The Northern Pygmy Owl can be found in western Montana and Bob Danley of the Bitterroot Outdoor Journal spied one at the very top of a tree on Maclay Flat at Missoula.

It's only 7 inches in length, with a usual blocky owl profile. It has a narrow tail. The pygmy owl likes the top of trees or in dense branches during the day. It has a diet of small birds, so you know one might be around if you hear small songbirds making a lot of noise. Or you might hear its single "toot," not quite an owl hoot.

Speaking of small birds, the American Goldfinch is a species that likes backyard feeders this winter in Montana. In fact, the Stevensville Christmas Bird Count found 281 of the little guys. The birdwatchers also tallied 80 species in the December count. The Goldfinch is only 5 inches in length with a notched tail (photo below). It turns from a dull brownish yellow in the winter to a bright yellow color in the summer and molts twice a year. The first molting is already underway. They use milkweed and thistle in the early summer months for their nests.

American Goldfinch (Bob Danley Photo)

The American Tree Sparrow is another small bird and you'll usually see them in flocks during the winter, but they leave the area in the early spring. Right now, the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge has some of the sparrows along the Kenai Nature Trail (photo below).

tree sparrows
Two photos of American Tree Sparrows (Bob Danley photos)

Last week, we mentioned lichen on Ponderosa Pine trees. There are a few species on those branches, including the Flattened Thornbush. It likes lower branches and Bob has a little photo show for you.

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Bitterroot Outdoor Journal is heard on Wednesday mornings at 7:45 a.m. at 1240 KLYQ AM radio and at You can also hear it on the free cellphone app.

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