Did you recently see a mystery WHITE bird in Montana?
If so, I’m guessing you are trying to figure out how to identify the species correctly!
Well, you’re in the right place. Below, you will learn about the different WHITE birds found in Montana. I’ve included high-quality pictures and range maps to help you!
But before you begin, let me give you one warning:
Trying to figure out which WHITE bird you saw can be difficult. The reason is that you may have seen a bird affected by either of these two conditions:
- Albinism: This happens when cells can’t produce ANY melanin, which is the pigment that provides color to feathers.
- Leucism: This condition only involves a PARTIAL loss of pigmentation. Instead of being completely white, the bird may be duller in color or have irregular patches of white plumage.
The list below focuses ONLY on NATURALLY white birds found in Montana.
#1. Snowy Owl
- Bubo scandiacus
Snowy Owls are arguably the most stunning white bird you will see in Montana!
Their white plumage stops almost everyone in their tracks, both birders and non-birders alike! Although they are mostly white, they have horizontal dark lines over most of their bodies. Interestingly, similar to humans, individuals seem to get whiter with age. 🙂
Snowy Owl Range Map
Snowy Owls migrate with the changing seasons. During summer, they mate and breed in northern North America on the tundra. But when winter arrives, these birds come south.
You never know how far south Snowy Owls will travel.
Most years, Snowy Owls only appear as far down as the northern USA. But some years, there is an “irruption” of Snowy Owls, and many more birds than normal migrate south.
- RELATED: 14 Owl Species That Live in Montana!
#2. Rock Pigeon
- Columba livia
Rock Pigeons are extremely common, but they are almost exclusively found in urban areas. These birds are what everyone refers to as a “pigeon.” You have probably seen them gathering in huge flocks in city parks, hoping to get tossed some birdseed or leftover food.
The typical pigeon has a gray back, a blue-grey head, and two black wing bars. But their plumage is highly variable, and it’s common to see completely white birds in Montana.
Rock Pigeon Range Map
Pigeons are easily attracted to bird feeders, especially if leftover food is lying on the ground. Unfortunately, these birds can become a nuisance if they visit your backyard in high numbers. Many people find their presence overwhelming and look for ways to keep them away!
Love them or hate them, Rock Pigeons have been associated with humans for a long time! Some Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that people started domesticating them over 5,000 years ago. But, interestingly, scientists aren’t even sure where their original range occurs!
#3. Snow Bunting
- Plectrophenax nivalis
- Round bodied with a short thick conical bill.
- Breeding males are almost all white, with black on the back.
- Females and non-breeding males are white but have brown-streaked backs and brownish heads.
These charming white birds are a delight to see in Montana!
But since Snow Buntings choose frigid locations high in the Arctic to breed, your best chance to find them is in winter in open fields along the roadside.
Snow Bunting Range Map
Even in summer, Snow Buntings have to work hard to keep their hatchlings warm enough to survive. They build their nests in the deep cracks of rocks and use a thick fur lining to protect the eggs. They never really leave the nest, ensuring it stays warm, and the male comes and feeds the mother every fifteen minutes.
#4. Ring-Billed Gull
- Larus delawarensis
- Adults range from 16.9 to 21.3 inches in length and have a wingspan of 41.3 and 46.1 inches.
- Breeding adults are clean gray above with a white head, white body, white tail, and black wingtips spotted with white.
- They have yellow legs, eyes, and bill with a black band.
Look for these white birds in Montana near aquatic habitats.
They are often spotted on coasts, piers, large bodies of water, and landfills. However, unlike many other gulls, they prefer to nest near freshwater sources.
If you see a gull inland, it’s most likely a Ring-billed Gull. These birds have adapted well to human-disturbed areas and are common around cities, farmlands, docks, and parking lots. In fact, I see them often near my home, scavenging for food in a Target parking lot!
To see a complete list of the types of gulls and terns that live in Montana, many of which are white, check out the article below.
#5. American White Pelican
- Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
- GIANT white bird with a long neck and long bill.
- Yellow patch at the base of the bill that wraps around their eyes.
- Breeding adults have an odd plate that sticks up from the end of the bill.
It’s hard to miss these LARGE white birds in Montana due to their massive size!
American White Pelicans typically weigh between 11 and 20 pounds (5 – 9 kg), but it’s their wingspan that is most impressive. The wings measure over 9 feet (2.7 m) from tip to tip, which is the second widest in North America, behind the California Condor.
American White Pelican Range Map
American White Pelicans are found on freshwater inland lakes during the breeding season. As winter approaches, they migrate south and are typically found near coastlines.
These large white birds look especially magnificent while in flight! Their wide wingspans allow them to soar gracefully for long distances in the sky. If you see them flying in a V-formation, it’s hard not to stop and stare as they almost look prehistoric.
#6. Tundra Swan
- Cygnus columbianus
- Large, white bird with a long white neck.
- Entirely black bill.
- Look for a yellow patch on their black facial skin, located just below the eye, to correctly identify.
- Smaller than Trumpeter Swans.
