Rocky Mountain Raptors

Sammy, a red-tailed hawk, at the Bridger Raptor Festival near Bozeman, Montana

Sammy, a trained red-tailed hawk, plays the role of ambassador at the Bridger Festival.

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Each autumn, more than 1,500 golden eagles wing south along the Rockies, wafting on rising thermals over the 9,000-foot Bridger Mountains on their way from Alaska to Mexico. Sixteen other species of migrating raptors, including bald eagles, American kestrels, and red-tailed, Cooper’s, sharp-shinned, and rough-legged hawks, also flock to this area outside Bozeman, Mont.

Below them, from October 2 to 4, another kind of gathering takes place: the 12th annual Bridger Raptor Festival at Bridger Bowl Ski Area in the Gallatin National Forest. Visitors young and old head for the hills to view the birds in flight; attendees indoors can enjoy lectures, raptor identification briefings, demonstrations with live eagles and owls, and raptor stories for children. A band plays bluegrass music on October 3.

"Participants can hike to the ridge and use binoculars to see the birds soaring overhead," says Doug Wales, a festival organizer, "and they can come inside and see a golden eagle up close and personal." (800) 223-9609, bridgerraptorfest.org.

Photography by Doug Wales

This article was first published in September 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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