Home to over a hundred species of mammals, Montana is known to have a diverse array of native wildlife. Ranging from reptiles to amphibians, and from small rodents to apex predators, Montana provides habitat to all. It owes its diversity to a low human population, immense tracts of forested mountain ranges, and an unusual climate.
Quick fact: Did you know that Montana is home to 440 species of birds!
It is vital to keep in mind that regardless of how cute, cuddly, or harmless they may look, wild animals in their natural habitat are not pets. Disrupting their natural order can be unfortunate for the animals and dangerous for you.
You can find maps and guidebooks through the Forest Service of Montana or the Bureau of Land Management while on your journey to spot these unique creatures.
Below is our list of 10 animals in Montana that you might have the privilege to see on your next trip to the “Treasure State”.
The Pronghorn is a species of deer in Montana and the only one to have branched horns, hence the name. Often confused for Antelopes, Pronghorns belong to an entirely different family of mammals. With their distinctive backward curving horns and a running speed of about 70 miles per hour, they are known to be the second-fastest land mammal in the world, after the Cheetah.
If you are lucky, you can spot them in the open prairie across eastern Montana, mid-way in the annual process of shedding their horn sheaths.
When frightened, the hair on their behinds tends to rise into a white patch that is visible even from a distance and is always a fascinating sight. In case you are a bow hunter and intend to go Pronghorn hunting in Montana, August 15th to November 14th is the best time for you! On the other hand, Pronghorn hunting for rifles begins around 9th October and extends to November 14th.
Also known as the cat of the mountains or wildcat, the Bobcat is a species spread throughout the state. Bobcats are about twice the size of a domestic cat, showing a variety of colors in its thick fur. It can be seen in yellowish-brown, reddish-brown, and hues of grey and black.
The bobcat tends to inhabit rimrock and grassland areas such as the Rocky Mountain foothills or the Bison Range. While it is often referred to as the Lynx cat, they are two separate, yet similar species of wild Montana cats. Lynx are much larger, with longer legs and higher hips.
3. Golden Eagle and Bald Eagle
These native species of Montana have specks of gold on their head and neck feathers with a brown body.
With a wingspan of 6.5-7.5 feet, the Golden Eagle soars with its wings held nearly flat, but slightly upturned – unlike the Bald Eagle who soars with its wings completely flat.
Golden Eagles can be spotted in Montana year-round nesting in large trees or cliffs, specifically in the Glacier National Park.
Owing to their strong eyesight, Golden Eagles can spot their prey from afar, such as ground squirrels, grouse, weasels, jackrabbits, etc. They can be differentiated from the Bald Eagle, also found in Montana, through their physical appearance. The Bald Eagle has feathers only mid-way down the leg, whereas the legs of the Golden Eagle are heavily feathered all the way down to their toes.
Moreover, the immature Bald Eagles have irregular patches of white on their body, distinct from the sharply defined patterns on the immature Golden Eagle’s body.
While the Bald Eagles are an endangered species, they can be found strongly populated in the waterways and lakes of Montana. If you happen to visit Montana in the Fall season, you will definitely be able to catch sight of them since they migrate from the winters of Canada and Alaska to Montana.
4. Grizzly Bear
Although they are known for their ferocious and deadly nature, bear attacks are amongst the rarest animal attacks in Montana. They are one of the endangered species of the world, with only less than 10% making it to adulthood.
Most of the remaining 1,500 Grizzlies live in northwestern Montana, in or around Yellowstone National Park. They enjoy feasting on berries, plants, and fish, typically salmon from the Yellowstone River.
Despite their large size and weight ranging from 300 to 900lbs., they run at an astonishing speed of nearly forty miles per hour. They are most inactive during winters which are their hibernation period, so make sure to visit Montana in early summers if you want a glimpse of the big brown bears!
5. Black-footed Ferret
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this is the rarest mammal spotted in Montana and is also an endangered species. With a lifespan of only forty-eight months, the Black-footed Ferret has a population size of about two-hundred-and-six mature individuals.
