What kinds of herons can you find in Montana?
If you visit any type of water habitat, you are likely to see at least one species of heron. These elegant birds are typically found in shallow water, which they enjoy wading through to find food.
Some types of herons are easy to spot when they are around, such as Great Blue Herons. But make sure to keep a close watch near dense aquatic vegetation for smaller, more inconspicuous species.
Today, you will learn about 3 herons that live in Montana!
- If you’re interested, you can watch the birds in my backyard right now! Check out and watch my TWO live animal cameras HERE!
For each heron species, I provide some fun facts and identify them by sight OR sound. Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which herons live near you!
#1. Great Blue Heron
- A very tall and large bird, with a long neck and a wide black stripe over their eye.
- As the name suggests, they are a grayish-blue color.
- Long feather plumes on their head, neck, and back.
Great Blue Heron Range Map
Great Blue Herons are typically seen in Montana along the edges of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
Most of the time, they will either be motionless or moving very slowly through the water, looking for their prey. But watch them closely because when an opportunity presents itself, these herons will strike quickly and ferociously to grab something to eat. Common foods include fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, and even other birds.
Great Blue Herons appear majestic in flight, and once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot them. Watch the skies for a LARGE bird that folds its neck into an “S” shape and has its legs trailing straight behind.
Believe it or not, Great Blue Herons mostly build their nests, which are made out of sticks, very high up in trees. In addition, they almost always nest in large colonies that can include up to 500 different breeding pairs. And unbelievably, almost all of the breeding pairs nest in the same few trees!
When disturbed, these large birds make a loud “kraak” or “fraunk” sound, which can also be heard when in flight. Listen below!
#2. American Bittern
- A medium-sized, stout heron that is a buffy brown color.
- Underparts are white with brown streaks.
Consider yourself lucky if you can spot an American Bittern in Montana!
These herons live in freshwater marshes and are extremely secretive and perfectly camouflaged for their habitat.
American Bittern Range Map
American Bitterns are most often seen standing motionless, waiting for a fish, invertebrate, amphibian, or reptile to wander near. Once their prey gets close enough, their head darts quickly to grab the victim to swallow headfirst. Interestingly, indigestible parts don’t pass through their digestive system but instead are regurgitated as pellets!
Sound is one of the best ways to find these herons in Montana! During the breeding season, listen for a loud, odd-sounding “oong-KA-chunk” call, which has a liquid sound to it. (Listen below)
#3. Black-crowned Night-Heron
- A relatively small, stocky, compact heron.
- Appears a bit hunchbacked, as it often tucks its neck into its body.
- Black head and back, which contrast against its white belly and gray wings.
Black-crowned Night-Heron Range Map
Black-crowned Night-Herons are common in wetlands across Montana. In fact, they are the most widespread heron in the world, but they are often hard to actually locate and see!
As their name suggests, these herons are most active at dusk and during the evening. While the sun is out, they spend the day hiding amongst brush and vegetation near the water’s edge. By foraging at night, these birds avoid competition from other heron species!
When surprised or under duress, Black-crowned Night-Herons give a loud, barking “quawk.“ While at their nesting colonies, you can hear a variety of other croaks, barks, hisses, screams, clucks, and rattles. LISTEN BELOW!
Need additional help identifying the herons that live near you?
Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist!
Which of these heron species have you seen before in Montana?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other water birds near you, check out these guides!
The range maps below were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!