A tall, long-necked, long-legged bird with a clump of feathers that droops over the rump; flies with neck and legs fully extended; adults are gray overall (may have brownish-red staining resulting from preening with muddy bill), with a whitish chin, cheek, and upper throat, and dull red skin on the crown and lores (lacking in immatures); immatures have a pale to tawny, feathered head and neck, and a gray body with brownish-red mottling; average length around 104 cm, wingspan 185 cm.
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
Western Hemisphere Range
Bozeman migration: April 15 to May 12 and September to October (Skaar 1969). Large flocks of migrants go through northeast Montana mid-April and late September to October (Davis 1961).
Open grasslands and freshwater marshes (Tacha et al. 1992). In Bozeman area, found along small, valley streams bordered by extensive moist meadows (Skaar 1969). In Rockies, associated with Beaver impoundments (Johnsgard 1986).
Omnivorous. Feed on subsurface food items by probing with bills; glean seeds and other foods on the surface. Feed primarily on land or in shallow marshes with emergent vegetation. Foods vary widely depending on what is available. Cultivated grains, berries, invertebrates, some small mammals and reptiles. (Tacha et al. 1992).
Do not breed until they are 2 to 7 years old. Normally long-lived (up to 20 + years). Lay 2-egg clutches once a year but rarely raise more than one young to fledging (Tacha et al. 1992). Nesting from mid-May to mid-June (Davis 1961). Recently hatched young observed in Bozeman area May 28 to June 12 (Skaar 1969). In Rockies, will sometimes nest on Beaver lodges (Johnsgard 1986).