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Montana Birding and Nature Trail
Discover the Nature of Montana...

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Cow Creek Burn

Birds of Fire

Designated as an Important Bird Area

An exceptional place to see birds foraging for insects in burned forests, particularly Lewis's woodpeckers.

Cow Creek Burn Site Map

Download Printable Version of Site Information

Field Notes

Dead trees offer woodpeckers a bounty of insects. Watch and listen for Lewis's, three-toed, and hairy woodpeckers. Black-backed woodpeckers are possible, too, but tend to be found in the most recent burns. Mountain bluebirds nest in snags. MacGillivray's and orange-crowned warblers sing from shrubs lining a stream. Listen for the soft toot of a Townsend's solitaire. Peregrines hunt over the open lands from a nearby eyrie. Mule deer and elk feast on healthy grasses fertilized by ash.

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Habitat Link

Fires in 2000 swept down this hillside, burning thousands of trees. Today, the black snags sentinels watch over the flourishing shrubs and wildflowers. A wonderful array of birds benefit from this natural cycle of fire in the Northern Rockies. Burned trees attract insects for birds to eat. Fire stimulates new shrub growth.

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Cultural Link

This fire came dangerously close to burning the nearby town of Pinesdale. The Bitterroot Valley is one of the fastest growing parts of Montana. As more people choose to build homes in forests, the Forest Service faces a difficult challenge of maintaining fire as a natural, healthful force, while simultaneously protecting houses.

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Viewing Tip

Birding studies conducted in this Aubudon-designated Important Bird Area show a high number of Lewis's wood-peckers attracted to the burn for the abundant insects. Watch for them in spring and summer.

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Helpful Hint

Parking is limited and pullouts are few. Burned snags can topple in wind - be aware of potential hazards.

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Getting There

At the stoplight on Highway 93 at Woodside, 3 miles north of Hamilton, turn west onto Dutch Hill Road. After 2 miles, turn north at the "T" on Bowman Road, and follow for 1.8 miles around two curves. Just before Pinedale, turn west onto Forest Service Road #438 (Cow Creek Road) and follow for a half-mile to the gate and small parking area. Road is open from June to October. When closed, park and walk up the road. One mile from gate, a walking trail leads through a restoration area and into a shrubby draw (about half-mile hike), which offers great birding. When road is open, you can drive up higher into the burn.

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Contact

Bitterroot National Forest, Stevensville Ranger District, 88 Main St., Stevensville, MT 59870; (406)777-5461

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