Watchable Wildlife

Wildlife requires vigilance, a deft eye, and a clean pair of binoculars for optimal viewing. How else can you tell if that bear is of the brown/black family or a Grizzly? For additional information, be sure to check out Montana's Fish, Wildlife & Parks field guide.

American Mink Neovison vison

American Mink track
  • Habitat:
    Mostly Aquatic
  • Avg Lifespan:
    1-4 years
  • Diet:
    Small mammals, birds, eggs, fish, lizards, insects
  • Avg Weight:
    4 lbs - Male
    2 lbs - Female
A mink on muddy ground.

General Description

American mink are medium to dark brown in color with a white chin and usually white spots along the belly. The fur is very dense, glossy, and water repellant. They have a long weasel-like body with short legs. The tail is slightly bushy. The feet are semi webbed and the toes end with small but sharp claws. Mink have long whiskers, small rounded eyes, and small fuzzy ears. Males weigh 2 to 3.5 pounds and are about 2 feet long. Females are about 20 percent smaller in size and weight.

Mink primarily feed on small mammals, birds, eggs, frogs, crayfish, fish, lizards, small snakes and insects. They are true carnivores and eat just about anything they can catch. Mink are excellent hunters and depend mostly on their sense of smell when looking for prey.

They are excellent swimmers. They live by the fresh waters of lakes, streams, rivers, swamps and marshes. Their den may be abandoned beaver or muskrat dens, hollow logs, or they may dig their own burrow.

Badger Taxidea taxus

Badger track
  • Habitat:
    Dry, open country
  • Avg Lifespan:
    11-13 years
  • Diet:
    Mice, woodchucks, voles, ground squirrels, toads, snakes, small animals they can dig for
  • Avg Weight:
    19.8 lbs - Male
    15.5 lbs - Female
A badger peering through the grass. A badger on a mound

General Description

American badgers are built to dig. They move dirt faster than any other mammal, including a person with a shovel! Strong shoulders, sturdy claws, and partial webbing between their front toes allow them to scoop soil out quickly. They are naturally protected from flying dirt by transparent membranes that protect their eyes and stiff hairs that keep their ear canals clean. They use their back feet to kick the loose dirt out of the way. Badgers dig in pursuit of prey and then expand tunnels into sleeping burrows. They are solitary, have a keen sense of smell, and are more active at night than in the day.

American badgers prefer dry, open country, avoiding forests and areas with rocky soil. Primarily found in the great plains of North America.

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Bighorn Sheep Ovis canadensis

Bighorn track
  • Habitat:
    Rocky, mountainous
  • Avg Lifespan:
    15 yrs
  • Diet:
    Grasses, sedges, and forbs.
  • Avg Weight:
    140-300 lbs
Two bighorn sheep in close-up. A bighorn sheep on a rocky mountain.

General Description

Bighorn sheep live in herds or bands led by the dominant ewe (female). Bighorn rams (males) are famous for head-to-head combat to win over females. Horn size determines their status and fights occur only between rams with horns of similar size. They use their horns to smash into their opponents at speeds of 30 km (9 mi) per hour. With as many as five head clashes an hour, combat can last up to 25 hours or until one of the males gives up. Bighorn sheep can stand on mountain ledges as narrow as 5 cm (2 in) wide. They leap from ledge to ledge with great speed, and can jump across spans as wide as 6 meters (20 feet).

Lives between the rocky slopes of mountainous terrain and open meadows; alpine meadows, temperate foothill regions of forests, low-lying scrubland, grasslands and deserts; Western United States.

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Bison bison

Bison tracks
  • Habitat:
    Open Plains, praries
  • Avg Lifespan:
    Up to 20 yrs in the wild
  • Diet:
    Grassesm sagebrush
  • Avg Weight:
    2,200 lbs - Male
    1,320 lbs - Female
A badger peering through the grass. A badger on a mound

General Description

Commonly known as buffalo, American bison are the largest land-dwelling mammals in North America. With a shoulder height of up to 2 m (6.5 ft), they can weigh from 544-816 kg (1200-1800 lb), yet they can run up to 50 km (30 mi) per hour. They can pivot on both their front and hind legs and quickly change or reverse direction, or jump. Also strong swimmers, bison can swim across rivers over 1 km (.6 mi) wide. The bison's hump is a mass of muscles that support his or her heavy head. The bison's tail can signal a warning. When the tail is standing straight up, the bison is ready to charge!

