What kinds of nocturnal animals can you find in Montana?
Heading outside after dark can turn up a surprising number of creatures. Keep reading to learn about what you may encounter!
14 Nocturnal Animals in Montana:
#1. Great Horned Owl
- Bubo virginianus
- Adults are mottled gray-brown with reddish faces.
- They have prominent feather tufts on their heads and large yellow eyes.
You may not see Great Horned Owls often, but they are common nocturnal animals throughout Montana.
These raptors can actually be found from the Arctic south to the tropics. Its habitat is practically unlimited as long as there are trees and rocky nesting sites available. It is hard to find a bird that can adapt better than a Great Horned Owl.
Great Horned Owl Range Map
These owls are quite large and look fierce! To identify them, look for their long tufts of feathers that resemble ears on their head. Also, check out their intimidating eyes. I know I would not want to have a staring contest with one!
Both sexes hoot, but males are lower-pitched than females. Males give territorial calls that can be heard a few miles away at night. I don’t think there’s another owl species that does hooting better than a Great Horned Owl!
- Canis latrans
- Their coloring is grayish to yellow-brown on top with white underparts.
- They have a bushy tail, large, triangular ears, narrow muzzle, black nose, and yellow eyes.
Coyotes are some of the most common nocturnal animals in Montana.
These predators have a large range in North America and are found in various habitats, from the tropics to the tundra. They have expanded their range after the near extermination of wolves and cougars by European settlers.
Coyotes are also highly versatile in their food selection. Despite being primarily carnivorous, they consume various plants, including berries, grass, and food crops. They will eat almost anything, and this extensive menu allows them to thrive in nearly every environment in Montana!
Even if you haven’t seen one, you’ve probably heard a Coyote before! They’re extremely vocal and communicate through howls, yips, whines, and barks. These vocalizations are used to warn pack mates of danger, greet each other, and play.
#3. Common Nighthawk
- Chordeiles minor
- Adults are camouflaged gray, white, buff, and black.
- They have short legs, flat heads, and tiny bills.
- They have noticeable white patches near the bend of their wings.
These odd-looking birds are one of the most interesting nocturnal animals in Montana.
Common Nighthawks are sometimes called “bullbats” because their awkward, erratic flapping makes them look like bats. While they can be tough to spot in the, you’ll probably hear their sharp peent call as they soar through the night skies feeding on insects.
Common Nighthawk Range Map
You may also see males putting on a “booming” display. The males will dive towards the ground, pulling up at the last second.
The air rushing across their wingtips during this maneuver makes a booming or rushing sound like a racecar.
#4. Big Brown Bat
- Eptesicus fuscus
- Larger-sized bat with around a 12-inch (30 cm) wingspan.
- Brown fur with black ears, wings, and feet. Wings are hairless.
These flying nocturnal mammals are widespread in Montana.
If you know where to look, you’ll find Big Brown Bats inside caves, tunnels, or other human structures.
Big Brown Bat Range Map
These bats primarily eat insects, especially ones that fly at night. However, their preference is to eat beetles. The Cucumber Beetle is their favorite, which benefits farmers because these insects are terrible pests for agriculture. Many farmers even use bat boxes to attract Big Brown Bats to their property!
Though rabies is common in all bats, research has shown the disease is rarer in this species. The reason for this fact is that many Big Brown Bats have immunity to rabies. Interestingly, researchers discovered that these rabies antibodies get passed down from generation to generation!
- Lynx rufus
- Their coloring is buff to brown, sometimes with a reddish tint, and black and brown spots and stripes.
- They have facial ruffs, ear tufts, white spots, and short, bobbed tails.
Bobcats are solitary, elusive, shy, nocturnal animals that are rarely seen in Montana.
As carnivores, Bobcats are highly skilled hunters. They can climb, run up to 30 miles per hour (48 kph), and leap high enough to grab low-flying birds. They spend their nights patiently stalking their prey until they are close enough to pounce.
