. Has short legs, prominent ears, pointed face, and a well-furred tail constituting one-third of its total length. Stiff glossy guard hairs with dense silky under-fur. The soft, dense, yellowish-brown fur shades to dark brown on its bushy tail and legs. Pale buff to orange patch on throat and breast. Has ability to rotate hind limbs to enable descending trees headfirst. Total length: 21 to 26 inches. Martens are omnivorous and eat squirrels, mice, rabbits, red pandas, birds, fish, insects, and eggs, and they will also eat fruit and nuts when these are available.

Mink Neovision Vision

Lifespan 1-4 years
Habitat Mostly Aquatic
Diet Small mammals, birds, eggs, fish, lizards, insects

American mink are medium to dark brown in color with a white chin and usually white spots along the belly. The fur is very dense, glossy, and water repellant. They have a long weasel-like body with short legs. The tail is slightly bushy. The feet are semi webbed and the toes end with small but sharp claws. Mink have long whiskers, small rounded eyes, and small fuzzy ears. Males weigh 2 to 3.5 pounds and are about 2 feet long. Females are about 20 percent smaller in size and weight. Mink primarily feed on small mammals, birds, eggs, frogs, crayfish, fish, lizards, small snakes and insects. They are true carnivores and eat just about anything they can catch. Mink are excellent hunters and depend mostly on their sense of smell when looking for prey. They are excellent swimmers. They live by the fresh waters of lakes, streams, rivers, swamps and marshes. Their den may be abandoned beaver or muskrat dens, hollow logs, or they may dig their own burrow.

Moose Alces alces

Lifespan 14-25 years
Habitat Forested, near lakes, streams, ponds
Diet Twigs, leaves, shrubs

The largest member of the deer family and tallest mammal in North America, the moose stands six feet tall at the shoulders. Weighing in at 800 - 1,600 pounds, the moose has thick, light brown to dark brown fur. An interesting fact: The hair of a moose is hollow, which helps keep the moose warm throughout the year. Humpbacked in appearance, the front legs are longer than the rear legs. Antlers begin forming in the early summer and are originally covered in a velvety soft fuzzy skin which house blood vessels that aid in the development of the antlers until they reach full size. To Europeans, this large land mammal is known as the elk. Moose is an Algonquin term for "twig eater." The moose is a browser. In warm months it eats the leaves, twigs and buds of hardwood and softwood trees and shrubs. It also feeds on aquatic plants like water lilies.

Mountain Goat Oreamnos americanus

Lifespan 10 years
Habitat Rocky, mountainous
Diet Lichen, grass, plants, twigs

A white coat, horns and black hooves, the mountain goat is a mountain top survivor. Short and stalky, the goat sports a long hair winter coat with a beard under the chin and pantaloons around the front legs. Horns are short, smooth, sharp and curve backward slightly 8 - 10 inches long. The hooves are hard on the outer edges and have a soft center that helps the goat "stick" to rocks. The oldest of billies may weigh in around 300 lbs, while the nannies tend to be a bit more petite at 150 lbs. Eating primarily grasses, sedges, lichens, forbs and shrubs.

Mountain Lion Felis concolor

Lifespan Up to 18 years
Habitat Rugged mountain, swamps
Diet Wild animals, mostly deer

Mountain lions are found in very diverse habitats. They can be found in places from northern Canada to the southern tip of South America. Some other common names for the mountain lion are cougar and puma. The Mountain lion is a very agile animal. It can easily cover 23 ft. in a single leap. They are known for their speed and quickness. One wouldn't think that such a large animal could be quick, but they are.

Mule Deer Odocoileus hemious

Lifespan 9-11 years
Habitat Grasslands, forests
Diet Bitterbush, mountain mahogany, chokecherry, serviceberry, grasses

The most sought after game animal in Northern America, deer usually inhabit a relatively small home range until winter conditions encourage them to temporarily move on. Living roughly 12 years in the wild, deer are reddish or grayish in color depending on the time of year and habitat, and a full grown deer weighs between 100 - 300 pounds. The white-tailed deer is an herbivore (plant eater), follows well-used trails to and from its feeding areas, and tends to eat green plants in the spring and summer; corn, acorns and other nuts in the fall; and buds and twigs of woody plants in the winter.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Lifespan 30 years
Habitat Nests on the tops of frees and posts overlooking open water
Diet Fish

They are dark brown above, white below, with white heads and a prominent black eye stripe. Females usually have a dark spotted "necklace." Adult ospreys can easily have a wingspan of close to 6 feet. As you might expect, these big birds need big nests. Ospreys build their nests at the tops of dead trees, on power poles or on docks?just about any place with a view of the open water. Not surprisingly, they nest on lakes, reservoirs and rivers. In early October, ospreys leave for winter to Central and South America. By then, the young have left the nest and become expert fishers.