They have a long slender body with cream-colored fur, along with a black-tipped tail, and black feet, hence the name. Often referred to as the American Polecat, these ferrets are known to be prairie dog hunters.
They owe their expertise in preying on prairie dogs and other animals, such as ground squirrels, to their large eyes and a strong sense of smell. This enables them to hunt down their prey even in the pitch darkness of their temperate habitats, for example, the plains and grasslands of Montana.
6. Whooping Crane
This omnivore is part of the unusual occasional sightings in the marshes, wetlands, and wet prairies of Montana such as the Centennial Valley, and is one of the tallest birds in North America. Both sexes are similar in appearance; adult plumage is pure white overall, with males generally larger and taller than females.
Usually, it is difficult to distinguish this bird from the Sandhill Crane in bright sunlight, but during early evening hours, the Sandhill Crane can be seen to have an overall gray plumage compared to the Whooping Crane’s snow-white one.
It is named after its unique and resonating whooping sound which can be heard for up to two miles away. This way, you can easily hear the high-pitched vocalization of the Whooping Crane as long as you are in its two-mile radius, whether on your tour bus or foot. If you can catch this ground bird with its wings outstretched, which reaches up to a span of 7.5 feet, it will be easier to recognize this crane.
7. Pygmy Rabbit
This odd Montana rabbit grows to about ten inches in length and is only found in the Southwest corner of the state, where they are the only rabbit species that dig their burrows. They tend to occupy shrub grasslands, floodplains, plateaus, high mountain valleys, and mountain slopes and are highly dependent on sagebrush to provide them with both food and shelter throughout the year.
8. Rubber Boa
This snake looks and feels like rubber and hides under the rocks and logs of moist or dry cedar forests and Mission Mountains. They are secretive and slow-moving, brown to olive-green, and can easily camouflage with their jungle environments, to successfully prey on small mice, lizards, salamanders, and smaller snakes.
9. Northern Scorpion
Being the only scorpion found in Montana, they are native to areas that would generally be uninhabitable to scorpions owing to their ability to withstand extremely low temperatures. Most of the sightings of the Northern Scorpion are spotted along the sandstone cliffs in Southeast Montana, such as the Rims around Billings or the cliffs in the Bighorn Canyon.
They have a venom-packed stinger, similar to all scorpions but are rarely known to sting humans. However, they can inject paralyzing venom when preying and feeding on insects. They are relatively difficult to spot unless you are tossing rocks in broad daylight or are out on a run along the cliffs with your flashlight.
The largest member of the weasel family, the wolverine looks similar to a small bear or a large badger. They have thick bodies with strong powerful limbs, large padded paws with razor-sharp claws, and jaws that can crush heavy bones. The wolverine is a fierce predator and has been known to chase grizzly bears away from a fresh kill.
They are also extremely smart and cunning animals, which makes them highly competitive with larger predator species. Wolverines weigh between 7 and 32 kilograms and range from 0.9 to 1.1 meters in length. Females average about 10% less than males measured nose to tail and 30% less in mass.
They have thick, dark brown fur with yellow or tan patches. They are rarely seen, but most sightings in Montana occur west of Helena, toward the Idaho border, and up into Canada. If you see a wolverine you can count yourself among the lucky few!
Wrapping It Up
The best times of day for most wildlife viewing in Montana are dawn and dusk. It is essential to plan accordingly if you want to have the best experience in discovering unusual animals in Montana. Either get up early or go to bed late if you want the best viewing opportunities!
Undeniably, the best way to avoid accidents or animal attacks is to maintain a distance and enjoy your experience with a pair of binoculars. If you do insist on having an on-foot experience, remember to carry bear spray with you, especially if you plan on visiting areas inhabited by the Montana Grizzly.
In general most animals, even the big ones, just want to be left alone. Bears are probably more frightened of you than you are of them. Exercise caution and common sense and enjoy!