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

Great Horned Owls
One of the earliest nesting birds on the Chico is Great Horned Owls.  One pair is back in the usual tree cavity nest by Headquarters Pond, the female in the nest with the still invisible nestlings, the male perching close by.  These predators will hunt for any bird or small mammal they can carry back to the nest including cats, skunks, chickens, frogs, and a variety of rodents. 

At least one pair of Mountain Plovers has returned for the summer along with the first of what will hopefully be a lot of Burrowing Owls, both signature species on the Chico.  Unlike Great Horned Owls, Burrowing Owls nest underground in abandoned badger or prairie-dog burrows and they consume large quantities of insects and small mammals.  Prey items of all owl species can be determined by finding the owl pellets coughed up from their crop as undigestible feathers, fur, feet, bones, skulls and hard beetle shells which are deposited near their favorite roost; for Burrowing Owls this is usually a prairie dog burrow that is different from the nesting burrow. 
Posted by Bill M. on 03/31/2011

Cinnamon Teal

Most ducks are sexually dimorphic, the males often showstoppers like this drake Cinnamon Teal, whereas the females are drab in plumage enabling them to nest in dull grasses and cattails without being detected.  Cinnamon Teal is a western species, mega rare east of the Mississippi River. Separating hen Cinnamons from hen Blue-wings takes a lot of practice, the plumage of the Cinnamon Teal hens slightly warmer and they have a slightly more spatulate-shaped bill.

Posted by Bill M. on 03/31/2011

Blue-winged Teals

The adult male's striking half-moon face is easy to recognize for this summer visitor.  In flight Blue-wings share the pale blue upper forewing with its close relative Cinnamon Teal and with Northern Shoveler.  Both Blue-winged and Cinnamon teals like shallow ponds with lots of vegetation, these two drakes and hen Blue-wings on Rose Pond.

Posted by Bill M. on 03/31/2011

Marsh Wrens
Marsh Wrens are singing at both HQ Pond cattail marsh and in the marsh near the Rose Pond Dam.  The bird at HQ Pond marsh is undergoing a body molt turning what is usually a beautiful bird into something considerably less attractive.  Western birds sing over 100 song types while eastern birds sing only a few song types causing some ornithologists to think at least two different species are involved.  This is a difficult species to see well, way more often heard than seen.  Although they breed farther north in Colorado, there are no cofirmed nesting records for the Chico.  Most probably leave by mid-May. 
Posted by Bill M. on 03/19/2011

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

A Common Grackle at HQ was a new bird for the spring and waterfowl are still abundant with Cinnamon Teal and Lesser Scaup numbers increasing.  The Banding Station was without birds, but three Mourning Cloak butterflies brightened up the still brown habitat there. 

Posted by Bill M. on 03/19/2011

Other Signs of Spring
Two speices of butterfly were seen today, both early spring species.  The common Mourning Cloak butterfly was out and about as was this Hoary Comma.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/16/2011

Migrant Landbirds
Today saw a significant northbound movement of both Mountain Bluebirds and Sage Thrashers.  At times the bluebirds seemed to be everywhere.  One of the Sage Thrashers was extremely approachable and it seemed much more interested in singing than in worrying about an approaching photographer.  The remainder of the Sage Thrashers were not singing and those appeared much more warry, often scurrying off along the ground.

It is suspected that a few Sage Thrashers stay to breed on the Chico but the majority are northbound migrants.  The resident Curve-billed Thrashers are mostly paired now and they are investigating nesting spots in dense cholla cacti.  The big thrasher, Brown Thrasher, usually arrives in CO towards the end of April and a few may stay to breed in dense riparian areas on the Chico but maybe not now with limited suitable habitat.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/15/2011

The Other Dove
Ten years ago, Eurasian Collared-Dove was not found on the Chico.  It is still a rare bird here but a pair is getting frisky in the Banding Station Grove. The original range of this bird at the end of the 19th century was from Turkey east to southern China and south through India.  Considered an expansive species, in the 20th century Eurasian Coillared-Dove expaned across Europe.

In the 1970s it was introduced into the Bahamas and from there it spread to Florida by 1982. Presently the stronghold in North America is still the Gulf Coast, but it is now found as far south as Veracurz, Mexico, west to California and northwest as far as Alaska and as far northeast as Nova Scotia.

It seems to like scattered trees next to open areas where it is currently common in small farm towns across eastern Colorado.  The big question is whether or not it is out competing the native and migratory Mourning Dove.  Mourning Doves have not begun to arrive yet but should soon.

Posted by Bill M. on 03/15/2011

Sure Sign of Spring
One of the most common breeding birds on the Chico is the large Western Meadowlark.  Most individuals fly south for the winter but a few remain all year long.  They are one of the first species to sing on warm early spring days. Today a few were in full song perched in the open and calling all female meadowlarks.  Their eastern counterpart, the appropriately named Eastern Meadowlark, is almost impossible to tell apart by plumage, but their songs are significantly different.  The problem for birders it that where the two species' ranges overlap, each species could sing the other species song because song is not an inherited trait, it is learned.  The clue for I.D. is the call notes; calls being inherited, not learned.  There are currently no records of Eastern Meadowlark on the Chico and they remain a rare species in Colorado, unlike the abundant Western.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/05/2011

Redheads on the Move
Redheads, the duck, are large diving ducks and strong fliers.  Over 75% of Redheads spend the winter in Laguna Madre in south Texas.  There also are large Redhead flocks in the Great Lakes, but for reasons unknown much of the areas in between have relatively few individuals.  They are fairly common on the Chico, especially when ice goes out in March. Over 100 were on Rose Pond and Upper Twin Lake today.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/05/2011

Great-tailed Grackle
The large migrant, Great-tailed Grackle, is back on the Chico after being absent all winter.  Not just another blackbird, the Great-tailed Grackle has an amazing array of vocalizations and an attitude.  When displaying, males often spread their tail in a U-shape, raise their bill, and hold their wings half way open. Farther south (Texas) where they are abundant, they settle in large, very noisy roosts, often in villages where they are rowdy all night long showing off with their loud whistles, rattles, and trills. On the Chico they are still uncommon and can be found patrolling the marshes at Rose and Headquarters ponds during spring and early summer.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/05/2011


For those of us who live in the suburbs or city, pronghorns quickly remind us that the prairie is a unique ecosystem, beautiful for those who stop to observe it.  Pronghorns are seen on most visits to the Chico where they are often curious.

Posted by Bill M. on 03/05/2011

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