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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


Common Merganser is a fish-eating duck with worldwide distribution.  In much of its range they nest near large lakes and rivers in northern forested habitats in tree cavities  but they will also nest on the ground.  Common Merganser is often locally called "hair head" along the eastern seaboard and in other regions they have been called sawbill, fish duck, and sheldrake. A close look will reveal the serrated edges of both mandibles that they use to secure the fish they feed upon.  Females will often lay their white eggs in the nests of other cavity-nesting ducks and it is not uncommon to see young merganser swimming behind hens of other species.

Fisherman, especially along rivers in the Pacific Northwest, consider them a nuisance as the mergansers have a mostly fish diet and compete with fishermen for salmon and steelhead. In flight and on the water both the male and female Common Mergansers are easily identified.

Posted by Bill M. on 02/27/2012

Breeding Time for Great Horned Owls
Most visitors to the Chico soon learn about the Great Horned Owls that nest in a tree cavity near the small Headquarters Pond (formerly known as Sherrie's Pond).  They are one of the earliest species to nest, often sitting on eggs by January.  There are a minimum of four Great Horned Owl pairs on the Chico.

Equally at home in desert, grassland, suburban, and forest habitats, north to the treeline, it has the most extensive range, the widest prey base, and the most variable nesting sites of any North American owl.

Because Great Horned Owls are fairly tame it is often easy to see their large eyes which are packed with many rods for excellent night vision and pupils that open widely in the dark. Although they can't move their eyes, they do have an atlanto-venoccipital joint which allows this species to turn its head more than 180° enabling it to look in any direction without shifting its body. Assisted by facial disc feathers that direct sound waves to its ears it has accute hearing. Its feathers are exceptionally soft, providing superb insulation and allowing for silent flight. Great Horned Owls are perch-and-pounce hunters. They are described as having high high wing-loading which makes aerial foraging mostly inefficient. Howerver, they have very strong talons and can sever the spinal column of prey even larger than itself. A hooked beak efficiently tears meat from bones.  Prey includes skunks, frogs, crayfish, snakes, racoons, cats, chickens and many more species.

Posted by Bill M. on 02/19/2012

Fast Flying Prairie Falcon
Absent in summer on the Chico, Prairie Falcons are sometimes encountered here in winter months.  Although they feed on ground squirrels during summer months and retreat to areas with cliff faces to breed, Prairie Falcons feed on small birds in winter.  On the Chico this is likely to include the common Horned Larks (found in the shortest grass areas) and on Western Meadowlarks (many leave the Chico in winter).  Unlike the broad-winged slow flapping of the Golden Eagle (see below) Praire Falcons, with their long slender and tapered wings, flap with rapid speed and can chase down their prey with seemingly little effort. This individual flew in to perch on the tree by the leather shop where it remained for a couple of minutes before flying north.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/19/2012

Large Avian Predator
Golden Eagles have amazing speed and maneuverability for their size (80" wingspan) and they have a variety of hunting techniques.  Hunting from an elevated perch, soaring, and flying in low contouring flights are three examples. They are powerful and are capable of killing large prey such as cranes and even  domestic livestock new borns. Golden Eagles subsist primarily on rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs. On the Chico prairie dogs and black-tailed jack rabbits seem to be most frequently hunted.  Once an individual establishes a territory, it often returns there for breeding, defending an area of approximately 20–30 square kilometers.  On the Chico, Golden Eagles often appear in February and they try (mostly unsuccessfully) to nest in early spring.  In parts of their range, a territory may contain up to 14 nests (only one used each year), which a pair maintains and repairs as part of their courtship rituals. On the Chico, two nest sites are known but no egg-laying has occurred here in the last three years.   The nesting season is long, extending more than 6 months from the time eggs are laid until young reach independence. They usually raise only 1 young per year and up to 15 young over a lifetime but in years of little prey, they do not lay eggs.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/19/2012

Thursday, Feb 09, 2012

Today the Common Goldeneye drakes were putting on a show, displaying to anything and everything that would look at them. Often overlooked is the males' loud, buzzy babreent, a part of their vocalizations.  When taking off, they explode after only a short run and then their distinctive wing whistles can be heard.

Posted by Bill M. on 02/09/2012

Native Quail
A large covey of Scaled Quail were foraging under clumps of cholla cactus on the northern portion of the Chico this morning.  The drifted snow did not seem to bother them as they were searching for food at the bases of the cactus.  The flock had about 30 birds (five visible here).  The "cotton tops" should pair up in a couple of months and if we are fortunate to have a wet spring (a described ingredient for successful Scaled Quail breeding) there will hopefully be a bounty of quail youngsters in the cholla grasslands this summer.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/09/2012

Northern Bobwhite (Quail)
An update on the flock of Northern Bobwhite that were released about 10 months ago from about 7 miles away.  As is evident, the flock is feeding on fruits of the remaining Russian olives near the CBR/RMBO bird banding station.  They also may have been feeding on the seeds of another noxious weed, Kochea.  Regardless, their high calls can be heard if you are observant and if the birds are foraging in cover they allow close approach.  The flock appears to be down in numbers from 10 birds to 7 individuals.  It will be interesting to see if they pair up and try to breed in the Spring months. 
Posted by Bill M. on 02/09/2012

Early Signs of Migration
Now that the ice is going out on HQ Pond, a good variety of ducks are present, many of the males displaying to the fewer females. 

From left to right you should be able to see: a hen and drake Ring-necked Duck, in the foreground a drake Canvasback (king of the ducks), a grouping of drake Redheads, a Lesser Scaup drake to the right of the Redheades, in the back center a pair of Common Goldeneye drakes, and partially hidden in the back of the far right is an American Wigeon drake.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/09/2012

Not A Bird, But...
In winter, porcupines are easy to spot in the scattered trees on the Chico.  The word porcupine comes from the Middle French, porc espin or spined pig.  In parts of the U.S. this third largest of the rodents (see teeth) is called quill pig and in some regions they are called dinner.

They are attracted to salt and will sometimes come to salted roadways to get their fill and have been known to eat leather and other clothing with concentrated perspiration in order to get at the salt.  In winter their diet is mostly twigs and bark and when they find a very delicious tree they can do some damage.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/09/2012

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CONTACT US 719.683.7960 info@chicobasinranch.com