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Black-necked Stilt -
Species of Concern Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
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The Black-necked Stilt is a tall, slender wader with a long, straight, and slender bill, the upperparts glossy black (male) or duller black tinged with brown (female) with a white spot above the eye, underparts white, the legs and feet very long and red or pink. The iris is red. Immatures have buffy edges on the dark brown feathers of the upperparts.
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.
The black and white plumage and very long red legs of this species are unique and diagnostic.
Western Hemisphere Range
The nominate subspecies breeds from north-central Washington, southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, North Dakota, the lower Mississippi Valley, and the mid-Atlantic coast south through the West Indies and Mexico to northern South America and winters from the southern U.S. to South America. Resident subspecies occur in Hawaii (
H. m. knudseni) and in the southern half of South America ( H. m. melanurus).
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
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SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Not Regularly Observed
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
Migratory. Black-necked Stilts usually arrive in Montana in the last half of April and are gone by late August. Long-distance movements among breeding sites in response to drought may lead to permanent changes in distribution. The earliest sighting is at Freezeout Lake on 22 March 2007 and the latest is at Freezeout Lake on 28 September 2009.
Black-necked Stilts breed on the edges of shallow marshes, often on islands, building a scrape that is lined with vegetation, pebbles, and feathers. Nests may be out in the open or among low vegetation and are usually within 50 m of water (Robinson et al. 1999). Taking full advantage of their long legs, almost all feeding occurs in the water. In Montana, Black-necked Stilts nest in medium to large wetland complexes of open marshes and meadows, often in alkali wetlands. Habitats used during migration similar to those used in other seasons, but they also occur on coastal mud flats.
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system,
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at:
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
Diet consists of aquatic invertebrates and fish. Brine flies and brine shrimp favored on salt ponds. In freshwater wetlands, crawfish, a diversity of aquatic insects (Hemiptera, Coleoptera, Diptera), snails, and small vertebrates (fish and frogs) are consumed (Robinson et al. 1999)
Strongly territorial during breeding and winter. Predators of adults include several species of hawks and owls, Great Blue Heron, and Red Fox. Predators of eggs and young include the same species as well as gulls, Common Raven and Black-billed Magpie, Coyote, and Gopher Snake. Adults will mob predators. BBS data do not exist for Montana, but data from 1980-2007 indicate a significant increase in numbers of 2.8% per year throughout the species’ range in the U.S. and Canada. High numbers for Montana include 102 birds at Lake Bowdoin on 21 June 1989 and 106 tallied at Benton Lake on 20 May 1991.
Eggs are laid in May and hatch in June, and young begin flying in July. Nesting first occurred during the “major incursion” of 1977 (Skaar 1980), which coincided with a severe drought in the Great Basin that forced birds to wander north in search of favorable breeding conditions. Stilts appeared at many locations in that year, and breeding was documented at Freezeout Lake, Lake Bowdoin NWR, and Benton Lake NWR; one nest with 4 eggs was reported at Benton Lake on 14 May 1977. Stilts are now common breeders at these sites. Elsewhere east of the divide, they nested at Big Lake in 1998 and in the Helena Valley in 2001. The first nest known from west of the divide was at the Blasdel WPA near Somers in 2000, and one pair also nested there in 2001 and 2002. Stilts nested in the Mission Valley as early as 2003 and probably have nested there in small numbers every year since. Single pairs nested at the Smurfit-Stone Container ponds in the Missoula Valley in 2004 and 2007 and at Lee Metcalf NWR in 2004. Stilt nests are a simple scrape located on the ground, often in a somewhat or completely open area. The nest is typically found near the edge of the water and the nest bottom may be wet. The normal clutch consists of 4 eggs, incubation varies from 21-30 days (depending on thermal environment), the precocial chicks leave the nest in less than one day after the last chick hatches.
