Migration continues
Category: Birding at the Chico

Now that the blizzard is over birds are on the move again.  A single Mountain Plover has returned as have a few Burrowing Owls.  A migrant Sage Thrasher was singing and another was displaying to a prospecitve mate, lifting both wings high above its head.

Although a fairly common breeder in the Colorado mountains, Western Bluebird is rare in migration at Chico, or possibly it passes through mostly overlooked.  Today, there were about 16 Western Bluebirds in the cholla grassland near Rose Pond.  All of them were feeding on the ground, perhaps preying on beetles or other ground-dwelling insects.

Western and Eastern Bluebirds are sometimes confused.  The male on the wire above shows its blue chin and throat and orange on its back.  Eastern males are not as intensely blue, have an orange chin, but have no orange on its back.  The female is a little harder to identify, but the gray chin, belly, and flanks help in pointing to it as being a Western Bluebird. 

Western Bluebirds are declining in much of their western range, perhaps partially to logging practices that remove snags when nearby trees are harvested for wood products.  In some areas, artificial nest boxes attached to live trees or fencelines are readily used by all bluebirds species for nesting.  Bluebird trails are popular and the nest boxes are monitored by dedicated volunteers in many areas along Colorado's Front Range.

Posted by Bill M. on 03/29/2009

Where's the ring on Ring-necked Ducks?
Category: Birding at the Chico
Birders are used to bird names where the most visible part is not included in the name.  It seems that many species were nabird med for their least obvious field mark.  For example, where is the ring in a Ring-necked DucK?  Spotted Towhees have white spots on their backs, Green-tailed Towhees have green tails, but what about a neck band on a Ring-necked Duck?

In good light, very good light actually, a carefull observer can see a brownish ring that separates the neck from the breast in this species.  To me, this species should have been named "Ring-billed Duck" because, even at a distance, the white ring around this duck's dark bill is obvious.  But, we are stuck with Ring-necked Duck, here a brightly colored male and the dull brown hen.

Back in  the day of lead shot, Ring-necked Ducks were susceptible to lead poisoning because these ducks feed on the bottom for plant seeds, tubers, sedges, etc., a location where lead accumulates.

Ring-necked  Duck is a common migrant on Chico ponds.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/17/2009

Hooded Merganser
Category: Birding at the Chico

There are three species of merganser in Colorado and for many birders, Hooded Merganser is the most attractive.  Right now at HQ Pond, a drake Hoodie can be found swimming amongst hundreds of other ducks.

From December through May, ducks form pairs and for many species this is the height of the season for males to show off, perfoming numerous types of displays.  Once paired, males spend much less time dispalying. 

In the photo at top an unpaired male elevates its crest trying to attract a female.  In the lower photo, a drake male swims calmly next to his mate, with crest feathers in their normal relaxed position. 

A close look at all merganser bills will show a row of sharp projections that look like teeth.  Because mergansers eat small fish and crayfish, merganser bills are designed for grabbing a fish with their bill, the sharp spines preventing any prey items from escaping.

Posted by Bill M. on 03/11/2009

White-cheeked Geese
Category: Birding at the Chico
Not all white-cheeked geese are Canada Geese.  Up until a few years ago they were.  However, the approximately 11 subspecies of white-cheeked geese are now either Canada Goose or Cackling Goose.

The smaller Cackling Geese are uncommon on the Chico so most geese now being seen here are Canada Geese.  What about the smaller Canada Geese that are on the Chico this week?  To make matters more confusing, there is a common wintering white-cheeked goose or Lesser Canada Goose that is included in the Canada Goose group.  Only the very small, almost duck-sized geese are part of the species now split as Cackling Goose.  Look at the photo that shows a Canada Goose (big) with a Cackling Goose (small).  Besides the differences in size, Cackling Geese have rounder heads, shorter necks, and stubbier bills. 

When flocks of geese take flight it is easy to pick out any Cackling Geese  becasue their calls are much higher pitched than the more commonly heard honk-a-lonk of Canadas.  Cackling Geese migrate farther distances and breed farther north than Canada Geese.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/01/2009

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