Is it advisable to set a goal so imposing that it is virtually unattainable? Who defines virtually in this question? Is something virtually unattainable if there is a 1% chance of success? A .1% chance? Even if it will be, by whatever definition, virtually unattainable or literally so, should that stop us from setting the goal and striving for it? The goal in question is, dare I type it, to photograph every bird species in Montana. 

Locke and Latham developed a theory of goal-setting in the 1960s and presented five key issues related to the nature of goals: clarity (goals should be clear and specific), challenge (balance should be sought between goals that are easily met and those that are impossible or nearly so—uh-oh), commitment (relatively self-explanatory), feedback (to determine progress toward the goal), and task complexity (how do you eat an elephant again?). Our goal is clear, we are committed, feedback is easily obtained, and the nature of this task is such that each individual step in this goal is simple. But…..challenge--there is no balance here. This goal is nearly impossible and will take years if not decades to achieve. However, Locke (1968) indicated that the more difficult a goal is, the harder one is likely to work to attain it. Bingo. Hard goals are more motivating because of the feeling of accomplishment obtained upon the achievement of the goal (Locke, 1968).

My first attempt at specificity is to determine which list of birds I will use. According to the Montana Audubon Society (2012), there are 427 distinct bird species that at least occasionally cross into Montana, although a collaborative effort between the Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (hereafter specified as “the field guide”) indicated that there are as many as 444. According to the latter source (hey, why make an impossible goal any easier?), in the class of animals known as Aves there are members of 20 orders, and I will use this list in my quest:

Cormorants - Suliformes
Cuckoos - Cuculiformes
Ducks / Geese - Anseriformes
Falcons – Falconiformes
Grebes – Podicipediformes
Hawks / Kites / Eagles – Accipitriformes
Hummingbirds / Swifts – Apodiformes
Kingfishers - Coraciiformes
Loons – Gaviiformes
Nighthawks – Caprimulgiformes
Owls – Strigiformes
Pelicans / Herons / Bitterns / Ibises - Pelecaniformes
Pigeons / Doves - Columbiformes
Rails – Gruiformes
Shearwaters – Procellariiformes
Shorebirds – Charadriiformes
Songbirds – Passeriformes
Storks – Ciconiiformes
Upland Game Birds – Galliformes
Woodpeckers - Piciformes

According to the field guide, within these 20 orders there are 58 different families of birds. I will also stipulate that any bird listed as “accidental” to Montana in the field guide, meaning that there have been fewer than 20 observations of the bird in question with in the state, will be excluded from my goal. For example, according to the field guide, one Mexican whip-poor-will (native to Arizona/New Mexico) was seen (supposedly) in Montana in 1990. I am clearly setting an unrealistic goal with this entire project, so waiting at the border for a wayward whip-poor-will to be caught in a stiff northern wind is not in the cards.

My first tasks are compiling the complete list of birds within families within the above specified orders that will be sought and determining which and how many I have already photographed. After that, I have set the first sub-goal as photographing all birds found in the Missoula area and Bitterroot Valley. The Five Valleys Audubon Society (2016) has assembled and published such a list, and there are 267 avian inhabitants close to home.

Check back for updates and news on new pictures!


The Five Valleys Audubon Society (2016). Missoula-Bitterroot hotspots brochure. Retrieved from

Locke, E. A. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 3(2), 157. doi:10.1016/0030-5073(68)90004-4.

Locke, E.A. and Latham, G.P. (1990). A theory of goal setting & task performance. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Montana Audubon Society. (2012). Checklist of Montana birds. Retrieved from:

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