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

Raptor Food - Spotted Ground Squirrel
 This mammal is common on the Chico but it is only seen in warmer months hibernating from late July until the end of April so its life is mostly spent sleeping in burrows.  One of the smallest ground squirrels, Spotted Ground Squirrel has random light spots and a light belly and it burrows in sandy soils so it is common on the Chico.  Burrows are used for both protection and for storing food.  Spotted Ground Squirrel is a prey item for migrant and resident raptors including both falcons and Buteos. These ground squirrels are active throughout the day feeding primarily on grass roots but switching to grasshopper nymphs in mid-summer months.  
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

Welcome Back
 The Mimid Family is composed of mockingbirds and thrashers, birds whose songs imitate other bird songs.  All members of this family are loud singers and a few of them like this Brown Thrasher are beautiful and big.  When a bird is this large and this brightly colored one would assume it would be easy to see, but instead loud singing birds are often in dense brush where they are often difficult to view.  This is one of the fine looking breeding birds on the Chico, a few who have just returned north from spending a winter in a warmer climate. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

The Tanager That Is Not A Tanager
 One of the most beautiful birds in North America is called Western Tanager, a bird breeding in Colorado mountains, but not on the plains, and as the name implies it is a western U.S. species nesting in coniferous and mixed woodland mountain forests.  They are regular spring migrants on The Chico but this one was a week or so early appearing at the willow grove near headquarters.  When birds were originally classified into family groups, taxonomists often used bill shape to aid in placement.  All North American birds with the name tanager are now known not to be members of  the Tanager Family but instead they are now placed in the Cardinal Family.  All members of this group eat insects and insect larvae during summer months spent in the U.S. but switch to a fruit diet when they leave and return to the tropics or subtropics where they spend most of their lives. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

Bird Food - Tiger Beetles
 Unobserved by most humans, but not to birds who forage on the ground, tiger beetles are beginning to emerge from burrows.  Some tiger beetles live two years spending their first adult year in burrows during winter months.  Many tiger beetle species feed on ants.  This one is appropriately named Cow Path Tiger Beetle (Cicindela purpurea) and are quick to take flight often landing in grassy areas. This is the first time I have seen this species on The Chico.  They have both a green and a dark purplish color phase and are found in all but our southern states.  
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

Our Largest Sparrow
 Closely related to the common wintering White-crowned Sparrow, the largest sparrow in North America, Harris's Sparrow, was feeding on the ground next to the Leather Shop, feeding with other Zonotrichia sparrows.  This uncommon species is molting, the black feathers of a breeding bird beginning to appear. This bird breeds in dense willows above treeline in the northernmost reaches of arctic Canada. Its closest relatives are White-crowned Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

Come On Warblers
 The first "good" warbler of spring was a singing male Northern Parula in the headquarters willows.  An eastern species and annual migrant on the Chico it was foraging high in the catkins of the willows along with an Orange-crowned Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  Northern Parulas are small, short, and somewhat pot-bellied and not hard to look at.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/24/2017

Adios Long-eared Owls
 Long-eared Owls, sometimes wintering on the Chico, are vole specialists. Although they nest and roost in dense habitats, they hunt in open areas.  Under a big roost it is possible to find hundreds of owl pellets, reguritated remains of dinner.  Long-eared Owls breed in the northern U.S., Canada, and Eurasia north to 65 degrees.  There is one record of a pair of Long-eared Owls nesting on the Chico.  Roosts can be as small as two individuals and as large as 100 birds.  Maybe as many as 14 owls formed the Chico roost this winter but they have now moved north. Interestingly, as soon as the Long-eared Owls left a Barn Owl moved into the vacated territory.  Even though the wintering Long-eared Owls have migrated north, some still may pass through Chico during late April and early May. Bird banding will tell the story.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/18/2017

 Hooked beak but no talons, so North American vultures are not raptors.  Turkey Vultures migrate in spring the same time calves are being born. New World vultures are the cleanup crew.  Their featherless heads keep blood and guts from coating their heads where cleanup of feathers would be difficult. A strong sense of smell enables high flying Turkey Vultures, like this one, to detect recently dead animals, like this newborn Chico calf.  Turkey Vultures wait to migrate until the heat of the day creates thermals.  Most often we see Turkey Vultures floating effortless with wind currents, rarely needing to flap their wings.  Examination of their very wide wings shows they are designed to soar and not to flap rapidly compared to falcons or forest hawks who are often observed steadily flapping their wings.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/16/2017

The Teal Called Northern Shoveler
 Read this and the next two entries to see how Northern Shoveler (above photo) is a teal, very closely related to Blue-winged Teal and Cinnamon Teal.  The bright blue leading edge of the inner wing is only visible on the lower male duck on the right side of the photo.  Compare with the wings of Blue-winged Teal and Cinnamon Teal in the following two posts to see how they have the same wing pattern and are closely related. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/07/2017

The Other Teals
 In Colorado there are three ducks with teal for a last name, Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, and Green-winged Teal.  But, common names don't always tell the whole story. Green-winged Teal is not a true teal but Northern Shoveler is, so the three closely related Colorado teals are, Cinnamon (see next entry) Blue-winged Teal (photograph above) and somewhat surprisingly Northern Shoveler.  But, if we look at the wing of the three teals, Cinnamon, Blue-winged, and Northern Shoveler, we see that all three species have the bright blue wing panel at the leading edge of their wings and a bright green patch on the trailing edge. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/07/2017

What Color Is A Cinnamon Teal?
 Finally a bird name that describes the bird to a "T", that is until they molt and loose their cinnamon coloration.  Cinnamon Teal are monogamous staying with the same mate throughout the summer breeding season.  Just before they fly, they perform a side-to-side head shake and sometimes lift both wings to prepare for their almost vertical takeoff, something all dabbling duck are able to do.  It and the Ruddy Duck are the only two duck species to have both a North and South American population. Cinnamon Teal is a western species and is not found too far east of the Rocky Mountains unlike its very close relative, Blue-winged Teal. They are regular spring migrants on the Chico but males are one of the first ducks to migrate, leaving during summer months.  In Colorado, they breed in the San Luis Valley. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/04/2017

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