Important Bird Areas

Blackfoot Valley

Montana

The valley supports a reasonably intact sagebrush/grassland community surrounded by conifer forest. Glacial potholes are embedded in the steppe mosaic, and the main land uses are cattle ranching and hay cropping. Many of the ranches are under conservation easement owing to a successful collaboration (the "Blackfoot Challenge") among private landowners, State and Federal agencies, and various NGOs. This site is the first sagebrush-dominated IBA in Montana west of the Continental Divide.

{link:For IBA map, click here.|http://mtaudubon.org/birds/documents/blackfootvalley.web.pdf}

Ornithological Summary

The sagebrush grasslands in the Blackfoot Valley are home to high densities of nesting Brewer's Sparrows that have excellent nesting success and productivity. Research with color-marked birds from 2003 to 2005 determined that 132-164 pairs of Brewer's Sparrows nested on 4 study plots (total of 132 ha; average of 1.2 pairs/ha). The study plot with the highest density of sparrows supported 43-48 breeding pairs per year, thus exceeding the A1 threshold in each year. Extrapolating from pair densities on the study plots and the amount of sagebrush habitat in the area, we estimate that more than 1,400 Brewer's Sparrow pairs nest within the IBA.

Conservation Issues

The sagebrush habitat is slowly being invaded by conifers owing to a decrease in natural fires. The Blackfoot Challenge has been very successful in helping to increase the amount of private lands that have been placed under conservation easement, but residential development and conversion of sagebrush lands to agricultural fields continue to threaten this ecosystem.