More than 250 species of birds have been documented on the refuge. The unique combination of native prairies, sagebrush shrublands, forested coulees, pine–juniper woodlands, riparian areas and river bottoms, and badlands makes the refuge a haven for migrant and breeding birds. The refuge is also extremely important for year-round residents such as sharp-tailed and sage-grouse. Neotropical migratory birds use the refuge as nesting habitat but also as a stopover area during spring and fall migrations while heading north and south of the refuge. Other bird groups found on the refuge include colonial-nesting birds, waterfowl, raptors, and owls.Threatened, endangered and candidate bird species include the least tern which was listed as endangered by the Service in 1985 and was first documented in Montana at Fort Peck Lake in 1987. Because the amount of available habitat changes with the lake level the Missouri River below the dam and the Yellowstone River attract more least terns than the reservoir. The northern Great Plains population of piping plovers was listed as threatened in 1985 and the Service designated 77,371 acres on Fort Peck Reservoir as critical habitat. As with the least tern, the amount of available habitat changes with the lake level and affects the number of birds attracted to the reservoir in any given year. Sprague’s pipit and greater sage-grouse were both listed as candidate species in 2010. This means they warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act but listing is precluded by other higher priority species listings.
Important Bird Area
The National Audubon Society has recognized CMR as a Global Important Bird Area based on three criteria: (1) the site regularly holds significant numbers of a globally threatened species or other species of global conservation concern; (2) holds species of State Conservation Concern; and (3) has greater than 1 percent of the State’s population. The refuge lies directly south of the Glaciated Prairie Sage-Steppe Important Bird Area for Greater Sage-Grouse and northeast of the Musselshell Important Bird Area for Greater Sage-Grouse.
CMR staff has identified several species as focal birds, those that serve as indicator species on the refuge and will be monitored for response to management actions. Focal birds often have the most restrictive needs within any given area; therefore, they can be indicators of a complete bird community and serve as an umbrella for other, generalist, bird species found in the same habitat type. The focal birds for the major habitat types are species that regularly nest on the refuge and are species of conservation concern:
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The refuge was named in recognition of this colorful western artist who often portrayed the refuge’s landscape in his paintings and whose conservation ethic was years ahead of his time.