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Bird Checklists of the United States

Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Black Eagle, Montana

Welcome to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, one of over 450 of your refuges across the United States. Benton Lake is 12,383 acres of wetland and prairie set aside in 1929 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds.

The refuge is located at the western end of the famed Prairie Pothole Region, an area characterized by millions of wetlands or "potholes" which serve as the nursery for the bulk of the Nation's waterfowl. These wetlands also harbor scores of other bird and wildlife species dependent on wetlands, including many endangered species.

What you'll see at Benton Lake is a glimpse into pre-settlement times, when the prairie sky was alive with ducks, geese, swans and shorebirds each spring and fall, and the marshes teemed with downy young each summer. Enjoy and help protect this natural heritage!


Spring. Beginning in mid-March large numbers of pintails, mallards and tundra swans appear as ice leaves the lake. From several hundred to several thousand snow geese arrive and stay for a week or more. Waterfowl in breeding plumage have paired off and begin to seek nesting sites. As the weather warms, more and more species arrive, with shorebirds the last to make their appearance. Endangered bald eagles and peregrine falcons are often seen in the spring. Canada geese with young may be seen as early as late April, and some duck broods in late May. Pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse begin courtship antics.

Summer. By June all birds that will nest at Benton Lake have arrived. Broods of ducks become a common sight and the refuge is one of the best places in the country to see them in large numbers. Colonial nesting birds like eared grebes and Franklin's gulls are raising their young and a lot of racket. Songbirds are busy raising their young and if you're lucky, you may see burrowing owls which nest on the refuge in limited numbers.

Fall. Shorebird numbers peak once again during the early fall migrations. Waterfowl begin to "stage" on the marsh in preparation for migration further south. Large concentrations of raptors appear, most notably Swainson's hawks. Bald eagles are most commonly seen at this time, especially mid to late October and early November. Several thousand tundra swans mark the beginning of the end of migration. Refuge grasslands take on their subtle, but beautiful, fall colors.

Winter. Great horned owls often move into shelterbelts in winter. Other hardy raptors seen occasionally include goshawks, rough-legged hawks and snowy owls. Few songbirds are present, but include horned larks, longspurs, chickadees and sometimes snow buntings. Shrikes are more common than at other times of the year. Pheasants and gray partridge sightings are more common as they spend more time "exposed" in search of food. Bird and other wildlife tracks left in the snow add interest to a bleak, yet beautiful landscape.


Your vehicle makes a good blind to observe most marsh and grassland species. Early morning and evening hours are best since wildlife is most active then. Slowly walking along refuge shelterbelts is a good way to see sparrows and other songbirds. Much of the refuge is open to birding, but check the Public Use Regulations designed to protect sensitive areas. You are also encouraged to stop at the office and visit with refuge staff about the latest bird sightings and species concentrations. We are here to help!


This list of 199 bird species represents observations since 1961 when the refuge was first staffed. Many of the records have come from birdwatchers since that time. An additional 12 species of accidental occurrence are noted at the end of the list.

Birds marked with a "*" are known to have nested here. Some species present in summer do not nest here, but represent either late or early migrants or non-breeding "strays." The following legend indicates the relative abundance of each species in each season:

Sp - March-May
S - June-August
F - September-November
W - December-February

a - abundant: common species, very numerous
c - common: certain to be seen in suitable habitat
u - uncommon: present, but not certain to be seen
o - occasional: seen only a few times during a season
r - rare: seen at intervals of 2 to 5 years

