Bridger Raptor Festival: A Celebration of the US’s Largest Golden Eagle Migration
Each October, Bridger Bowl hosts a free public event to celebrate the arrival of thousands of unique visitors. Unlike most of the tourists who pass through this region annually, these visitors aren’t skiers, fly fisherman or sightseers. Rather, they are birds of prey, and they’ve just embarked on an epic migratory journey from their summertime habitats in Northern Montana and Canada to their various wintering locations throughout the Southwestern US and Mexico.
The Star of the Show
Over a dozen different species of raptors participate in this annual mass-migration, but the most prolific of all the species observed is the Golden Eagle. In the fall of 2017, the Montana Audubon Society observed 2,159 Golden Eagles as they migrated over the Big Belt Range (of which the Bridger range is part of), reaffirming this natural wonder’s status as the largest known Golden Eagle migration in the United States.
Due to their large wingspan and overall size, Golden Eagles rely on orographic lift, a phenomenon that occurs when terrain forces air to rise, to migrate efficiently. Since the Bridger mountain range is more-or-less defined by a single ridge that runs from north to south, giant birds who want to take advantage of the lift provided by the Bridgers are confined to a narrower-than-usual path as they pass through our neck of the woods, making the local ski area a beyond-ideal location for observing this stunning natural event.
Not Just Another Bird Watch
Aside from enjoying guided nature walks through one of the world’s top migration-viewing venues, Bridger Raptor Festival attendees also have the opportunity to hear keynote speakers, view live bird exhibits and participate in a variety of hands-on activities. Presentations like raptor identification, efficient binocular use and bear safety teach the skills necessary for a successful watch, while other hands-on activities like Wildlife Olympics and The Great Migration Challenge provide interesting ways to discover the hardships raptors face along their migratory journey and aim to raise public awareness and appreciation for raptors through education.
The 2018 Bridger Raptor Festival is slated for October 5th-7th, rain or shine. All of the programs are free and open to the public, and on Saturday there will be food and beer available for purchase from 3pm to 6pm in the Jim Bridger Lodge at the coinciding Oktoberfest. For more information and a detailed schedule of events, visit: www.bridgerraptorfest.org.