Seasons of Wildlife

A group of eleven Canada geese fly in formation against dark blue green forest background.  Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick, Volunteer NBR/USFWS

Waterfowl numbers vary through the year, with major concentrations occurring in spring and fall. Spring migration is at a peak from late March to early May. Fall populations often peak in early October to late November. Waterfowl typically nest from April until July. However, because the Mission Valley is between two flyways (the Pacific Flyway is to the west and the Central Flyway is over the Continental Divide to the east), we don't see very large numbers of birds during migration but we do get a wide variety. And they seem to come in waves – such as a flock of 100 tundra swans for a few days before they move on, then the next week it might be the western grebes, then redheads, then coots, and so on. You can access the bird checklist with notes of habitat and seasons. Plus, for the protection of yourself and wildlife, please follow all rules and regulations

  • Winter - December, January, February

    A close up view of the head of a snowy owl, with large yellow eyes surrounded by snowy white feathers.  Photo by Ronald Laubenstein, USFWS

    Winter can bring blowing snow and bone chilling cold. However, the short days and cold weather make many animals active throughout the day.

    A typical winter brings at least one snowy owl to the valley from the tundra. Much depends on the food supply up north and how many young were successfully raised. In some years, when all the conditions are right, we have up to 30 of these white birds in the field around Pablo NWR and even on rooftops in the town of Polson. 

  • Spring - March, April , May

    A killdeer, a small plump shorebird, is reflected in the water as it walks in the mud.  It white chest and throat are set off by two black stripes, a critical identification mark.  Photo by Gary Kramer, USFWS

    One of the earliest signs of spring in the valley is the shrill call of the killdeer. It frequently arrives when snow is still on the ground and the water still icy. Spring is the time for variety and abundance, with summer birds arriving to set up nesting areas and migrating birds traveling through on their way to northern lands. Local ducks, geese, water birds, osprey and songbirds are all active with courtship rituals, building nests, and laying eggs. 

  • Summer - June, July, August

    Two pairs of Canada goose adults swim with their combined broods of numerous downy yellow young.  Photo by Dave Menke, USFWS

    Bird activity can pick up this time of year as young are leaving nests, learning to fly, and foraging. Red winged blackbirds and swallows begin to flock together by summer’s ends. And the early migrants from the north, particularly shorebirds like yellowlegs and plovers, start to move through. Water levels can become quite low, concentrating birds in the deeper areas and causing early closure of the fishing season.

  • Fall - September, October, November

    A rough legged hawk hunts over the grassland, with its dark body contrasting with its light head, legs and wings.  Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick, Volunteer, NBR/USFWS.

    As water starts to freeze over, waterfowl start to leave the area with more moving through from the north. Most insect eating birds, the neotropical migrants, also leave for the south. Surprising, a few birds come into the area for the winter, traveling in from Canada and the Arctic. These include rough-legged hawks (the Mission Valley has one of the highest wintering concentrations) as well as irruptions of snowy owls (up to 30 birds some years, sometimes none at all).

    Pablo NWR closes to all public use during hunting season (late September to early January) to provide a resting area for the birds.