LOONS Sp S F W ___ Common Loon o r o -
GREBES Sp S F W ___ Pied-billed Grebe* u u u - ___ Horned Grebe u r - - ___ Red-necked Grebe r r r - ___ Eared Grebe* a a c - ___ Western Grebe* u u u - ___ Clark's Grebe - - r -
PELICANS Sp S F W ___ American White Pelican u u u -
CORMORANTS Sp S F W ___ Double-crested Cormorant* o o o -
BITTERNS, HERONS, AND IBIS Sp S F W ___ American Bittern* u u o - ___ Great Blue Heron o o o - ___ Snowy Egret r r - - ___ Black-crowned Night-Heron* u c o - ___ White-faced Ibis* u u u -
SWANS, GEESE, AND DUCKS Sp S F W ___ Tundra Swan (Whistling Swan) a r a r ___ Trumpeter Swan r - - - ___ Greater White-fronted Goose r - r - ___ Snow Goose a r a r ___ Ross' Goose u - u - ___ Canada Goose* c c c c ___ Wood Duck r r - - ___ Green-winged Teal* c c c - ___ American Black Duck - - - r ___ Mallard* a c a o ___ Northern Pintail* a c a - ___ Blue-winged Teal* a a a - ___ Cinnamon Teal* c c c - ___ Northern Shoveler* a a a r ___ Gadwall* a a a r ___ Eurasian Wigeon o - r - ___ American Wigeon* c c c r ___ Canvasback* u u u r ___ Redhead* u u u r ___ Ring-necked Duck u r o - ___ Greater Scaup - - r - ___ Lesser Scaup* c c c - ___ Oldsquaw r - r - ___ White-winged Scoter - r r - ___ Common Goldeneye a o o r ___ Barrow's Goldeneye o r o r ___ Bufflehead u o u r ___ Hooded Merganser r r r - ___ Common Merganser o r o - ___ Red-breasted Merganser o r o - ___ Ruddy Duck* u u u -
HAWKS, EAGLES, AND FALCONS Sp S F W ___ Osprey r r r - ___ Bald Eagle u r u r ___ Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk)* c c c r ___ Sharp-shinned Hawk r - r - ___ Cooper's Hawk r - o r ___ Northern Goshawk - - r - ___ Swainson's Hawk* u c u - ___ Red-tailed Hawk o o o - ___ Ferruginous Hawk* o r r - ___ Rough-legged Hawk o r o u ___ Golden Eagle u o o o ___ American Kestrel* o o o - ___ Merlin r r r r ___ Peregrine Falcon o r o r ___ Gyrfalcon o - r o ___ Prairie Falcon u u u o
GALLINACEOUS BIRDS Sp S F W ___ Gray Partridge* u u u u ___ Ring-necked Pheasant* u u u u ___ Sharp-tailed Grouse* o o o o
RAILS AND COOTS Sp S F W ___ Virginia Rail - u - - ___ Sora* u c u - ___ American Coot* c a a r
CRANES Sp S F W ___ Sandhill Crane u o o -
SHOREBIRDS Sp S F W ___ Black-bellied Plover u o o - ___ American Golden Plover (Lesser Gol-Pl.) r r r - ___ Semipalmated Plover o - o - ___ Piping Plover r - - - ___ Killdeer* c c c r ___ Black-necked Stilt* u u r - ___ American Avocet* c a u - ___ Greater Yellowlegs o o r - ___ Lesser Yellowlegs u u r - ___ Solitary Sandpiper r - - - ___ Willet* u u o - ___ Spotted Sandpiper* o u r - ___ Upland Sandpiper* u u r - ___ Whimbrel r - - - ___ Long-billed Curlew* o o r - ___ Hudsonian Godwit r - - - ___ Marbled Godwit* u u o - ___ Ruddy Turnstone r r - - ___ Red Knot r r - - ___ Sanderling o - o - ___ Semipalmated Sandpiper o - - - ___ Western Sandpiper u o - - ___ Least Sandpiper u o - - ___ Baird's Sandpiper u u r - ___ Pectoral Sandpiper - r o - ___ Dunlin r - - - ___ Stilt Sandpiper r - - - ___ Short-billed Dowitcher o r - - ___ Long-billed Dowitcher u c u - ___ Common Snipe o o r - ___ Wilson's Phalarope* c c u - ___ Red-necked Phalarope o r - -
GULLS AND TERNS Sp S F W ___ Franklin's Gull* a a u - ___ Bonaparte's Gull o o o - ___ Ring-billed Gull* u u u - ___ California Gull* c c u - ___ Sabine's Gull r - r - ___ Common Tern* u u r - ___ Forster's Tern - r - - ___ Black Tern* u u o -
DOVES Sp S F W ___ Rock Dove o o o r ___ Mourning Dove* u c c -
CUCKOOS Sp S F W ___ Black-billed Cuckoo - r - -
OWLS Sp S F W ___ Great Horned Owl u u u o ___ Snowy Owl u - r u ___ Burrowing Owl* u u o - ___ Long-eared Owl r r - - ___ Short-eared Owl* c c u o ___ Northern Saw-whet Owl - r - -
GOATSUCKERS Sp S F W ___ Common Nighthawk - o r -
KINGFISHERS Sp S F W ___ Belted Kingfisher r r r -
WOODPECKERS Sp S F W ___ Downy Woodpecker* r - - - ___ Northern Flicker (Common Flicker) o - o -
