Bridger Mountains HawkWatch is located in southwestern Montana on USFS Gallatin National Forest public land, and since 2009 has been operated in partnership with Montana Audubon. HWI began fall migration counts at this site in in 1991 to learn more about and monitor long-term trends in populations of raptors using this northern portion of the Rocky Mountain Flyway. More than twenty years ago, Fred Tilly discovered the Bridger Range to be an important fall flyway for raptors. He conducted limited migration counts at the site in 1979, 1980, and 1982 to set the stage for HWI beginning standardized counts in the 1990s. The flyway is noted for the largest concentration of Golden Eagles in the lower 48 states, with peak eagle activity (sometimes more than 200 eagles/day) in mid-October. Golden Eagle counts typically range from 1200-1900 birds per season. Up to 1,500 migrants of 17 additional species also may be seen each season, with Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and American Kestrels among the most commonly seen species. BirdWatching Magazine highlighted our Bridger Mountains HawkWatch site in their October 2013 edition. View article
To further promote awareness of the Bridger migration and raptor ecology and conservation needs, the locally organized Bridger Raptor Festival occurs each year during the fall-migration season.
The count occurs from a helicopter platform located atop the ridge above Bridger Bowl Ski Area, about 25 miles northeast of Bozeman, Montana. Follow Bridger Canyon Road to the entrance to Bridger Bowl Ski Area, follow the only road (it turns to dirt) past the ski lodges for about 1.5 miles to the parking area (and locked gate). Hike to the crest of the ridge (and the top of the ski area) generally paralleling the chairlift, following the footpath or preferably the jeep road. Near the top of the ridge the jeep road ends; follow the trail for another half-mile to the top of the ridge. The viewing point is the concrete helipad atop the Bridger Ridge, 200′ north of the ski hut where the trail crests the ridge. The total hiking distance is about 2 miles with a 2200′ elevation gain.
Bird Field Guide (we have Jerry Liguori’s raptor guide books available at our store)
Hat and sunscreen
Seasonal clothes (dress in layers as weather can vary throughout the seaon)
When to Visit
We operate daily 9am-5pm, September 2-October 31. However, peak passage rates of Golden Ealges is mid-October, and the the Bridger Raptor Festival takes place first weekend of October each fall. All activities are weather dependent and we do not conduct migration counts in inclement weather (heavy rain or snow). Click here to see a weather forecast for the count site.
For those interested in overnight stays, the Fairy Lake Campground is about 14 miles about. There is also lodging at Bridger Bowl ski resort and nearby Bozeman.