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

April 23 - Snow
What the Chico herd could tell you if they could whisper, the best birding on the Chico comes with "bad" weather, any type of precipitation, especially if it comes in early morning an event that will ground migrant birds.  Although the snow had melted shortly after noon, a number of intersting birds came to the Chico to search for food on 23 April.  Many of these grounded migrants had left by the next day.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2013

Midge Hatch - Western Sandpiper
Shorebird I.D. can be intimidating, especially trying to identify the small shorebirds collectively known as "peeps".  However, during spring migration the brightest peep is easily recognizable by its dark chevrons on the flanks and the brightly colored back feathers. Here a poorly named Western Sandpiper successfully catches a midge, a midge hatch attracting swallows and other surface feeding bird species.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2013

The Dullest Duck
Most birders skip past all Gadwalls, a very common duck on the Chico and one that may breed here.  However, when they fly, drake Gadwalls do show some color as shown here as if the duck was saying "take a closer look."
Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2013

Paweeel Weeel Willet
Words used to describe a Willet, a large shorebird found on the Chico during migration (the title is its song from which comes its name) are ..."upper parts pale gray with little to some darker barring..."  This is one dull bird. Repeating, this is one dull bird... that is until it flies and then its wing pattern is unmistakable.  Eight Willets today at HQ Pond.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2013

Chico/RMBO Bird Banding Station Now Open

One of the best ways to learn about birds is to see them in the hand.  The Chico/Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory Bird Banding Station (fee) is now open (except on Sundays) and so far two Long-eared Owls have been caught, banded, and released.  Chico is one of the best places in Colorado to see this charismatic species during spring migration. There are always lots of photo ops at the banding station.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2013

Wilson's Phalarope
A large flock of the western shorebird species, Wilson's Phalarope, was at HQ Pond this a.m.  This species is one of only two shorebird species who undergo a molt migration in late summer with tens of thousands flying to hypersaline lakes, Great Salt Lake, e.g., to molt.  Then, some fly non-stop for 54 hours across the Andes to spend our fall and winter in places like Bolivia, Chile, and southern Argentina.  They are also known for the reversed sex role mating system where the males do all of the incubation and the females are much more brightly colored than the males. Sometimes the females (see photo) are also polyandrous, mating with multiple males to ensure the best combination of genes for their offspring. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/19/2013

Peregrine Falcon On The Move
A past symbol of the environmental movement, Peregrine Falcons have recovered from egg-shell thinning caused by the DDT contamination. Since the discontinued use of DDT, Peregrines are seen every year in migration at the Chico.  Today one hunted at both Rose Pond (here) and at HQ Pond.  They are considered the fastest flier being able to stoop on their prey at speeds aproaching 150 mph. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/19/2013

Looking for Food
On cold mornings insect-eating species like this Say's Phoebe sometimes rely on the stash made by other bird species.  Here the flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, finds a young grasshopper impaled on a barb by a Loggerhead Shrike and pulls it off for a partial meal.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/14/2013

Sage Thrasher

This western species, Sage Thrasher, was first collected for science in sagebrush plains along Sandy Creek near South Pass in southwestern Wyoming in 1834 and it was origianlly called Mountain Mockingbird because their melodious songs are reminiscent of a mockingbirds' songs.  On their breeding grounds they are found mostly in shrub-dominated valleys and plains of the western United States. It is considered a sagebrush obligate, preferring large patches and expanses of sagebrush steppe for successful breeding although in some years one or two nest on the Chico.

Sage Thrasher is elusive when disturbed, frequently running on the ground rather than taking flight, unlike the one pictured here. They are able to reject Brown-headed Cowbird eggs and so are mostly resistant to brood parasitism by that species.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/14/2013

Ready to Nest
Our smallest falcon, American Kestrel, was active today.  This pair, male on the left, usually nests near headquarters and based on vocalizations they seemed as if they already picked out a tree cavity for this year's nesting.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/13/2013

Three Migrant Shorebirds
A few shorebirds trickled through Chico on their journey north.  All large species, left to right, Greater Yellowlegs heading as far north as Alaska, Black-necked Stilt, a local breeder, and American Avocet, another local Colorado breeder. New year birds seen today included, Vesper Sparrow (common migrant), Chipping Sparrow (common migrant), Eastern Phoebe (rare migrant by the banding station), plus the stilt and avocet (HQ Pond).
Posted by Bill M. on 04/13/2013

Great Plains Endemic - Long-billed Curlew

The spectacular Long-billed Curlew is the largest North American shorebird.  It is considered only one of 9 species of grassland birds endemic to the Great Plains.  I first heard its loud, ringing “curlew” call, the basis for its name, before I spotted the bird flying north over Headquarters Pond this a.m. It scientific name, Numenius was given to the curlews because their long, curved bills look somewhat like a new crescent moon, the Greek noumenios meaning “of the new moon.” Its bill is adapted for capturing shrimp and crabs living in deep burrows on tidal mudflats on its wintering grounds and for catching burrowing earthworms in pastures and prairies during the summer months.

Both males and females incubate eggs and both are aggressive in defense of their nests and young. The female abandons the brood 2–3 weeks after hatching and leaves brooding to the male. One of my favorite birds in Colorado.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/11/2013

Burrowing Owl Pair

Almost every Chico prairie-dog town now has a pair of Burrowing Owls, a charismatic species and difficult not to like.  They are listed as endangered in Canada but have no official designation in the U.S.  Biological studies of radio-tagged birds show that males will fly 1-3 km during their crepuscular and nocturnal foraging periods. During incubation of eggs, females will only leave their underground burrow for a few minutes at a time. 
Burrowing Owls are opportunistic feeders, primarily caputuring insects (mostly grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles) but small rodents are also hunted. They will hunt any potential prey they can carry in their talons which in parts of their range can include ground-squirrels, birds, frogs, snakes, earthworms, bats, scorpions, and caterpillars.  On the Chico I have opened pellets at the rim of Burrowing Owl burrows and found them to be teeming with the inedible parts of beetles.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/07/2013

Cotton Tops

Every birder who lives north of Colorado Springs wants to see Scaled Quail when they visit Chico because this desert species doesn't occur north of southern El Paso County in Colorado.  Scaled Quail form pairs before winter coveys break up but in wet years (remember those?) this would have occured in late February or by mid-March.  Probably because of the drought, it appears that there are no pairs formed yet and this covey was heading for cover when I saw them.  During dry years few nests are successful because these quail nest on the ground and they need a dense cover of grasses to stay hidden from predators.  Last year, it seemed like nesting didn't occur on the Chico until after the monsoon season began in July as young were still running about in late September.


Posted by Bill M. on 04/03/2013

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