The expansive landscape of Montana is home to a wide array of wildlife, including some of the fastest animals in the world. From the majestic pronghorn antelope, which can outrun a racehorse over short distances, to the small and surprisingly speedy black-tailed jackrabbit, Montana is full of incredible animals that can move at astonishing speeds. Let’s take a closer look at the 10 fastest animals in Montana!
1. Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana)
Not only is the pronghorn the fastest animal in Montana, but it is also the fastest animal in the continental United States and the second-fastest animal in the world! These amazing ungulates can run up to 65 miles per hour and can maintain fast speeds for even longer than a cheetah can. In addition, pronghorn migrate 300 miles, which is the second furthest migration of any other land animal in North America!
Pronghorns typically measure around 4.5 feet long and 3 feet tall and can weigh 90 to 150 pounds. They have reddish-brown, tan, or darker brown fur, with white stripes on their neck and face. Their name comes from the unique horns on both male and female pronghorns. There is a small notch — or “prong” — on the front of each horn that points forward. However, the main portion of their horns grows up and then points backward, rather than forward. Female pronghorns usually just have small bumps, while the horns of male pronghorns grow 10 to 12 inches in length.
2. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Nesting in the western and south-central parts of Montana is one of the world’s fastest animals, the peregrine falcon. These incredible birds have been clocked diving through the air at outstanding speeds of 100 to 275 miles per hour! However, even when soaring in a straight and horizontal course, a peregrine falcon can fly around 40 to 56 miles per hour on average, which is still quite impressive. These speedsters mostly eat other small or medium-sized birds like pigeons, swallows, shorebirds, starlings, blackbirds, ducks, pheasants, and grouse.
Peregrine falcons were once nearly extinct due to DDT poisoning and other pesticides, but conservation efforts have helped repopulate them in Montana and around the nation. These birds have pointed feathers and dark facial masks, and typically grow around 13 to 23 inches long. The back and tops of their wings are a slate gray or bluish-black color, and they have a dark barred pattern on their chest.
3. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
One of the fastest animals in Montana is the golden eagle, a majestic bird that soars through the air at incredible speeds. The golden eagle typically flies at just 28 to 32 miles per hour, but when it is hunting it can reach speeds up to 120 miles per hour! In addition, when chasing prey, golden eagles dive at an incredible 150 to 200 miles per hour! They are fast and agile hunters that primarily eat mammals like ground squirrels, hares, rabbits, prairie dogs, and marmots. However, it is not unheard of for a golden eagle to go after a much larger quarry — some have been known to take down mountain goats, small deer, and coyotes.
Golden eagles are a common sight in Montana and can be seen all over the state. They prefer large open areas with cliffs, hills, or mountains, but they also frequent farmlands, grassland, woodlands, and shrublands as well. Golden eagles are large birds with wingspans 6 to 7 feet wide. Their feathers are dark brown, with golden brown feathers around the neck. Juvenile golden eagles also have additional white patches on their wings and tails.
4. Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
Found mostly in the western half of Montana, the Canadian lynx can run up to 50 miles per hour! However, this ambush predator typically relies on its incredible stealth rather than its speed. Lynx patiently waits for prey to get close enough to pounce upon, and can jump about 25 feet! They primarily eat snowshoe hares, although on occasion they will also hunt birds and rodents.
It’s rare to see a Canadian lynx, since these animals are extremely secretive, elusive, and typically only hunt at night. They have dense fur that is a silvery or grayish-brown color, with long legs and short, compact bodies. One of their most defining features, however, is the long, black tufts on the tips of their ears. They also have short tails with black tips and large feet that act like snowshoes when they walk atop the snow.
5. Cougar (Puma concolor)
Another big cat found mostly in western Montana and along the southern border is the cougar (or mountain lion). Cougars have large paws and long, muscular back legs, allowing them to jump and sprint with ease. A cougar can run 40 to 50 miles per hour, although they are best suited for powerful sprints over short distances. Like the lynx, cougars are typically ambush predators, and can jump up to 18 feet vertically and 45 feet horizontally!
These athletic cats can live in just about any type of habitat but they prefer areas with dense underbrush when available. They are carnivores and eat prey like raccoons, mule deer, mice, squirrels, and rabbits. However, they are not super picky and will hunt anything from grasshoppers to much larger moose, depending on what is available to them. Cougars typically come in two color phases in Montana: a buff, tawny, or cinnamon color, and a bluish, slate, or silvery gray color.
6. Elk (Cervus canadensis)
In Montana, elk are found mostly in the western half of the state. Elk are some of the largest mammals in all of North America, but they are also surprisingly fast, running up to 40 miles per hour. In addition, an elk can also jump 8 feet into the air! Although they were once abundant in the United States, they began to decline as settlers moved into the area in the 1800s and 1900s. Fortunately, conservation in Montana has helped to protect elk, and today the state hosts one of the largest populations of elk in the United States.