The largest threat to Bobcat populations is habitat fragmentation due to their large home ranges and elusive nature. However, rodenticides can also cause issues in populations when they feed on contaminated prey.
- Procyon lotor
- Their fur is grayish-brown with 4 to 6 black rings on the tail and a black “mask” marking around the eyes.
- They have bushy tails and paws with five long, finger-like toes.
Raccoons are one of the most common nocturnal animals in Montana around people!
Due to their ability to adapt to humans, Raccoons have an extensive range and are found in forests, wetlands, suburbs, parks, and cities. They generally avoid large open areas and thrive in areas with water sources, abundant food, and den sites.
Raccoons feed on practically anything they can fit in their mouths. Individuals living in urban locations are often larger than those in unpopulated areas because they have adapted to live on human hand-outs, pet food, and trash.
Raccoons often pick up food items and rub them with their paws, sometimes removing unwanted parts. This gives the appearance that they’re washing their food.
Lastly, they have REALLY cute babies. 🙂
#7. Red Fox
- Vulpes vulpes
- Their coloring ranges from pale orange or red to deep reddish-brown on their upper parts with white on their underside.
- They have black feet, a fluffy white-tipped tail, and large, pointy, black-tipped ears.
Red Foxes are arguably the most beautiful nocturnal animal in Montana!
These canines are often thought of as cunning and smart, with good reason! They’re excellent hunters and foragers. They also cache food and are adept at relocating it. Although they prefer rabbits, fish, and berries, they won’t hesitate to eat anything readily available.
This species has a distinctive way of hunting mice and other small rodents. Once the prey has been detected, they stand motionless, waiting and listening. Then they leap high into the air and bring their forelegs straight down, pinning the rodent. Their incredible hearing makes it easy for them to hunt at night.
#8. Striped Skunk
- Mephitis mephitis
- Their coloring is black with two thick white stripes running down the back and tail and a thin white stripe from the snout to the forehead.
- They have a bushy black tail, small triangular heads, short ears, and black eyes.
Striped Skunks have perhaps the worst reputation of any nocturnal animal in Montana.
They’re best known for their unusual defense system. When threatened, a Striped Skunk will first stomp its feet or handstand as a warning.
If these aren’t heeded, the skunk bends its hindquarters to face the animal and releases its defensive smelly spray. The unpleasant, oily liquid can reach up to 20 feet (6 m) and may cause nausea, intense pain, and temporary blindness.
Despite their foul odor, Striped Skunks provide benefits to humans in the form of pest control. In the summer, they’re largely insectivorous and spend their nights feeding heavily on grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and bees. The best thing to do if you see a skunk is to give it space. They usually move on quickly when they notice humans!
These small mammals are typically common in suburban areas but are rarely seen because they are nocturnal. As seen below, they often visit bird feeders to eat leftover seeds on the ground!
#9. Eastern Screech-Owl
- Megascops asio
- They are either mostly gray or reddish-brown.
- They are small, stocky owls with ear tufts and almost no necks.
These little nocturnal animals may remind you of professional wrestlers since they are short, stocky, and have no necks! Eastern Screech-owls can either be grey or red, with about a third of all individuals being red.
These small owls will settle in almost any wooded area. They are extremely well camouflaged and often spend their days pressed against the tree that they’re resting in.
Eastern Screech-Owl Range Map
Even if you’ve never seen one, you may have heard an Eastern Screech-owl at night. They make various hoots, calls, and songs, but their most popular is an even-pitched trill, often called a tremolo.
The tremolo is used by pairs to keep in contact with each other and lasts between 3 to 6 seconds. I think this tremolo call sounds a lot like mating toads, and I sometimes get the two confused!
#10. Northern Flying Squirrel
- Glaucomys sabrinus
- They have cinnamon or light brown fur with whitish bellies.
- They have huge black eyes and flat tails.