Bison prefer grasses, but will eat sagebrush when food is scarce. They drink water once a day, and need to eat about 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of forage each day.

Bison originally lived on the open plains and prairies of the United States and Canada; now only in parks and reserves.

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Black Bear Ursus americanus

Black Bear track
  • Habitat:
    Forests, lowlands, wetlands
  • Avg Lifespan:
    Up to 25 yrs
  • Diet:
    Fruits, nuts, vegetables, breads, meat
  • Avg Weight:
    425 lbs - Male
    200 lbs - Female
A black bear wanders in a field. A black bear peeks around a tree.

General Description

The primary difference between the black bear and Grizzly is the size. The black bear has only a slight shoulder hump and wears a coat that is black, brown or blond and occasionally has a white spot on the chest. A male black bear of breeding age weighs 125 - 500 pounds while the female is smaller at 90 - 300 pounds. Historical ranges of the black bear show that the species populated most of North America except for the desert regions in the southwest. More information about bears in general can be located at North American Bear Center.

Black bears live in large forests with many different kinds of fruits and nuts. Lowlands and wetlands provide tender and juicy vegetation. Streams and woodland pools provide water for drinking and cooling.

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Bobcat Lynx rufus

Bobcat track
  • Habitat:
    Forests, deserts, mountains, swamps, farmland.
  • Avg Lifespan:
    12-13 yrs
  • Diet:
    Small mammals, birds, reptiles
  • Avg Weight:
    15-60 lbs
A friendly bobcat.

General Description

The bobcat primarily occurs in scrubby country and broken forests, but adapts to swamps, farmlands and arid lands if they are rocky or brushy. They range from coast to coast throughout southern Canada.

The bobcat is gray with distinct black spots. The tail is short and stubby with 2 or 3 black bars. The face has broken black lines that radiate onto the cheek.

The bobcat is an excellent climber who often waits in the trees to pounce on their prey that includes rodents, hares, squirrels and birds; they also may take the occasional deer. Predators of the bobcat include cougars, coyotes, wolves and humans, who use their fur for trim.

The bobcat is a carnivore and eats a wide variety of small mammals like woodchucks, rabbits, skunks, raccoons, moles and squirrels. It also eats birds and reptiles.

The bobcat lives in a wide variety of habitats including forests, deserts, mountains, swamps and farmland. It lives in dens in a rock or tree crevice.

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Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis

Canada Lynx track
  • Habitat:
    Coniferous forests near rocky areas, bogs, swamps
  • Avg Lifespan:
    15-21 yrs
  • Diet:
    Snowshoe hare, birds, deer
  • Avg Weight:
    22-31 lbs - Male
    18-24 lbs - Female
A Canada lynx stalks at night.

General Description

The Canada Lynx is a medium-sized cat (about 10 kilograms for males and 8 kilograms for females) with silver-gray to grayish-brown upperparts and a white belly and throat. Lynx have long legs and a relatively short, compact body. The total length averages approximately 92.5 centimeters for males and 89.5 centimeters for females (Foresman 2001). A facial ruff surrounds the face except directly beneath the snout. The facial ruff is longest on either side of the snout and has black markings on these longest hairs. The ears are 70 to 80 millimeters long and have a long, 30 millimeters black tuft at the end. The backs of the ears are darker than the rest of the body and have a central white spot. The feet are large and round (10 x 10 centimeters) and heavily furred (Foresman 2001). The tail is short and the tip is entirely black.

About 75% of the lynx's diet is made up of the snowshoe hare. It also eats birds, meadow voles, carrion and sometimes larger animals like deer and caribou.

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Coyote Canis latrans

Coyote track
  • Habitat:
    Rocky, mountainous
  • Avg Lifespan:
    6-10 yrs
  • Diet:
    Fields, plains, bushy areas
  • Avg Weight:
    15-45 lbs
A Canada lynx stalks at night.

General Description

The coyote has grayish-brown to yellowish-brown fur on top and whitish fur on its underparts. It has large triangular ears on the top of its head and a long, narrow muzzle. It has a black nose; yellow eyes; and a long, bushy tail. One way to tell the coyote apart from wolves and dogs is to watch its tail when it runs. The coyote runs with its tail down. Dogs run with their tails up, and wolves run with their tails straight out. Diet carnivorous. Most of its diet is made up of mammals, but it also eats birds and snakes. It prefers to eat fresh kill, but it will eat carrion. In the fall and winter, the coyote often eats fruits, vegetables, and berries.

