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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


In 1893, five pairs of Chukars were shipped to Illinois from within part of their native range, Karachi, currently a part of Pakistan (but formerly part of India). Between 1931 and 1970 as many as 795,000 Chukars were released in 41 states in the U.S. (including western Colorado) and 10,600 birds were released in six Canadian provinces.  The Great Basin with its steep, rocky mountain terrain and sparse grasses and forbs is this species' prefered habitat in North America. Although at least four escaped birds are currently enjoying the alfalfa field on the Chico, Chukars primary foods are seeds of annual and perennial grasses including the introduced cheatgrass Bromus tectorum, a noxious weed in Colorado and in most western states.   

I  observed a mated pair of Chukars along with this male whose chuk chuk chukar calls seem to so far have been ignored by a nearby female.  Just look for a white head in the sea of green to find one.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/28/2012


One of the most common species on the Chico, Horned Lark, is not at the top of most people's attractive bird list so most birders ignore them.  But, today I watched an amazing confrontation between two males. The bird with outstretched wings seemed to win the confrontation, the close one walked away.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2012

White-faced Ibis
The metallic bronze plumage of White-faced Ibis can be striking when seen in good light.  As often happens, the least prominent feature, the white around the eye in this case, was used in naming this ibis species, feathers that are only seen during the breeding season. White-faced Ibis are common during migration on the Chico.  Right now the best place to observe them is at Rose Pond.  White-faced Ibis is especially common in the Great Basin, while they winter in large flocks in Mexico, western Louisiana, and eastern Texas.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2012

Why They Call It Orange-crowned Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler is a common migrant on the Chico.  Birders rarely  see the crown coloration while birding, except when the birds get caught and RMBO bird banders show everyone the feature responsible for this species' name.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2012

Kentucky Warbler visits Colorado

Chico's second record of Kentucky Warbler (first from the same area) was found and photographed (above) by Brandon Percival in the willows adjacent to the little headquarters pond.  The second part of the scientific name, formosa, means beautiful and it is.   This is an eastern species whose range extends west to wooded river valleys of extreme southwestern Iowa, and extreme southeastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, and the eastern quarter of Texas.  The nest is placed on the ground but attached to the base of a shrub.

Kentucky Warbler was first found in 1821 by Alexander Wilson in, you guessed correctly, Kentucky. When they do sing, sometimes in migration, Kentucky Warbler's loud song, churry, churry, churry, helps birders detect this skulker.  

Posted by Bill M. on 04/24/2012

Hooded Warbler - Hot!
Unlike the drab Lucy's Warbler, the Hooded Warbler is a beauty and while the Lucy's was seen in the highest cottonwoods, the Hooded was found within 10 feet of the ground.  Hooded Warbler is considered a “gap specialist” as its habitat, usually includes gap or edge habitat that is preferred by females for nesting.  Hooded is an eastern species, regular on the Chico in migration, but they don't breed much farther west than eastern Texas.  The species portion of its scientific name, citrina, means lemon-colored. Duh. Let the warbler flow continue.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/20/2012

# 330 - Lucy's Warbler
The 330th bird species found on the Chico was found this morning adjacent to the banding station trees by Brandon Percival.  Luckily, I arrived 15 minutes later and we were able to photograph this unexpected southwestern species. Lucy's Warbler is one of only two cavity nesting warblers (Prothonotary is the other) in the U.S and Canada.  It nests in mature mesquite riparian areas in southwesternmost Texas, west to southwestern California, in Colorado only in Yellowjacket Canyon along the Utah border, and into northwestern Mexico.  It our smallest, 4.25 inches, and drabest warbler and surprisingly almost nothing is known about its reproductive biology.  It was discovered in 1861 by Dr. James Cooper, a prominent Californian ornithologist; he named the new species for Lucy Hunter Baird, the 13-year-old daughter of Spencer Fullerton Baird, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.  In the past, Lucy's Warbler has been called "Desert Warbler"; its is the first warbler species to arrive in late March and the first to leave, as early as late June.  They winter along the western Mexican coast.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/20/2012

The Largest Shorebird
Long-billed Curlew is appropriately named and it is the largest North American shorebird.  It is one of only 9 grassland bird species considered endemic to the Great Plains.  Curlews are named for their loud “curlew” call. The scientific name, Numenius, was given to curlew species because their long, curved bill was thought to look similar to a crescent moon, the Greek noumenios meaning “of the new moon.” The long bill is perfect for capturing shrimp and crabs living in deep burrows on tidal mudflats where they winter and for extracting earthworms in pastures.  This one (three total) was in the irrigated Chico alfalfa field where their size, 23 inches in length, makes them easy to spot.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/17/2012

Mr. Bo Jangles
Lesser Yellowlegs is a common spring migrant on the Chico. Returning to the same general breeding areas each year in the boreal areas of Alaska east to Quebec, Lesser Yellowlegs are monogamous. Soon after arriving on their breeding areas, males begin to perform a distinctive undulating flight display over their nesting and foraging sites. Both parents take turns incubating their eggs, frequently four eggs to a nest. Both parents vociferously defend their nests and chicks, described in 1929 by Rowan “they will be perched there as though the safety of the entire universe depended on the amount of noise they made.” Females depart the breeding grounds before chicks can fly, leaving the males to defend the young until fledging time.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/17/2012

Franklin's Gull
Franklin's Gull was discovered by Dr. John Richardson in 1832 and named for the expedition leader to northwest Canada, John Franklin.  It was originally called Rosy Prairie Gull and is locally called Rosy Dove or unfortunately sometimes "seagull".  They reach the ocean  during winter months when flocks of up to 1 million birds can be found in coastal Peruvian waters.  It is one of only two gull species that migrate as far as South American in winter (Sabine's Gull is the other). It is a praire species and up to 10,000 can sometimes be found breeding together in the Canadian prairie provinces where they nest on matted marsh vegetation.  They are oportunistic feeders, and during midge hatches, like the one today at Chico Headquarters Pond, they circle time and again over the hatch and consume thousands of these tiny insects (a midge is at the bend of the gull's upper wing here).  They also consume large quatities of other insects and are often found walking behind the farmers' plow.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/12/2012

Long-eared Owl
A single Long-eared Owl was on a roost tree between Holmes Ranch House and The Casita today.  This is a regular migrant on the Chico from late March to mid-May with individuals often staying a few days before moving north.  It is a widespread species found throughout North America and also found in Eurasia and Africa. It is a vole specialist and in years when voles are abundant, Long-eared Owls sometimes stick around to breed if abandoned squirrel nests are available.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/07/2012

Cinnamon Teal
The appropriately named Cinnamon Teal is one of the most handsome waterfowl species and with a population estimate between 200,000 and 300,000 it is one of the least common of the dabbling ducks.  They often feed as a group, in single file, the bird in the front stirring up animals and plants for the ducks behind it.  Cinnamon Teal are not thought to be affected by hunting pressure because many of them leave the U.S. before the teal season begins. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/07/2012

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