This IBA encompasses a 48-km stretch of Tongue River that includes the eastern boundary of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Except for State School Trust lands, all of the land within the IBA is privately or tribally owned. This stretch of the river contains excellent stands of cottonwoods that support a well-developed understory of native trees and shrubs. Creation of the IBA was a cooperative partnership with the Northern Cheyenne Reservation?s Natural Resources Department.
From late May through July of 2005, Montana Audubon biologists surveyed 16 tracts of riparian cottonwood forest spread out along 48 km of the Tongue River. The study area included the entire eastern boundary of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation plus about 10 km of the river upstream of the southeastern corner of the reservation. We detected 101 species of birds in the overall study area, 21 of which are riparian species of conservation priority in the state.
We estimated numbers of breeding pairs for nine species within the survey tracts. Three of these species were especially abundant: Yellow Warbler (508 pairs), Yellow-breasted Chat (158 pairs), and Lazuli Bunting (103 pairs). We also detected decent numbers of Red-eyed Vireos, Warbling Vireos, American Redstarts, and Ovenbirds. Two pairs of Bald Eagles nest on the site, and several pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers occur in areas with concentrations of large cottonwood snags. Eastern Screech-Owls occur in the cottonwoods throughout the study area, although we did not conduct surveys to estimate their numbers.
This portion of southeastern Montana has been targeted for coalbed methane extraction. Mining activities could affect water quality in the Tongue River and ultimately degrade the cottonwood gallery forest on which the birds depend.