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Deer (mule) Odocoileus hemionus

Mule Deer track
  • Habitat:
    Grassslands, Forests
  • Avg Lifespan:
    9-11 yrs
  • Diet:
    Bitterbush, mountain mahogany, chokecherry, serviceberry, grasses, forbs
  • Avg Weight:
    250-275 lbs - Bucks
    160-180 lbs - Does
A mule deer in the grass. A mule deer with his antlers.

General Description

The most sought after game animal in Northern America, deer usually inhabit a relatively small home range until winter conditions encourage them to temporarily move on. Living roughly 12 years in the wild, deer are reddish or grayish in color depending on the time of year and habitat, and a full grown deer weighs between 100 - 300 pounds. The white-tailed deer is an herbivore (plant eater), follows well-used trails to and from its feeding areas, and tends to eat green plants in the spring and summer; corn, acorns and other nuts in the fall; and buds and twigs of woody plants in the winter. Additional information can be found at NatureWorks.

Deer (white-tailed) Odocoileus virginianus

White-Tailed Deer track
  • Habitat:
    Grasslands, forests, rivers, creek bottoms
  • Avg Lifespan:
    4-5 yrs
  • Diet:
    Leaves, twigs, fruits, berries, plants
  • Avg Weight:
    200 lbs - Male
    150 lbs - Female
A white-tailed deer in the grass with antlers. Two white-tailed deer in the snow.

General Description

Coat grayish-brown in winter, reddish-brown in summer; underside of foot-long tail white; antlers consist of main beams, generally with three to five tines projecting upward; brow tines long; outside of lower hind foot has a small, teardrop-shaped scent gland; mature bucks weigh 250 to 275 lbs. on good range, does 160 to 180. Occupy small home ranges, do not migrate far; mostly nocturnal and secretive; solitary much of the time but form small groups in favored feeding areas; when alarmed or running, erect and wag their tails, causing white underside to flash.

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Elk Cervus canadensis

Elk track
  • Habitat:
    Coniferous forests, meadows, grasslands, burns, logged areas
  • Avg Lifespan:
    14-26 yrs
  • Diet:
    Grasses, forbs, young trees, conifers
  • Avg Weight:
    700 lbs - Male
    500 lbs - Female
A bull elk in a field. A doe and baby elk.

General Description

Originally ranging across the great North American continent, the elk species have reduced their range to the northern reaches of the United States and into Canada, yet dipping down south as far as Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.Elk are larger than deer and can weigh up to 500 pounds for a cow, and 700 pounds for a bull. for a Cow and 700 lbs. for a Bull. Their color is deep copper brown to light tan with a light beige rump patch and legs and neck that are often darker than the body. Subsisting mostly on grasses and forbs throughout the year; shrubs, tree bark and twigs make their way into their winter diet as well. Much like a dairy cow, the elk's stomach consists of four chambers. The first chamber stores food while the other three digest. More information can be found at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Grizzly Bear Ursus arctos

Grizzly Bear track
  • Habitat:
    Meadows, seeps, timber, alpine slabrock habitats
  • Avg Lifespan:
    25 yrs
  • Diet:
    Berries, roots, fungi, grasses, fish, carrion, small mammals, insects
  • Avg Weight:
    400-600 lbs - Male
    250-350 lbs - Female
Two lounging grizzly bears. A grizzly bear in the wild.

General Description

Grizzly Bears have a massive head with a prominent nose, rounded inconspicuous ears, small eyes, short tail and a large, powerful body (Pasitschnaik-Arts 1993). The facial profile is concave and there is a noticeable hump above the shoulders. The claws on the front feet of adults are about 4 inches long and slightly curved. Grizzly Bears range widely in color and size. The most prevalent coloration of Grizzly Bears in Montana is medium to dark brown underfur, brown legs, hump and underparts, with light to medium grizzling on the head and back and a light patch behind the front legs. Other forms, lighter or darker with varying levels of grizzled hair patches, occur in lesser numbers. Although extremely variable depending on the season, adults are around 185 centimeters long (Foresman 2001) and weigh around 200 kilograms in males and 130 kilograms in females (Kasworm and Manley 1988).