These nocturnal animals are so stealthy that few people even realize that they’re around. They have big black eyes which help them to navigate as they soar from the treetops in the dark of night.
Northern Flying Squirrel Range Map
To find a Northern Flying Squirrel, you will need to look in forests dominated by conifer trees.
It is rare to find these squirrels on the ground since they are incredibly clumsy walkers. If a predator approaches, they will typically try to hide instead of run away.
Most of their time is spent at the tops of trees, gliding from branch to branch. Their average length of glides is between 16 – 82 feet (5 – 25 m). I wish these squirrels could be seen during the day because watching them glide these distances would be incredible to see!
- Puma concolor
- Coloration ranges from reddish-brown to tawny or gray, with a black tip on their tail.
- They have round heads, pointed ears, and powerful forequarters.
Cougars are among the largest nocturnal animals in Montana.
Their large hind legs and massive paws help give Cougars incredible athletic ability. They can jump 15 feet high and 40 feet in distance and sprint at 50 miles per hour. Yet, despite their impressive speed, they generally wait and ambush prey.
Except for females raising young, adult Cougars generally only kill one large animal every couple of weeks. Then, they drag the kill to a preferred area and cover it with brush, returning to feed off it over a few days.
Cougars have the most amount of names of any animal North America. While Cougar seems to be the most common, these large cats are also known as catamount, mountain lion, puma, ghost cat, and panther.
#12. American Badger
- Taxidea taxus
- Their long fur is brown or black with white stripes on their cheeks and one white stripe running from their nose to the back of their head.
- They have a large, flat body, short, powerful legs, triangular face, small ears, and long, sharp claws.
The American Badger is an intimidating nocturnal animal that primarily feeds on small burrowing creatures, like ground squirrels, rats, gophers, and mice.
They spend their nights digging prey out of burrows with their strong claws or entering the burrows and waiting for the creature to return. Interestingly, Coyotes regularly stand nearby and wait to catch animals fleeing from badgers.
American Badgers create their own burrows as well. They regularly dig upwards of 32 feet of tunnels that reach 10 feet below the surface, with enlarged chambers for sleeping, storing food, and giving birth. Their burrows have one entrance with a pile of dirt next to it.
#13. North American Porcupine
- Erethizon dorsatum
- Their fur ranges in color from brownish-yellow to black, with white highlights on their quills.
- Porcupines are covered in approximately 30,000 hollow quills.
This nocturnal animal is the second-largest rodent in Montana!
While North American Porcupines generally spend much of their time on the ground, they can also climb trees, using their tail for support. But they aren’t the best climbers; one study found that 30% of the porcupines had healed fractures from falling from trees.
North American Porcupine Range Map
They’re well known for their sharp quills used for defense. When threatened, porcupines draw up the skin of their back, bristling so that the quills face all directions. The porcupine keeps its back to the predator and moves its tail back and forth.
But, despite their effective defense, porcupines are still preyed on by fishercats, coyotes, wolverines, and other predators that have adapted to hunting them.
Contrary to popular belief, porcupines can’t throw quills at their attacker! 🙂
#14. Western Spotted Skunk
- Spilogale gracilis
- Their fur is glossy black with white spots.
- They are small and slender and have a fluffy black tail with a white tip and underside.
Western Spotted Skunks are some of the smelliest nocturnal animals in Montana!
They prefer areas that provide extensive cover, and they’re rarely seen in open fields or yards.
Like Striped Skunks, this species sprays a noxious oily secretion if threatened. The smelly, toxic substance can temporarily blind an attacker.
Despite their excellent defense and hiding skills, their populations are decreasing, and some individual states have listed them as a species of greatest conservation need. They are most threatened by vehicle collisions, trapping, and pest control efforts.
To learn more about animals in Montana, check out these other guides!
Which of these nocturnal animals have you seen before in Montana?
Leave a comment below!
Some range maps below were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.