Education Birds

Watson_400x300Watson is an adult, male, American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), the smallest of the falcon species. He weighs about 4.5 oz., has a wingspan of 20”-22″. Watson was found in Helena, suffering from an old fracture in the right wing along with a healed fracture in his left wing. He also imprinted on his human caretakers. When a young bird imprints on humans who feed it, it lacks the natural instinct to hunt and once mature will look for a human mate. Watson’s limited flight ability and human imprint make him un-releasable. Watson became an MRCC education bird in 2013, the same year he was born.

American Kestrels are the most common, smallest, and most widespread members of the falcon family in North America. Kestrels use cavities for nesting, either natural or man-made. They rely on old woodpecker holes, natural tree hollows, rock crevices, and nooks in buildings and other human-built structures (nesting boxes). Kestrel nesting boxes can be made and placed along wooded edges or open country. They will raise 4-5 young that are incubated for 30 days and fledge a month later. Kestrels may produce 1-2 clutches a year.

Kestrels can commonly be seen perched on telephone wires or fence posts throughout the spring and summer months in Montana. Watch for them hunting (hovering) during the day in open fields with short ground vegetation. Typically Kestrels eat insects and other invertebrates as well as small rodents and birds. Kestrels can see ultraviolet light. This enables them to make out the trails of urine that voles, a common prey mammal, leave as they run along the ground. Like neon diner signs, these bright paths may highlight the way to a meal.

Watson has been adopted by: Linda & John Pojman, Jeanne Jacobson, and Maria McNamara & Nick Stoolman


Neka was an adult, female American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). She was found as a fledgling in Deer Lodge after being picked out of her nest by a raven. The people who rescued her brought her into their home and feed her dog food. But, unfortunately during her three days with human caretakers she imprinted on them. Neka became an MRCC education bird in 2014, the same year she was born, and sadly passed in early 2016.

Neka has been adopted by: Jeanne Jacobson; Daniel LeCain; Sarah, Jack, & Abbey Durham; and Mrs. Kumpula’s 2nd Grade Class


Turkey Vulture

Pilgrim, an adult, female Turkey Vulture.

Pilgrim is an adult, female Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura). She weighs 4 lbs., has a wingspan of 70”, and is 30” in length. Pilgrim was found beneath a power line in Whitehall in October of 1993.The wrist and elbow joints of her left wing were severely traumatized. She is un-releasable due to the irreparable wing damage and inability to sustain flight.

Turkey Vultures have exceptional soaring abilities and can travel great distances in search of carrion (dead meat). To identify Turkey Vultures in flight, look for a two-toned gray and black under wing and a strong dihedral (upward “V”) wing position. Because of their large wingspan and light body weight, vultures have a characteristic rocking motion while in flight.

Vultures keep the environment clean by disposing of carcasses. To do this, they have features such as an featherless head so they can remain hygienic; large nostril openings for odor detection; a sharp, hooked beak for tearing food; and flat feet for bracing and pulling on carcasses.

Vultures do not construct nests, but will use tree hollows, cliff cavities, or a scrape on the ground to lay 1-2 eggs. Turkey Vultures are migratory and can be found in Montana in late spring and throughout the summer.

Pilgrim has been adopted by: Wild Birds Unlimited Bozeman, and Rob & Carol Rolland


Red-tailed Hawk

Sammy, an adult, female Red-tailed Hawk.

Sammy is an adult, female Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). She weighs a little over 3 lbs. and has a wingspan of 54”-25”. Sammy was blown out of her nest as a nestling during a severe storm near Amsterdam in 1993. She was orphaned and suffered a serious injury to her right eye, which eliminated the sight completely in that eye.

Red-tailed Hawks are Buteos, which is a family of hawks that have broad, rounded wings and broad tails. They soar high above grasslands and agricultural areas looking for prey. You may also see them high on a treetop, a telephone pole, or other lookout. They prey mainly on rodents, ground squirrels, rabbits, and reptiles.

They build nests in trees and on cliffs, but Great Horned Owls will often take over the nests. Red-tailed Hawks have 1-3 eggs that incubate for about a month. The young birds can start flying when they are about 6-7 weeks old.

Red-tailed Hawks are the most abundant and widespread hawks in North America and will have many plumage variations. Most hawk variations will have a streaked bellyband, and western variations have a dark mark on the leading edge of the coverts or “shoulder” area. Although she looks dark in this picture, Sammy is a light morph bird displaying the dark head and rufous underparts with a distinguishing streaked bellyband.

Some Red-tailed Hawks migrate to the southern part of the U.S. in the winter, while others may stay in Montana, especially if the winter is mild and food sources are abundant.