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Grey Wolf Canis lupus

Grey Wolf track
  • Habitat:
    No particular habitat preference except for the presence of native ungulates within its territory on a year-round basis
  • Avg Lifespan:
    10-18 yrs
  • Diet:
    Deer, elk, moose
  • Avg Weight:
    90 lbs - Male
    80 lbs - Female

General Description

The Gray Wolf is the largest of the wild dogs. Adult male Gray Wolves in Montana weigh around 47 kilograms (104 pounds) and females weigh around 36 kilograms (80 pounds). Males average approximately 186 centimeters (73 inches) in length, while 180 centimeters (70 inches) is the average for females, with the tail compromising a little less than one-third of the total length in both sexes (Foresman 2001). About half the Gray Wolves in Montana are black with the other half gray. Both color phases may be found in a pack or in a litter of pups.

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Marten Martes americana

marten track
  • Habitat:
    Conifer, mixed wood forests
  • Avg Lifespan:
    10 yrs
  • Diet:
    Small mammals, birds, fish, insects, fruit, nuts
  • Avg Weight:
    1.5 to 2.75 lbs
A Marten at night.

General Description

This house cat-sized animal is distinctly weasel-like in appearance. Has short legs, prominent ears, pointed face, and a well-furred tail constituting one-third of its total length. Stiff glossy guard hairs with dense silky under-fur. The soft, dense, yellowish-brown fur shades to dark brown on its bushy tail and legs. Pale buff to orange patch on throat and breast. Has ability to rotate hind limbs to enable descending trees headfirst. Total length: 21 to 26 inches.

Martens are omnivorous and eat squirrels, mice, rabbits, red pandas, birds, fish, insects, and eggs, and they will also eat fruit and nuts when these are available.

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Moose Alces alces

marten track
  • Habitat:
    Forrested, near lakes, streams, ponds
  • Avg Lifespan:
    15-25 yrs
  • Diet:
    Twigs, leaves, shrubs
  • Avg Weight:
    1200-1500 lbs - Male
    600-800 lbs - Female
Two bull moose in a creek. A baby moose in the grass.

General Description

The largest member of the deer family and tallest mammal in North America, the moose stands six feet tall at the shoulders. Weighing in at 800 - 1,600 pounds, the moose has thick, light brown to dark brown fur. An interesting fact: The hair of a moose is hollow, which helps keep the moose warm throughout the year. Humpbacked in appearance, the front legs are longer than the rear legs. Antlers begin forming in the early summer and are originally covered in a velvety soft fuzzy skin which house blood vessels that aid in the development of the antlers until they reach full size. To Europeans, this large land mammal is known as the elk. Additional information can be found over here.

Moose is an Algonquin term for "twig eater." The moose is a browser. In warm months it eats the leaves, twigs and buds of hardwood and softwood trees and shrubs. It also feeds on aquatic plants like water lilies.

Mountain Goat Oreamnos americanus

Mountain Goat track
  • Habitat:
    Rocky, mountainous
  • Avg Lifespan:
    10 yrs
  • Diet:
    Lichen, grass, plants, twigs
  • Avg Weight:
    300 lb (136 kg) - Male
    150 lb (68 kg) - Female
A Mountain Goat lying lazily in the sun. Four young Mountain Goats climbing on rocks.

General Description

A white coat, horns and black hooves, the mountain goat is a mountain top survivor. Short and stalky, the goat sports a long hair winter coat with a beard under the chin and pantaloons around the front legs. Horns are short, smooth, sharp and curve backward slightly 8 - 10 inches long. The hooves are hard on the outer edges and have a soft center that helps the goat "stick" to rocks. The oldest of billies may weigh in around 300 lbs, while the nannies tend to be a bit more petite at 150 lbs. Eating primarily grasses, sedges, lichens, forbs and shrubs. Find additional information here.

Mountain Lion Felis concolor

mountain lion track
  • Habitat:
    Rugged mountain, swamps
  • Avg Lifespan:
    Up to 18 yrs
  • Diet:
    Wild animals, mostly deer
  • Avg Weight:
    80-230 lbs
A mountain lion in the grass. A pack of mountain lions.

General Description

Mountain lions are found in very diverse habitats. They can be found in places from northern Canada to the southern tip of South America. Some other common names for the mountain lion are cougar and puma.

The Mountain lion is a very agile animal. It can easily cover 23 ft. in a single leap. They are known for their speed and quickness. One wouldn't think that such a large animal could be quick, but they are.

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Otter Lontra canadensis

otter track
  • Habitat:
    High flow volume water, densely vegetated banks, non-turbid water
  • Avg Lifespan:
    8-9 yrs
  • Diet:
    Fish, invertebrates, frogs
  • Avg Weight:
    11-30 lbs
An otter in the snow. An otter climbs out of the water onto a rock.