Otter Lontra canadensis

Lifespan 8-9 years
Habitat High flow volume water, densely vegetated banks, non-turbid water
Diet Fish, invertebrates, frogs

The adult Northern River Otter in Montana weighs around 20 pounds and measures close to 47 inches long. Its thick, powerful tail makes up nearly 20 inches of that length. Small eyes and ears, a broad, flattened head, long cylindrical form, and four webbed feet suit it for its semiaquatic life. In addition, its fur, dark brown on top, silvery or paler brown on the throat, chest, and underside, has special qualities. The long guard hairs remain pliable in very cold weather, and the dense underfur traps air to insulate it in water. The Northern River Otter can dive to 45 feet and stay underwater for some minutes. It is more nocturnal in summer and its eyes reflect a faint amber glow at night. Its short, muscular legs move surprisingly well on land, and is usually seen traveling in pairs. It has 36 teeth.

Raccoon Procyon lotor

Lifespan 2-3 years
Habitat Agricultural and riparian
Diet Frogs, crayfish, earthworms, berries, nuts

They inhabit all of Montana and have adapted well to living in any habitat, although they're commonly associated with agricultural and riparian habitats. If you watch a raccoon closely, you'll see the front paws are very agile and look like tiny hands. As they eat, they appear to wash their hands and dinner, but it is actually a matter of sensitivity. Raccoons have sense receptors in their paws that are enhanced by water; in a sense, the water helps them evaluate their food. All spring and summer, raccoons build up fat to prepare for winter. Raccoons do not hibernate, but they will den for extended periods to stay warm. Although raccoons are not overly social, they are not territorial either. You may see them in groups of two or three, or at times, all alone. Because raccoons are out only at night they are not often seen, but if you watch closely at dusk you might get lucky.

Red Fox Velpes vulpes

Lifespan 10-12 years
Habitat Forest, open country near water
Diet Small mammals, carrion, birds, eggs

Appearance of small dog. Long, bushy tail, pointed ears, slender muzzle, slanted eyes. White tip on the tail. Rufous coloration, various coat colorations or color phases. Total length: 39 to 43 inches.

Skunk Spilogale gracilis : Western Spotted Skunk

Lifespan 1-2 years
Habitat Arid, rocky and brushy canyons, hillsides
Diet Insects, rodents, small birds, eggs

The Western Spotted Skunk is a small, relatively slender skunk with glossy black fur interrupted with distinct white stripes on the forward part of the body. The posterior part of the body has two interrupted white bands with one white spot on each side of the rump and two more at the base of the tail. The pattern of white lines and spots is individually unique. The top of the tail is black and the underside is extensively white. The tip of the tail is white. A white spot is present on the forehead and another in front of each ear. External measurements in males average 411 millimeters in total length, 122 millimeters for the tail and 50 millimeters for the hind foot. In females, external measurements average 387 millimeters in total length, 116 millimeters for the tail, and 47 millimeters for the hind foot. Males weigh about 630 grams, whereas females weigh about 450 grams.

White-Tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus

Lifespan 4-5 years
Habitat Grasslands, forests, rivers, creek bottoms
Diet Leaves, twigs, fruits, berries, plants

Coat grayish-brown in winter, reddish-brown in summer; underside of foot-long tail white; antlers consist of main beams, generally with three to five tines projecting upward; brow tines long; outside of lower hind foot has a small, teardrop-shaped scent gland; mature bucks weigh 250 to 275 lbs. on good range, does 160 to 180. Occupy small home ranges, do not migrate far; mostly nocturnal and secretive; solitary much of the time but form small groups in favored feeding areas; when alarmed or running, erect and wag their tails, causing white underside to flash.

Wolverine Gulo gulo

Lifespan 17 years
Habitat Forests, mountains, plains, brushland
Diet Eggs, rodents, small animals, deer, sheep

Wolverines are one of the largest mustelids. They have brownish-black hair with strips of light brown along their sides. Their fur is long and dense and does not retain much water. This makes it very resistant to frost in the cold environment wolverines live in. They have large claws and pads on their feet that help them move over deep snow. Wolverines are shaped vaguely like a large marten and have a heavy build with a large head, small ears, a short tail, and very large, powerful limbs. Wolverines are very strong for their size and have been known to drive bears, cougars, and packs of wolves from their kills. They are generally known as the strongest mammal for their size.

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