Birding at the Chico

The Chico Basin Ranch is a major flyway for migratory birds, due to the abundant springs, lakes and bird habitat on the ranch. The ranch works closely with Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and has over 300 birds on the ranch bird list. Many people come to the ranch in the spring and fall to bird.

Bill Maynard is one of birders that comes most frequently. When we asked him if he would keep the ranch birding journal, he was pleased and agreed to do it. Thank you Bill! Bill has taught high school biology, worked as a naturalist for the National Park Service and as a biologist for a variety of government agencies. He has also worked for the American Birding Association at their national headquarters in Colorado Springs. 

Click Here to download the Ranch Bird Checklist

Click Here to download the Birding Trail Map (4mb PDF)

Click Here to download the Ranch Dragonfly and Damselfly Checklist

Winter Bird Count

Male Rough-legged Hawk

The annual Chico winter bird count, this year held on 15 January, had a record number of participants, 23, and an average number of species detected.

Birds found this year included some species usually found  much farther south during winter months including: Gray Catbird and  Northern Mockingbird.  The results of the survey now hints there could be a resident pair of Western Screech-Owls on the Ranch.  East of its normal range, an eastern subspecies of White-breasted Nuthatch was found along with a Great-tailed Grackle, a species that normally leaves the area by October.  Although 99 percent of the ponds' surfaces were frozen, one small patch of open water on Rose Pond held five waterfowl species including a single Canvasback and a single Common Goldeneye.

Seven people living on the Ranch participated on their first bird count and all of them saw the Great-tailed Grackle through a spotting scope.

Thank you to all of the volunteers whose collective efforts made this count a particularly enjoyable one.  The list of volunteers (minus one) and the list of species seen follows.

Volunteers on the Annual Winter Chico Bird Count

Dawn, Aidan, Ruth, Cole, and Eli Moon
Caroline and Caleb Ferguson
Kinsey Rippy
Mel and Jean Goth
Marjorie Joy from Pueblo West
Brandon Percival from Pueblo West
Mark Peterson
David Chartier
Bob Boonstro and guest
Ron and Jeannie Mitchell, and Jeannie's daughter, Kelly Shipe
Saraiya Ruano – Colorado College student
Bryan Patrick from the American Birding Association
Bill Maynard and his nephew, Dan
Birds Recorded
Canada Goose - 25
Mallard - 14
Canvasback - 1
Ring-necked Duck - 15
Common Goldeneye - 1
Scaled Quail - 61, ranch specialty
Northern Harrier - 2
Northern Goshawk - 1
Ferruginous Hawk - 5
Rough-legged Hawk- 1
Golden Eagle - 3
American Kestrel - 2
Merlin - 3
Prairie Falcon - 1
Virgina Rail - 1, heard only
Wilson' Snipe - 1
Western Screech-Owl - 2, heard only
Great Horned Owl - 7
Long-eared Owl - only 3 this year
Ladder-backed Woodpecker - 8, a ranch specialty
Downy Woodpecker - 2
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker - 6, plus two unknown forms
Loggerhead Shrike - 4
Blue Jay - 23, feasting on Russian olives
Black-billed Magpie - 4
Chihuahuan Raven - 8
Common Raven - 1, plus 4 individuals. unknown raven species
Horned Lark -  144
White-breasted (eastern) Nuthatch- 1
Brown Creeper - 1, uncommon on the Chico in winter 
Marsh Wren - 2, heard only
Eastern Bluebird - 6
Mountain Bluebird - 30
American Robin - 150
GRAY CATBIRD - 1, rare in CO in winter
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD - 1, rare in CO in winter
Curve-billed Thrasher - 20, ranch specialty
European Starling - 13
Spotted Towhee - 1. a possible hybrid with Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow - 19 
Song Sparrow - 10
White-crowned Sparrow - 41
Harris's Sparrow - 1, uncommon on the Chico
Dark-eyed Junco - 50 uniden...

Posted by Bill M. on 01/17/2010

Friday, Jan 08, 2010
Adult Golden Eagle in the shadow of Pikes Peak.
Posted by Bill M. on 01/08/2010

Friday, Jan 08, 2010

Adult Golden Eagle looking for prairie dogs.

