Winter Raptor Workshop

Winter Raptor Workshop 2009 367WINTER RAPTOR WORKSHOP

Western Montana
January 9th -13th, 2020

Species List Register for this Tour



Western Montana boasts one of the largest concentrations of wintering birds of prey in the western United States.  The Mission Valley, located about 55 miles north of Missoula, and 20 miles south of Polson, is a concentration area for these birds. Thirteen species of diurnal raptors winter in the valley, including; EAGLES: Bald and Golden; FALCONS: Gyr, Peregrine, Prairie, Merlin, and Kestrel; ACCIPITERS: Goshawk, Coopers, Sharp-shinned; HARRIER: Northern Harrier; BUTEOS: Red-tailed, Rough-legged, and occasionally Ferruginous Hawk.

Although five species of falcons winter in the valley, seeing all five during the workshop may be difficult. The identification of adult falcons is rather straight-forward.  However, discerning the varieties of Peregrine, Merlin, and immature birds are tricky.

Although less often seen, the three accipiter species are present. We will discuss adult and immature plumages and try to work out the always difficult separation of Coopers and Sharp-shinned hawks.

The Northern Harrier is often seen coursing low over the vegetation. Separating adult males from adult females and young birds is rather easy. However, identifying the sex of immatures is rather challenging.  We should get great looks at this species.

The Mission Valley is host to the largest communal roosting sites of wintering Rough-legged Hawks known anywhere in the world.  We will spend time discussing the plumage variation of this species and work on identifying males, females, and immatures.  Furthermore, we will also try to differentiate the dark color morphs of this species. Red-tailed Hawks are common as well. Their color variation, however, is perhaps more confusing than the Rough-legged.  We will search and hope to find, Harlan’s, Krider’s, Rufous, Brown, and Western morphs of the Red-tailed Hawk. Separating and identifying the plumage variations by sex and age class of these two hawk species can be challenging for anyone.

Although eleven species of owls have been recorded wintering in the valley, they are much more difficult to find.  There are good chances of seeing Great Horned, Long-eared and Short-eared owls. With luck, we may find Great Gray, Barred, Barn, Northern Pygmy, Northern Saw-whet, Boreal, and Western Screech owls. Snowy Owls do winter here, but weather patterns and food in the north, determine its presence.

Some of the highest concentrations of breeding and wintering Long-eared and Short-eared owls ever recorded in North America have been in the Mission Valley.


Winter Raptor Workshop 2009 360 Day 1:  Arrival in Missoula, Montana; Doubletree.  Participants should plan to arrive in Missoula. Travel arrangements from the airport to the hotel are available through the Doubletree Hotel.  We will meet at 6 pm in the Doubletree lobby, where we will depart for the Depot Restaurant for a get-acquainted dinner. Night: Doubletree Hotel, Missoula, Montana

Day 2:  Arrival in Charlo, Montana; Ninepipes Lodge.  After breakfast, we will depart for the fifty-minute drive to Charlo. We will then drive the back-roads, stopping to spot for birds of prey. Plan to spend the entire day in the field, where a picnic lunch will be provided. We will return by late afternoon to rest and then meet in the lounge at 6 pm for cocktails.  From there, we will have dinner at the Ninepipes Lodge around 6:30 pm. Night: Ninepipes Lodge, Charlo, Montana

Day 3:  Charlo, Montana; Ninepipes Lodge.  After a continental breakfast, we will meet in the Ninepipes lobby at 9 am.  We will spend the day in the field, going over identification techniques we learned the day before.  We will continue driving the back-roads, trying to locate species we didn’t see on day 2.  We will return again by late afternoon to rest.  We will meet in the lobby at 5:30 pm and depart for a local restaurant. Night: Ninepipes Lodge, Charlo, Montana

Day 4: Missoula, Montana.  After breakfast, we will meet in the lobby at 9 am.  We will depart for Missoula, stopping along the way to revisit some places and explore some new areas.  Once in Missoula, we will drive the neighborhoods and look for Merlins, Coopers, Sharp-shinned hawks and Northern Pygmy Owl.  We will enjoy a farewell dinner tonight at The Keep. Night:  Doubletree Hotel, Missoula, Montana

Day 5: Depart for home.
Participants may leave at any time today.

We will be traveling in a suburban or a van, depending on group size.



During this time of the year in Montana, it is advisable to dress for the unexpected.  We recommend both cold and wet weather clothing.  A hat, gloves, coat or jacket, shelled parka or overcoat, and boots are a must.  We recommend layered clothing, as opposed to bulky, heavy clothing.

You should pack a pair of binoculars that are in good repair, along with a belt pack or day- pack (good for carrying books, water, sunscreen, extra film, etc.). Your leader will have a spotting scope, but if you have one and wish to bring it, please feel free to do so.

Recommended Reading:

  • A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors.  2003.  B.K. Wheeler and W.S. Clark, Academic Press.
  • Field Guide to Hawks of North America. 2001. Peterson series no. 35, W. S. Clark and B.K. Wheeler, Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Hawks in Flight.  1988.  P. Dunn and D. Sibley and C. Sutton, Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • The Birder’s Guide to Montana. 1993. T. McEneaney, Falcon Press.


Tour size will be limited to eight participants.

Costs: The fee for the tour is $1,700 per person for double occupancy.  This includes all meals from dinner on Day 1 to dinner on Day 4, lodging as stated in the itinerary, ground transportation during the tour, and guide services provided by the tour leader/s.  It does not include airfare, airport departure taxes, alcoholic beverages, special gratuities, phone calls, laundry, or items of a personal nature.  Rates are based upon group tariffs; if the tour does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may have to be charged. As noted in our itineraries, tipping (restaurants, porters, drivers, local guides) is included on our tours.  However, if you feel your leader/s has given you exceptional service, it is entirely appropriate to tip.

Single: The single supplement for this tour is $300. You will be charged a single supplement if you desire single accommodations or if you prefer to share but have no roommate and we cannot provide one for you.

Registration: closes 45 days prior to tour departure. To register for this tour, please complete our Tour Registration Form and read/sign our Agreements Form and return both with a deposit of $300 per person to the address on the form.  The full payment of the tour fee is due 45 days prior to tour departure.