Yellow-headed Blackbird

 Migratory birds are especially abundant on the refuge during fall and spring migration. More than 260 species of birds are present in the Bitterroot River watershed, and 242 species have been documented on the refuge (USFWS, unpublished refuge files).

Sandhill CraneMigratory birds are especially abundant on the refuge during fall and spring migration. More than 260 species of birds are present in the Bitterroot River watershed, and 242 species have been documented on the refuge (Refuge species list), including grebes, bitterns, herons, egrets, waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, flycatchers, swallows, chickadees, warblers, wrens, sparrows, and blackbirds. Birder sightings can be accessed via our E BIRD widget.

The many ecological and community changes to the Lee Metcalf Refuge ecosystem have had corresponding effects on fish and wildlife populations using the area. Unfortunately, few quantitative data are available on animal use of the area during historical times.

Brown CreeperRiverfront and riparian woodlands, wetlands provide important nesting, foraging, and stopover habitat for many birds. These include neotropical songbirds such as least flycatcher, yellow warbler, Vaux’s swift, and Lewis’s woodpecker, and waterbirds such as common merganser and wood duck. Riverfront forest is also important for nesting and perching sites for large raptors such as bald eagles and osprey.

Non-forested wetlands away from the Bitterroot River are a key habitat for migrant waterfowl species such as mallard; gadwall; northern pintail and shoveler; cinnamon, green-winged, and blue-winged teal; and wood, redhead, and ruddy duck. Other waterbirds documented on these impoundments includes six species of grebe, American white pelican, white-faced ibis, Red-breasted Nuthatchand occasionally a great egret. Both trumpeter and tundra swans stopover at the refuge, and bitterns are sometimes seen hiding amongst the cattail. When extensive mud-flats are present, migrant shorebirds such as least sandpiper, semipalmated plover, American avocet, black-necked stilt, dowitcher, and yellowleg are seen feeding in these areas. Double-crested cormorants can usually be found in the north ponds and have historically nested over water in dead trees. Abundant yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds can be found nesting in the summer among the cattails along with marsh wren, sora, and Virginia rail.

Abundance of small mammals in upland habitat provides feeding opportunities for great blue herons and raptors including red-tailed hawk, rough-Great Horned Owllegged hawk, American kestrel, and prairie falcon. Sandhill cranes have also been seen foraging in the upland fields. As uplands are dominated by invasive and other nonnative species, most upland areas do not provide the necessary heterogeneous structure (lack of vertical and horizontal patchiness) for nesting resources of grassland-dependent migratory birds.

A total of 42 wildlife State species of concern and 21 Federal birds of conservation concern have been found in the Bitterroot Valley (USFWS 2008). These wildlife species are identified on the State and/or Federal lists as species that require special attention to prevent them from becoming threatened or endangered. All but eight of these species have been documented using the refuge.


Yellow Warbler Early in the planning process, the Service selected three groups of target species that will be supported by the objectives and strategies described under the habitat goals for the Bitterroot River floodplain, wetland impoundment habitat, and grassland and shrubland habitat. The initial suite of birds, amphibians, or mammals was selected after Service staff reviewed three documents focused on sustaining or recovering species in Montana:

Willow FlycatcherThe criteria for this species list were based on whether a species either occurred on Lee Metcalf Refuge or could occur on the refuge if its preferred habitat was expanded or restored, as indicated under each goal. The life history needs of over 100 species were examined for similarities and relevance to the proposed goals. Ultimately, 16 species (Table 8, Table 9, and Table10 from the Refuge CCP) were selected based on their ability to represent guilds or because they were good indicators of the quality of a specific habitat type. The habitats that support the migration, foraging, nesting, and migration needs of these selected species should benefit a much broader group of secondary bird species as well as a variety of other wildlife, both migratory and resident. These target species will be monitored for trends in abundance and distribution to evaluate the effectiveness of the objectives and strategies.