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Discover Montana's Ecosystems

Plains Grassland

The plains grassland is home to a variety of wildlife species. Some of these animals are year-round residents like the swift fox, while others are seasonal visitors, such as the long-billed curlew that migrates south for the winter. Wildlife species listed on this page were selected because of the adaptations that help them survive in a plains grassland environment. Click on the images below to view the Animal Field Guide.

Plains Grassland Mammals

Mammals living in the plains grasslands have specific adaptations that help them live in this ecosystem such as the nomadic lifestyle of pronghorn antelope that relies on speed and help from the herd to avoid predators. Other mammals are adapted to a lifestyle below the ground where they can escape predators, stay warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. Examples of some of these excellent diggers are badgers, Richardson's ground squirrels, prairie dogs and northern pocket gophers. Other mammals like the bobcat and mule deer find the plains forest a suitable habitat.

Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn Antelope

Swift Fox

Swift Fox

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

Coyote

Coyote

Desert Cottontail

Desert Cottontail

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Black-tailed Prarie Dog

Bobcat

Bobcat
Plains Grassland Birds

Birds on the plains have adapted to a lifestyle of nesting on the ground, in the shrubs, or trees in the isolated plains forests. One bird, the burrowing owl, has even adapted to nesting below the ground in burrows. Abundant insects and seeds of the grasslands provide these birds with food. Many of Montana's bird species are also dependent on the riparian habitats found along plains rivers and streams.

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owl

Horned Lark

Horned Lark

Plains Sharp-tailed Grouse

Plains Sharp-tailed Grouse

Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

Pinyon Jay

Pinyon Jay

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow
Plains Grassland Herps (Amphibians and Reptiles)

Amphibians in the plains have adapted to a dry climate. Some of these animals may live 15 to 20 years, an important strategy because during times of drought there may not be enough water to breed. Reptiles found on the plains, such as the prairie rattlesnake, are not as restricted to a water source because they often get all the water they need from consuming their prey. All these species have figured out ways to survive Montana's long cold winters by burying themselves in the soil, mud of a river, or in a rocky den site.

Great Plains Toad

Great Plains Toad

Woodhouse's Toad

Woodhouse's Toad

Spiny Softshell

Spiny Softshell
Plains Grassland Fish

The warm waters of the plains rivers contain the greatest diversity of fish found in all of Montana. These species include the prehistoric shovelnose sturgeon and paddlefish, blue sucker, and channel catfish. Many of the fish living in the large, slow flowing rivers have adapted to the turbid water conditions by developing special adaptations for living in such conditions such as the sensitive paddle of the paddlefish and the barbels of the sturgeon, and the bottom feeding habits of the blue sucker.

Paddlefish

Paddlefish

Blue Sucker

Blue Sucker

Pallid Sturgeon

Pallid Sturgeon

Goldeye

Goldeye