Posted by Bill M. on 01/08/2010

The scientific name of Merlin is Falco columbarius, the species name means pigeon and in fact this bird has been called pigeon hawk because it eats doves and pigeons.  Merlin is a small falcon that will chase any other bird, no matter what its size.  In migration it will catch migrating dragonflies and eat them on the wing.  There is currently a Merlin wintering in the area of Chico HQ and I saw it recently near Rose Pond.  During winter, Merlins can be found around human habitations with scattered trees.  They are known to follow shorebird migration and feed on them throughout their journey.  The subspecies shown here is our Prairie or Richardson's Merlin, restricted to the Central Plains.  In Colorado they are only here in the fall, winter and early spring months.
Posted by Bill M. on 01/06/2010

Winter Falcons
Falcons are named for the hooked (falcate) shape of their claws.  There are three falcons regularly seen on the Chico during the winter months.  The small American Kestrel is often seen in open country perched on powerlines.  The next size up is the small, but fierce, Merlin, one currently being seen between Rose Pond and HQ.  The larger Prairie Falcon (photo) is fairly common on the eastern plains in winter, retreating to mountainous terrain in the summer to breed on rocky vertical cliffs (try the Garden of the Gods). 

Falcons, except for the very large and very rare in CO, Gyrfalcon, show wings tapered towards the tips while in flight.  Prairie Falcon is a large, strong-flying falcon of the plains, lighter in coloration and lighter-bodied than its more famous relative, Peregrine Falcon (passes through Chico in spring and fall).  Prairie Falcons will eat blackbirds and starlings and any other bird about that size and they will also hunt for small rodents.  The sandy coloration and the black armpits (axillaries) can be used to identify these strong fliers in flight. 
The dark moustachial mark below the eye quickly identifiy this bird as a falcon.
Posted by Bill M. on 01/06/2010

Rough-legged Hawk
The scientific name for Rough-legged Hawk is Buteo lagopus. Lagopus translates to "feathered like a hare" and in fact, Rough-legged hawks have feathering all the way to their toes.  They too come in both dark and light color morphs.  In contrast to other buteos, Rough-legs have longer tails and longer wings, and they can often be seen hovering in the air in a manner similar to our American Kestrels.

This species is migratory and is only in Colorado during the fall and winter months.  It will leave by March and fly north into Canada or Alaska to breed.  Unlike the larger-footed Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legs have smaller feet and therefore are confined to prey on small rodents, and on occasion, small birds. 

The individual picured here, is an obvious adult male with the dark subterminal band on its tail and two thinner partial bands proximal to the wider band.  Females and immatures would only have a one dark tail band showing.  The long tail is apparent in the photograph and compare the wing shape with the Feruginous Hawk photogrpahs.
Posted by Bill M. on 01/06/2010

Dark Morph Ferruginous Hawk
Polymorphism in birds means they occur in more than one color phase.  Unlike ptarmigan that change color with seasons, raptors are born either light, dark or intermediate.  Dark phase color morphs are usually much less common than their light phase counter parts. 

As mentioned earlier, Ferruginous Hawk is a declining species.  It was listed as a Threatened Species in Canada in 1982.  In 1992, the species was proposed to be listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the proposal was denied because of insufficient evidence.  In Colorado, Ferruginous Hawk is a Species of Special Concern.

Regarless of the color type, Ferruginous Hawk always shows the light tail from underneath, the long gape between the two mandibles, and large feet.
Posted by Bill M. on 01/06/2010

Winter Raptors

When birding slows during winter months with many passerines having moved south to where food is readily available, raptors, or birds of prey, dominte the landscape.   Rare in summer months, Ferruginous Hawks can be common in winter, especially where black-tailed prairie dogs are abundant.  Ferruginous Hawk gets its name from the word ferrous, iron or rusty in coloration.  The photograph shows the rufous coloration contasting with bright white underparts.  Also notice the rufous feathering on the thighs, the very long gape (space between the upper and lower mandible) that extends to just behind the eye, a characteristic of this species, and the large feet and talons.  As seen from below, this species is sometimes described as displaying a rufous cross.

Ferruginous Hawks are fierce predators, one of the largest and most powerful buteo hawks.   With large feet, they often perch on powerlines or fence poles near a prairie dog colony or often they can be viewed circling high overhead the colony.  This is a declining species, yet they are often common in the winter on the eastern plains.

This is a light color phase adult.  Next up, dark phase Ferruginous Hawk.

Posted by Bill M. on 01/06/2010

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