Winter Sparrows
Category: Birding at the Chico
 American Tree Sparrows are poorly named because they aren't found in trees, more often the weeds next to trees, and they breed on arctic tundra far from trees and winter mostly on the plains in weedy habitats.  Beginning birders are often intimidated by sparrows, they all look  the same, but American Tree Sparrow has a distinctive bicolored bill, a rufous crown, wings, and back, and the clear breast with a central spot or "stick pin" makes I.D. fairly easy.  They are related to the more common Spizella sparrows such as Chipping Sparrow, but Chipping Sparrows move south of Colorado for the winter as do other Spizella sparrows like Brewer's and Clay-colored Sparrows.  Tree Sparrows leave by mid-March so winter is the best time to study them on the Chico. Search dense areas of tumbleweeds on the plains and you should find some. 
Posted by Bill M. on 01/24/2016

Prairie Falcon
Category: Birding at the Chico
 Cliff nesting Prairie Falcons move to the plains in the winter.  Although this western species is most thought to feed on small ground squirrels, in winter their diet shifts to small birds.  The two most common bird species hunted by Prairie Falcons are Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks, both fairly common on Chico in the winter.  Prairie Falcons hunt using different methods. Research in Colorado shows that perching on a pole, watch and wait, is the most energy conserving hunting method but in other western states they are frequently seen aerial patrolling where they eventually encounter a prey item.  On the Chico they are most often encountered along the entrance road siting on a utility pole. The two characteristics of all raptors are a hooked beak for tearing apart prey, and talons used to capture then kill prey items, both easily seen in this photo from Chico on the 23rd of January. 

Posted by Bill M. on 01/24/2016

Throwback Thursday
Category: Birding at the Chico
 17 May 2008 A typical group of birders looking for migrant and resident bird species when the northern area of the Chico was a large colony of Russian olive trees.  Russian olive is a non-native, state listed noxious plant.  The state of Colorado requires its removal from areas where its abundant fruits have caused a rapid colonization at the expense of native trees and shrubs.  Because Russian olives produce a bounty of fruits most years, birds and wildlife feast on the fruits and seeds in the winter months but the end result is the spreading of the fertile seeds to other adjacent open areas resulting in a forest of trees. This is good for birds and therefore birders but not good for the original state of the land.
Posted by Bill M. on 01/15/2016

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