FLYCATCHERS Sp S F W ___ Say's Phoebe* u u u - ___ Western Kingbird* o u r - ___ Eastern Kingbird* o u r -
LARKS Sp S F W ___ Horned Lark* a a a a
SWALLOWS Sp S F W ___ Tree Swallow o r - - ___ Violet-green Swallow r r - - ___ Northern Rough-winged Swallow r r r - ___ Bank Swallow o - - - ___ Cliff Swallow* u u r - ___ Barn Swallow* c a u -
MAGPIES AND CROWS Sp S F W ___ Black-billed Magpie* u u o r ___ American Crow* u u o -
CHICKADEES Sp S F W ___ Black-capped Chickadee r - - r ___ Mountain Chickadee r - - r
NUTHATCHES Sp S F W ___ Red-breasted Nuthatch r o r -
WRENS Sp S F W ___ Rock Wren* o o - - ___ House Wren* o o r - ___ Marsh Wren* u c o r
THRUSHES Sp S F W ___ Golden-crowned Kinglet r - r - ___ Ruby-crowned Kinglet - - r - ___ Mountain Bluebird u - o - ___ Townsend's Solitaire o - o r ___ Veery r - - - ___ American Robin* u u o r ___ Varied Thrush r - r -
MIMIC THRUSHES Sp S F W ___ Gray Catbird - r - - ___ Northern Mockingbird r r - - ___ Brown Thrasher r r - -
PIPITS Sp S F W ___ American Pipit (Water Pipit) u - c - ___ Sprague's Pipit - r r -
WAXWINGS Sp S F W ___ Bohemian Waxwing o - o u ___ Cedar Waxwing - r - -
SHRIKES Sp S F W ___ Northern Shrike r - o o ___ Loggerhead Shrike o r r -
STARLINGS Sp S F W ___ European Starling u u u r
WARBLERS Sp S F W ___ Orange-crowned Warbler r - r - ___ Yellow Warbler o o r - ___ Yellow-rumped Warbler u r o - ___ American Redstart r - - - ___ Macgillivray's Warbler - - r - ___ Common Yellowthroat* o u o - ___ Wilson's Warbler - r r -
TANAGERS Sp S F W ___ Western Tanager r - - -
SPARROWS Sp S F W ___ Rufous-sided Towhee r - - - ___ American Tree Sparrow o - o o ___ Chipping Sparrow u o - - ___ Clay-colored Sparrow* o r - - ___ Brewer's Sparrow - - r - ___ Vesper Sparrow c c u - ___ Lark Sparrow o o - - ___ Lark Bunting* o o - - ___ Savannah Sparrow* c c u - ___ Baird's Sparrow* u u - - ___ Grasshopper Sparrow* u u o - ___ Song Sparrow u o r - ___ White-crowned Sparrow u r o - ___ Harris' Sparrow - - r - ___ Dark-eyed Junco o r o - ___ McCown's Longspur* u u r - ___ Lapland Longspur o - o o ___ Chestnut-collared Longspur* a a o - ___ Snow Bunting o - o c
BLACKBIRDS AND ORIOLES Sp S F W ___ Bobolink o r - - ___ Red-winged Blackbird* c c c - ___ Western Meadowlark* a a a - ___ Yellow-headed Blackbird* a a a r ___ Rusty Blackbird - - r - ___ Brewer's Blackbird* u u o - ___ Common Grackle r - - - ___ Brown-headed Cowbird* u u u - ___ Northern Oriole - o - -
FINCHES Sp S F W ___ Rosy Finch - - r r ___ Red Crossbill - r - - ___ Common Redpoll o - o u ___ House Finch o - o - ___ Pine Siskin - - r - ___ American Goldfinch o r o u
WEAVER FINCHES Sp S F W ___ House Sparrow* o o o -
ACCIDENTALS Mute Swan Curlew Sandpiper Black Scoter Parasitic Jaeger Surf Scoter Long-tailed Jaeger Garganey White-winged Dove Green-backed Heron American Dipper Great Egret Cattle Egret

Your bird and other wildlife sightings are an important part of monitoring wildlife use on Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Please share your uncommon, occasional or rare bird sightings with the refuge staff.

For further information contact:

                 Refuge Manager
                 Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge
                 PO Box 450
                 Black Eagle, Montana 59414
                 Telephone: 406/727-7400
This resource is based on the following source:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1993.  Birds of Benton Lake National Wildlife 
     Refuge, Montana.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1993.  Birds of Benton Lake National Wildlife 
     Refuge, Montana.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.  
     Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     (Version 22MAY98).

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