Sammy has been adopted by: The Larimer Family and Andrea Rolland & Lee Rajsich


Red-tailed Hawk

Rosa, a female Red-tailed Hawk.

Rosa is an adult, female Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and possesses the telltale red tail feathers for which her species is known. She weighs just under 3 lbs. Rosa was found in the parking lot of Rosa’s Pizza in summer 2010, after being struck by a car. She suffered some head trauma that compromised her vision, preventing release.

Rosa has been adopted by: Peggy Hart and Jennifer Mason





Swainson's Hawk

Chaco, male Swainson’s Hawk.

Chaco is a 14-year-old, male Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). Swainson’s Hawks weigh 1.5-2 lbs., with a wingspan of 48” and a length of 17”-23”. Chaco was found as a fledgling outside of Great Falls in September of 2001. He has a congenitally deformed left humerus, which prevents him from flying.

Swainson’s Hawks prey on small mammals and occasionally on other birds. They also eat insects on a regular basis and have been deemed “the farmer’s friend” because of this proclivity.

Swainson’s Hawks are summer residents of grasslands and agricultural habitats in the western United States and Canada. They nest in trees and shrubs and lay 2-3 eggs in a fairly flimsy stick nest. The entire population is migratory and travels great distances to winter in South America, primarily in Argentina. Chaco’s name comes from a province in Argentina where Swainson’s Hawks are known to concentrate in the winter.

Chaco has been adopted by: Noreen & Roger Breeding


k hawk

Sydnee, our beautiful and rare Krider’s Hawk (sub-species of the Red-tailed Hawk)

Sydnee is a juvenile, female Krider’s Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis kriderii). She was found near Sidney, Montana in October 2014 with a previous injury to her left humerus, which had healed but impaired her ability to fly. Because she was so young and her injuries were not treatable, she became an MRCC education bird.

The Krider’s is a subspecies of Red-tail Hawk distinguished by its light plumage, particularly on the head and back, and a tail that varies from pink to white. Like other hawks, Krider’s have broad, rounded wings and broad tails.

Sydnee has been adopted by:  Bennett Rolland Carpentry



Bu, our Great Horned Owl.

Bu, our Great Horned Owl education bird.
(photo by Fish Eye Guy Photography)

Bu is an adult, male Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). He weighs about 2 lbs., with a wingspan of 48” and a length of 23”. Bu was found out of the nest as a nestling in March of 1999 in Billings. He was imprinted by his human caretakers, and is therefore un-releasable. Bu is short for the Latin name used to classify his genus.

Male and female Great Horned Owl plumage is very similar. Their overall size, behavior, and vocalizations are usually used as a means of differentiating between the sexes.

Great Horned Owls begin nesting in February and often use stick nests made by other birds, such as hawks, crows, and herons. They also use tree hollows, cliff cavities, or broken-topped snags. They typically lay 2-3 eggs each year, which are incubated for 30-35 days. Nestlings are cared for by both parents and fledge when they are 9-10 weeks old.

Great Horned Owls have large, yellow eyes to help bring in as much light as possible at night. Because their eyes are fixed in the sockets, they must turn their heads to look for predators or prey. Owls can turn their heads 270 degrees, or about three-quarters of the way around.

Bu has been adopted by: Wild Birds Unlimited Bozeman, Lance Hossack, Jason Hogan, and Rick & DeAnn Stoolman


Bald Eagle

“99” is impressive in stature and beauty.

“99” is an adult, female bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). She does not yet have the full white head and tail that these eagles are known for, but will complete her transformation by age 5. She weighs a little over 11 lbs., which may not seem that heavy, until you consider that raptors have hollow bones. The wingspan of a bald eagle is about 6-7 feet long.

“99” was found near Townsend harassing campers for food. Because that is not normal behavior for a bird of prey, it was discovered that humans had imprinted her at a young age.

The emblem bird of the U.S., Bald Eagles are among the largest of raptors and sit at the top of the food chain. They are known as sea eagles due to their love of fishing and their bold, sharply curved beaks. Eagles also eat small mammals and will go for an easy meal of road kill. These predators have a talon gripping strength of 500 pounds per square inch (PSI), making them very successful hunters.

Once endangered, Bald Eagles have made a comeback and can be found across most of North America. They prefer coasts, rivers, and large lakes, but will also winter in some very dry western valleys. Many southern and coastal adults are permanent residents (as far north as Alaska’s Aleutian Islands). Bald Eagles from the far northern interior migrate south in winter. Immature eagles from Florida may migrate far north (even to Canada) during their first summer.

Many Bald Eagles mate for life, constructing nests 180 ft. or more above the ground and taking turns hunting and feeding their young.

99 is still looking for adoptive “parents”!  Click here to learn more.