The Sun Ranch is comprised of alpine communities near timberline; steep slopes of old-growth timber; vast shrub-steppe ecosystems dotted with aspen-laced springs; and sweeping grasslands of native bunchgrasses. More than 20 miles of major creeks flow through this landscape, cutting their way through the shrub-steppe and grassland to the Madison River. To date, ranch staff and outside biologists have documented a total of 193 species of bird on the Ranch, with 132 species breeding with the ranch borders Among species that breed here, eleven are currently on the IBA list as species of conservation concern, either globally or continentally.

Ornithological Summary

To date, ranch staff and outside biologists have documented 193 species of bird on the Ranch. A portion are simply stopping over to refuel during migration, or come to spend part of the winter, such as flocks of Black Rosy-finches or Trumpeter Swans. Many species, however, breed on the Sun Ranch, the number of which now stands at 132. Among species that breed here, eleven are currently on the IBA list as species of conservation concern, either globally or continentally. The presence of some species is limited to several pairs, while other species breed here by the thousands. The following are species of conservation concern that occur on both the Sun Ranch and the IBA list: global level; Greater Sage Grouse, Ferruginous Hawk, Long-billed Curlew, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Brewer?s Sparrow, Cassin?s Finch; Continental level; Short-eared Owl, Calliope Hummingbird
, Williamson's Sapsucker, Red-napped Sapsucker, Willow Flycatcher. Other species, such as Bald Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Ruffed Grouse, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Red-eyed Vireo, Lazuli Bunting, and McCown?s Longspur also occur on the Sun Ranch and are species listed in the Montana Bird Conservation Plan as species of conservation concern.

In June of 2007, with the assistance of Montana Audubon and Ravenworks Ecology, the Sun Ranch Institute initiated formalized point counts to better estimate the number of Brewer?s sparrows inhabiting the shrub-steppe ecosystems of the Sun Ranch. the ranch-wide estimate for this species is 1130 individuals. The National Audubon A1 Threshold for numbers of breeding pairs and individuals is 40 and 120, respectively. The Sun Ranch may exceed the A1 threshold for individuals by a factor of 10.

Conservation Issues

Along with other species, birds have always been a key component of the conservation mission at the Ranch. The Ranch is now working to gauge the extent of declining bird species and their habitats on this landscape and to understand how ranch management can positively impact them. The Nature Conservancy holds a 7,000-acre conservation easement on the Ranch, and the Trust for Public Land and the USFS hold an additional 11,500 acres, thus ensuring that over 95% of this vast ranch will never see any sort of development. The undeveloped state of the 18,500 acres on the Sun Ranch is now assured in perpetuity, and thus the conservation of bird habitats that these acres support is also assured. The important habitats on the Sun Ranch that support imperiled bird species have received maximum possible protection in perpetuity.

Habitat

The Sun Ranch is comprised of alpine communities near timberline; steep slopes of old-growth timber; vast shrub-steppe ecosystems dotted with aspen-laced springs; and sweeping grasslands of native bunchgrasses. More than 20 miles of major creeks flow through this landscape, cutting their way through the shrub-steppe and grassland to the Madison River. Estimated with remote imaging, the sagebrush steppe of the Sun Ranch covers an area greater than 4,700 acres. The Important Bird Area for the Brewer's sparrow and other species of concern is within this roughly 4,700 acres of pristine sagebrush steppe on the Sun Ranch.

Land Use

The Sun Ranch Institute engages in its own empirical research on grassland biodiversity, Westslope cutthroat trout recovery and ecological inventories. Currently, they are investigating the response of the dung beetle community to the reintroduction of summertime grazing by herding animals after an 11-year absence.Over the last decade, the Sun Ranch has worked to reverse declines of imperiled wildlife populations that occur on the property. In 2001 the Ranch built its own fish hatchery to rear genetically pure Westslope cutthroat trout for restoration projects in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The Sun Ranch is also working to pioneer science-based methods of successfully ranching in the presence of wolves. Efforts include the use of range riders and deployment of fladry to deter wolves. The 2007 season proved to be a highly successful one, with a pack of 13 wolves denning within the ranch, and holistic cattle operations sustaining zero losses. TThe conservation mission of the Sun Ranch does not extend merely to fish and mammals; birds have always been a key component of the conservation mission at the Ranch.