No management activities specific to Black-necked Stilt are currently occuring in Montana. Although their breeding range is expanding, stilt numbers probably are well below historical levels owing to the loss and degradation of wetlands that accompanied settlement of the western U.S. (Page and Gill 1994). Stilts will move nesting areas in response to changes in water level fluctuations, and respond favorably to construction of artificial wetlands. Black-necked Stilt is regarded as an important indicator species in identifying effects of contaminants in irrigation drain water on wildlife.
Threats or Limiting Factors
In some parts of their range, stilt eggs contain high levels of DDT residues, and hatchlings suffer deformities and mortality because of selenium contamination that originates from agricultural practices (Robinson et al. 1999). Loss or degradation of wetland habitats remain as significant threats.
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. Page, G. W., and R. E. Gill, Jr. 1994. Shorebirds in western North America: Late 1800s to late 1900s. Pages 147-160 in A century of avifaunal change in western North America (J. R. Jehl, Jr. and N. K. Johnson, Eds.). Studies in Avian Biology No. 15. Skaar, P. D. 1980. Montana bird distribution, 2nd edition. Published by author, Bozeman, Montana. Additional References
Legend: View Online Publication Do you know of a citation we're missing? American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p. Casey, D. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp. Dekker, D., R. Lisier, T.W. Thormin, D.V. Weseloh and L.M. Wesloh. 1979. Black-necked Stilts nesting near Edmontaon, Alberta. Can. Field-Nat 93(1):68-69. Dobkin, D.S. 1994. Conservation and management of neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. Univ. Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho. 220 pp. Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp. Goodell, J. 2012. Morse Land Company Breeding Bird Inventory And Analysis. High Desert Museum. Bend, OR. 42 pp + Appendices. Hamilton, R.B. 1975. Comparative behavior of the American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt (Recurvirostridae). Ornithological Monographs 17. 98 p. Hayman, P., J. Marchant, and T. Prater. 1986. Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 412 pp. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Johnsgard, P. 1981. The Plovers, Sandpipers, and Snipes of the World. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska. 493 pp. Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp. Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp. Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2001: Beaverhead Gateway, Dillon, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.011. July 2002. In 2001 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. I. Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2002: Roundup Wetland, Roundup, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.031. February 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. II. Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map. Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Region Four., 1996, Draft Environmental Analysis for Weed Management. Mora, M. A. 1995. Residues and trends of organochloride pesticide and polychlorinated biphenyls in birds from Texas, 1965-88. Technical Report 14. Washington, D.C.: U.S.D.I. National Biological Service. 26 p. Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p. Ragnal, Wendy, and Troy Brandt, Wetland Services, Helena, MT., 1998, Tucker Crossing Ranch Wetland Mitigation Project for Montana Dept. of Transportation: Highway 93 - Hamilton to Lolo: 1998 - Year Two Monitoring Report - Addendum. In Tucker Crossing Site WS# Lower Clark Fork, Ravalli County. Fin.Dist.1 Admin. Dist.1 Reichel, J. D. 1996. Preliminary colonial nesting bird survey on the Bureau of Land Management Lewistown District: 1995. Unpublished report, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Lewistown, Montana. Robinson, J.A., J.M. Reed, J.P. Skorupa, and L.W. Oring. 1999. Black-necked Stilt ( Himantopus mexicanus). Species Account Number 449. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp. Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69. Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p. Swan River National Wildlife Refuge. 1982. Birds of the Swan River NWR. Kalispell, MT: NW MT Fish and Wildlife Center pamphlet. Taylor, D.M. and C.H. Trost. 1987. The status of historically rare of unrecorded birds in Idaho. Unpublished manuscript. 68 p. U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages. Watts, C.R. and L.C. Eichhorn. 1981. Changes in the birds of central Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 40:31-40. Western EcoTech, Helena, MT., 1999, Wetland delineation report for the Haskins Landing Proposed Wetland Mitigation Area. MWFE? June 2, 1999. Web Search Engines for Articles on "Black-necked Stilt"
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