Elk are majestic animals that can grow around 5 to 9 feet long and stand 2 to 5 feet tall. They have large and impressive antlers that can span up to four or five feet wide They are extremely social creatures, and at times herds of elk can reach up to 400 animals! Elk are typically a tan or dark brown color, although some also have white patches around their necks and underbelly. They are particularly famous for their unique bugle call, which can often be heard during their mating season.
Free-roaming “wild horses”, also known as mustangs, can run 30 to 40 miles per hour. These horses originally came from Spain, but have bred with many other wild, domestic, and feral horses. This has resulted in a unique conglomeration of genetics in the mustangs of the western U.S. today.
The Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range on the border of Montana and Wyoming is a refuge for around 160 of these free-roaming horses, many of which are descendants of the Spanish horses that came to the U.S. in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of these beautiful animals boast unique markings, like a long dorsal stripe down their backs, and zebra-like stripes on their legs.
8. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)
Although much smaller than the other animals on this list, the black-tailed jackrabbit is still one of the fastest animals in Montana, and can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour! However, this “jackrabbit” is actually not a rabbit at all — it is a hare, growing 18 to 26 inches long and weighing 4 to 8 pounds. It has recognizably large ears, around 4 to 7 inches long with black tips on top.
Black-tailed jackrabbits are only found in the southwestern tip of Montana. They typically live in open areas, and can often outmaneuver predators with their quick and unpredictable sprinting, leaping, and bounding across the landscape. However, they are not long-distance runners, which puts them at a disadvantage against many predators in Montana.
9. Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)
Although they do not commonly use their speed, bighorn sheep can run up to 30 miles per hour, and can even scale rocky slopes at around 15 miles per hour. When competing for a mate, however, male rams can run 40 miles per hour toward each other — can you imagine butting your head into someone else going that fast? The impact is so strong that it can be heard nearly a mile away!
Bighorn sheep are very gregarious and typically live in groups of eight to 10. However, a herd of bighorn sheep can have over 100 sheep in a single group! Before the western parts of North America were colonized, bighorn sheep were widely distributed across the land in the millions. However, when colonists and settlers came, their numbers quickly dwindled, and they were even close to extinction at one point. Fortunately, with the help of many conservation efforts, the bighorn sheep are now recovering, although they continue to face many challenges along the way.
10. Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)
Although they once lived all throughout Montana, today gray wolves are mainly found in the western half of the state. Speed is not a wolf’s primary skill, although these intelligent hunters can run up to 40 miles per hour in short bursts. Wolves, however, rely on their excellent endurance more than their speed. These extremely social animals live in packs of varying sizes, depending on the availability of prey and other resources in the area. Wolves have a complex social ordering, with each member of the pack fulfilling a very specific role. Everything they do, they do together, from cooperative care of pups to defending their territory by hunting in groups.
In Montana, gray wolves are usually either black or gray, and both colors are often within the same pack. Gray wolves serve an important role in the natural balance of Montana’s ecosystem. They are carnivores and eat small animals like rodents, beavers, and hares, as well as larger prey like elk, deer, and bison. Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks works hard to keep wolf populations in the state healthy and balanced while protecting the people and livestock here as well.
The Fastest Animals in Montana
|Pronghorn||Up to 65 mph|
|Peregrine Falcon||40-46 mph; 100-275 mph when diving|
|Golden Eagle||Up to 120 mph; 150-200 mph when diving|
|Canadian Lynx||Up to 50 mph|
|Elk||Up to 40 mph|
|Black-Tailed Jackrabbit||Up to 40 mph|
|Bighorn Sheep||Up to 40 mph|
|Gray Wolf||Up to 40 mph|
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Felineus/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is the fastest animal in Montana and the US?
Not only is the pronghorn the fastest animal in Montana, but it is also the fastest animal in the continental United States and the second-fastest animal in the world! These amazing ungulates can run up to 65 miles per hour and can maintain fast speeds for even longer than a cheetah can.
How do gray wolves maintain the balance of the ecosystem in Montana?
Gray wolves serve an important role in the natural balance of Montana’s ecosystem. They are carnivores and eat small animals like rodents, beavers, and hares, as well as larger prey like elk, deer, and bison. Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks works hard to keep wolf populations in the state healthy and balanced while protecting the people and livestock here as well.
What is the fastest animal in Yellowstone?
The fastest animal in Yellowstone is the pronghorn, which can run up to 60 miles per hour. There are around 450 to 500 pronghorns that live in Yellowstone National Park today.
What types of big cats live in Montana?
Montana is home to bobcats, Canadian Lynx, and cougars.
What are the most dangerous animals in Montana?
Some of the fastest animals in Montana can be dangerous to humans, like cougars, wolves, and even elk (due to car accidents). Grizzly bears are also one of the most dangerous animals in Montana, although they rarely attack humans.
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