Tundra Swans form long-term, loyal relationships. Typically by the time they are 2 or 3, they have found a partner. Once that happens, these two birds will breed, feed, roost, and travel together year-round.
The most common sound these white birds make is a “hoo-ho-hoo” bugle, emphasizing the second syllable. (Listen below)
Another typical sound associated with Tundra Swans is the whistling of their wings. In fact, Lewis and Clark initially called them “whistling swans” when they first encountered them, and many people still use this name today.
#7. Trumpeter Swan
- Cygnus buccinator
- A giant, white bird with a long neck.
- Black bill and black facial skin at the base of the bill. It lacks the yellow that appears on the Tundra Swan.
- Black legs.
Trumpeter Swans are the largest white bird native to Montana!
They have a wingspan of almost 6 feet (1.8 m) and weigh around 25 pounds (11.3 kg), which is about twice the weight of a Tundra Swan. In fact, they are so big that about 100 yards of open water is needed for them to get enough speed to take off!
Trumpeter Swans were once endangered due to overhunting, but luckily their population has recovered, and they are increasing their numbers. Unlike Tundra Swans, this species stays in Montana in summer to nest and breed. Look for them near ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes, and the farther from people, the better!
These large birds typically nest on an existing structure surrounded by water, such as beaver dams, muskrat dens, small islands, floating masses of vegetation, and artificial platforms. Trumpeter Swans are very sensitive when breeding and commonly abandon their nest sites and babies due to human disturbance.
#8. Snow Goose
- Anser caerulescens
- Most Snow Geese are all white with black tail feathers. But some individuals display a “blue morph,” whose heads are still white but bodies are sooty gray.
- Pink legs.
- Pink bill, which has a black patch on each side.
During the breeding season, Snow Geese spend their time in the continent’s northernmost areas, away from human civilization. As a result, most people only get the pleasure of seeing this abundant white bird in Montana when they migrate south in fall and winter.
Snow Goose Range Map
Look for them in large fields and bodies of water. If they are around, it’s usually not hard to find them, as they are almost always seen in huge flocks accompanied by a lot of honking!
And lastly, here is a fun fact that my kids loved to learn. Snow Geese are prolific at pooping, and they defecate between 6 – 15 times per hour. 🙂
#9. Ross’s Goose
- Anser rossii
- Small, stocky goose that is completely white, except for black wingtips. They are slightly larger than a Mallard duck.
- A stubby red-orange bill that has a gray base.
- Legs and feet are also red-orange.
Ross’s Goose looks very similar to the Snow Goose, except they are smaller and have a shorter neck and stubbier bill. It’s common for these two species to travel together in the same large flocks!
Ross’s Goose Range Map
Populations of Ross’s Goose have been increasing due to climate change. As their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic are warming, the snow cover has been reduced, which increases plant growth. More plants mean more food for Ross’s Goose, which leads to more babies being born and surviving!
During migration and the non-breeding season, these white birds can be seen in Montana in marshes, lakes, and farm fields, where they enjoy eating leftover crops.
- Falco rusticolus
The Gyrfalcon, sometimes known as the Gyr, is the largest falcon species in the world! These raptors are birds of the Arctic, and they breed on the sides of cliffs in remote areas of Alaska and Canada. Luckily, they live in secluded areas and are safe from human disturbances, but they do face challenges from climate change.
Gyrfalcons are polymorphic species, which means that their feathers and plumage vary a bit. These falcons range in color from almost entirely white to very dark. Some of the morphs make the Gyrfalcon look similar to a Peregrine Falcon. Also, males and females show no color differences. The only difference between the sexes is that females are larger and bulkier than males.
During the winter months, Gyrs have to come south from the high Arctic to find food. Depending on the specific year, you never know how far south they may come!
Gyrfalcons will eat almost ANYTHING they can catch. The long list includes hares, ground squirrels, young Arctic Foxes, lemmings, songbirds, shorebirds, seabirds, waterfowl, and even other raptors, such as owls, hawks, and the Peregrine Falcon! With that being said, their primary source of food is ptarmigans.
#11. White-tailed Ptarmigan
- Lagopus leucura
- Breeding males are brown and gray with a white belly.
- Breeding females have a yellowish wash with brown and black barring.
- In winter, males and females both turn completely white!
To find White-tailed Ptarmigans, you MUST head high into the mountains. They are one of the ONLY birds that spend their entire lives at such high elevations, as most birds head down the mountain when the weather gets cold.
White-tailed Ptarmigan Range Map
To survive such cold temperatures, White-tailed Ptarmigans have evolved some helpful adaptations. For example, check out their feathered feet, which enable them to keep warm and walk on snow. In addition, they almost never fly in winter, choosing to walk everywhere to conserve energy.
Interestingly, White-tailed Ptarmigans change colors with the seasons. In summer, they are brownish. But if you head to the mountains of western Montana during winter, they are COMPLETELY white!
Which of the white birds have you seen before in Montana?
Leave a COMMENT below! 🙂