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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

Wintering Marsh Wrens
 Marsh Wrens are found on the Chico during spring migration and also during winter.  They prefer to winter in cattails and there were two today in the small headquarters pond.  For an unknown reason, Marsh Wrens breed in the Boulder, Denver, Ft. Collins area but not on the Chico.  Most birds sing in spring, but when Marsh Wrens first arrive in fall, they sing short parts of their songs in addition to the common chip notes.  This is a bird that is way more often heard than seen.
Posted by Bill M. on 11/23/2015

Wintering Long-eared Owls
 Since the Chico Russian olives were removed, Long-eared Owls stopped wintering on the Chico. That is until this year.  With the tumbleweeds still present in the middle of the remaining olives, the habitat is perfect for wintering Long-eared Owls. Long-eared Owls are nocturnal and they hunt by criss-crossing open fields at a height of between 1.5 and 6 feet, locating prey by their excellent hearing. Like Short-eared Owls, Long-ears eat rodents and small birds. They decapitate birds and then eat the entrails first and then everything else except for feathers.  For rodents, Long-eared Owls eviscerate first but don't eat rodent entrails. One pair of  Long-eared Owls stayed to nest one year only, a year when there were over 20 birds wintering on the Chico.  Maybe 2016 will be a repeat performance?
Posted by Bill M. on 11/23/2015

The Least Common Chico Bluebird
 Western Bluebird is the least common of the three Colorado bluebirds found on the Chico.  This fairly common Ponderosa pine breeder is seen most years in the spring on the Chico but not every year.  In the fall, it is uncommonly seen, but there was one at the edge of the banding station this weekend.  Western Bluebird, as the name implies, is a truly western species and is the one most affected by large clearings, preferring to nest in tree cavities in small openings at the edge of the woods.  During the breeding season they eat insects but in the winter they switch to a fruit diet so habitats with large quantities of fruiting trees or shrubs is where they can be found.  This species doesn't retreat south as far in winter as the other two bluebird species, Mountain Bluebird and Eastern Bluebird.  Bluebirds are small members of the Thrush family that also includes American Robins in addition other Chico migrants including Hermit, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrush and their close relative, Veery.
Posted by Bill M. on 11/17/2015

The Baddest Predator
 Shakespeare's "fatal bellman, which gives the sternest goodnight" is Colorado's largest and most powerful owl.  The Great Horned Owl is a resident on the Chico and it can and does eat insects up to porcupines, seemingly having no trouble with porcupine quills. They have the unique ability to adapt to and coexist with humans in altered habitats and are found from Alaska to southern South America.  In Colorado they are found in most habitats except at high elevation coniferous forests.  They will nest in tree cavities, modified squirrel nests, dirt banks and cliffs, and on occasion on the ground.  Starting about now, Great Horned Owls can be heard duetting in the darkness of the night, the lows hoots possibly scary to those who don't know the calls. They have very few, if any predators except humans.
Posted by Bill M. on 11/12/2015

The Three Common Wintering Hawks
 The three most commonly seen large winter raptors, Buteos, are sometimes confused.  They have light, dark and in-between color phases so I will only describe light phase birds.  The most common species, one that breeds on the Chico wherever there are enough big trees is Red-tailed Hawk (center).  Young birds do not have a reddish tail but instead it is barred with about equal width to the dark bands. On adults like this one, the tail color as seen from below is light rufous. The face is always dark and there is almost always a belly band separated from the dark head by a light breast.  The color pattern from head to belly is therefore, dark, light, dark. In flight the dark bar, patagium, that extends outwards from body along the leading edge of the wing is a very  good field mark as is the dark area where the patagium ends forming the shape of a comma (look at the bird's left wing).

The second most common raptor in winter on the Chico is Ferruginous Hawk (left). They have the largest talons and therefore can hunt prairie-dogs and anything smaller.  From below, they have a light gray head, a light breast, and a light belly so the pattern is light, light, light.  No petagium (carpal bar) on the leading edge of the wings of this species. Their legs are covered with bright rufous feathering and they have bright rufous underwing coverts.  The yellow gape, a backward extension from the closed mandibles, runs all the way to the back of the eye, a good field mark.  

The third raptor (right) is only found on the Chico during winter months, flying to Colorado from the high arctic in fall and is called Rough-legged Hawk. One of its distinctive features is the dark rectangular carpal patch on the outer third of the wings.  Although there are some dark markings, it does not have a petagial bar like the Red-tail does.  Rough-legs get its name from feathered legs (tarsi), a trait often found in northern breeding species.  They often hover for many seconds when a prey item is spotted below. In flight their head often appears light and young birds in particular have very dark belly bands so their appearance in flight is light, light, dark as seen from below. They have a light base to the tail and a dark subterminal band.

Posted by Bill M. on 11/03/2015

I Can Hear You
    Most owls, like this recently arrived Short-eared Owl, can locate their rodent prey without being able to see.  Their slightly offset ears are used to triangulate rodent squeaks from afar which leads to a very high hunting success rate.  Short-eared Owls, like the raptor called Northern Harrier, hunts low to the ground in order to hear the audible sounds of rodents and small birds.  Because rodent populations fluctuate widely, in years when the population is high so too is the number of avian predators who specialize in rodent prey. 
Posted by Bill M. on 11/01/2015

They're Back
 One of the world's most widespread owl species, Short-eared Owl, can be found in winter months on the Chico in years when there is an abundant rodent population.  In winter months Short-eared Owls roost  on the ground in small groups and in some regions they also breed in colonies.  They are found almost always on the ground but they will also sometimes roost in trees and sometimes with Long-eared Owls.  In flight, Short-eared Owls fly with distinctively slow wingbeats and can superficially resemble a Buteo or even a Northern Harrier. In Colorado they begin hunting after the sun has set when they are often seen perched on roadside fences, they return to their ground roost as the sun rises.  On overcast days Short-eared Owls sometimes can be seen hunting in sand/sage grasslands in the middle of the day.  

Posted by Bill M. on 11/01/2015

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CONTACT US 719.683.7960 info@chicobasinranch.com