Get to Know the Birds of Helena

Two birds sharing a nut on a tree branch

By Chelsea Paschall

While in Helena you can meet with the happy surprise of birding, a free and fun discovery activity. Helena is a part of the Southwest Montana Birding Trails, providing many great opportunities to birdwatch. Montana has opportunities for beginners as well as dedicated listers. There are 428 bird species recorded in Montana and 316 can be found in Southwest Montana.

Here are several reasons to keep your binoculars at the ready:

The local shop Birds & Beasleys offers free two hour Guided Bird Walks every Saturday at 7:30am, as well as the last Wednesday of July and August at 6:30pm. This is an excellent all ages opportunity to become familiar with the local bird population. Locations are determined a few days prior, depending on where the birds have been sighted. Each bird walk is guided by a local birding expert. The tours are offered through August. Catch this opportunity while you can!

Here are a few of our favorite spots you can venture to on your own:

Helena Valley/ Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area – In the spring and autumn diverse bird species pause along one of North America’s major north-south migration routes. While many birds nest in the network of dikes and ponds, a wider variety of species can be found in the surrounding mountains and lake habitats. Osprey and Bald Eagles are among the species that can be spotted soaring in this region. A detailed guide can be downloaded at Last Chance Audubon. Best Viewing Seasons: May – July for breeding birds; August – November for shorebirds and migrants.

Closer to town, Spring Meadow Lake State Park off of U.S. Highway 12 offers good birding, particularly in the quiet early morning and evening hours. Songbirds nest around the lake, and during migration common loons and various waterfowl rest here.

Tizer Botanic Gardens & Arboretum, located 18 miles south of Helena in Jefferson City, offers an appealing habitat for a variety of birds. Tizer is one of only three privately owned internationally accredited arboretums in the United States. It is a hummingbird research facility and has a Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden that proves particularly enticing in July. Tizer sits at the entrance of the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area with access to 600 square miles of public lands to bike, hike and enjoy additional bird and wildlife viewing. Tizer is open to the public April – September (and weather dependent October).

Birding Ethics: To avoid stressing birds, please observe from a distance. Use restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording and filming. Keep habitat disturbance to a minimum, stay well back from nests and important feeding sites. Stay on trails, paths and roads when possible. Practice common courtesy to generate goodwill with birders and nonbirders alike.

The Montana eBird app provides a platform to track and share sightings to keep updated about birding hotspots.