General Description

The adult Northern River Otter in Montana weighs around 20 pounds and measures close to 47 inches long. Its thick, powerful tail makes up nearly 20 inches of that length. Small eyes and ears, a broad, flattened head, long cylindrical form, and four webbed feet suit it for its semiaquatic life. In addition, its fur, dark brown on top, silvery or paler brown on the throat, chest, and underside, has special qualities. The long guard hairs remain pliable in very cold weather (Ulrich 1986), and the dense underfur traps air to insulate it in water. The Northern River Otter can dive to 45 feet and stay underwater for some minutes (Zeveloff 1988). It is more nocturnal in summer and its eyes reflect a faint amber glow at night. Its short, muscular legs move surprisingly well on land, and is usually seen traveling in pairs (Foresman 2001). It has 36 teeth.

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Red Fox Vulpes vulpes

red fox track
  • Habitat:
    Forest, open country near water
  • Avg Lifespan:
    10-12 yrs
  • Diet:
    Small mammals, carrion, birds, eggs
  • Avg Weight:
    10-15 lbs
Red foxes play on a rocky hillside. A red fox walks through the snow.

General Description

Appearance of small dog. Long, bushy tail, pointed ears, slender muzzle, slanted eyes. White tip on the tail. Rufous coloration, various coat colorations or color phases. Total length: 39 to 43 inches.

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Striped Skunk Mephitis mephitis

striped skunk track
  • Habitat:
    Semi-open country, mixed woods, brushland, open prairie.
  • Avg Lifespan:
    3 yrs
  • Diet:
    Small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, berries, fruit, garbage, cariion, bird eggs, arthropods
  • Avg Weight:
    10-12 lbs
A striped skunk in the dirt.

General Description

About the size of a house cat. Well-developed scent glands that emit a very strong odor. Often the presence of a skunk is first detected by its odor. Black body, narrow white stripe on middle of the forehead, broad white area on nape that usually divides into a V at the shoulders. Great variation in color pattern and size of stripes. Total length: 20 to 28 inches. Weight: six to 14 pounds. Mostly nocturnal and does not hibernate. Uses ground burrows, abandoned building foundations, and wood or rock piles as den sites. Will use dens created by other animals. When frightened or threatened, sprays a strong and long-lasting musk produced by anal scent glands.

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Western Spotted Skunk Spilogale gracilis

spotted skunk track
  • Habitat:
    Arid, rocky and brushy canyons, hillsides
  • Avg Lifespan:
    1-2 yrs
  • Diet:
    Insects, rodents, small birds, eggs
  • Avg Weight:
    1.5 lbs - Male
    1 lbs - Female
A spotted skunk comes out of his home.

General Description

The Western Spotted Skunk is a small, relatively slender skunk with glossy black fur interrupted with distinct white stripes on the forward part of the body. The posterior part of the body has two interrupted white bands with one white spot on each side of the rump and two more at the base of the tail. The pattern of white lines and spots is individually unique. The top of the tail is black and the underside is extensively white. The tip of the tail is white. A white spot is present on the forehead and another in front of each ear. External measurements in males average 411 millimeters in total length, 122 millimeters for the tail and 50 millimeters for the hind foot. In females, external measurements average 387 millimeters in total length, 116 millimeters for the tail, and 47 millimeters for the hind foot. Males weigh about 630 grams, whereas females weigh about 450 grams (Foresman 2001).

Skunk eat insects, rodents, small birds, and possibly bird eggs constitute most of their diet (Ingles 1965). Reptiles and amphibians are also taken (Leopold 1959), as are many types of fruits and berries.

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Wolverine Gulo gulo

wolverine track
  • Habitat:
    Forests, mountains, plains, brushland
  • Avg Lifespan:
    17 yrs
  • Diet:
    Eggs, rodents, small animals, deer, sheep.
  • Avg Weight:
    30-70 lbs
A wolverine in the snow.

General Description

Wolverines are one of the largest mustelids. They have brownish-black hair with strips of light brown along their sides. Their fur is long and dense and does not retain much water. This makes it very resistant to frost in the cold environment wolverines live in. They have large claws and pads on their feet that help them move over deep snow. Wolverines are shaped vaguely like a large marten and have a heavy build with a large head, small ears, a short tail, and very large, powerful limbs. Wolverines are very strong for their size and have been known to drive bears, cougars, and packs of wolves from their kills. They are generally known as the strongest mammal for their size.

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