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

Oriole Territorial Dispute

Getting the best territory for nesting is more than just getting into town early.  Fights between males are common in early spring. Here two male Orchard Orioles flew about chasing until both landed on the top strand of an electric fence.  The bird on the left seemed to win the battle, moving closer and closer to the bird on the right before both flew off.

Almost no migrants were at the Chico this morning.  Obeservers in Colorado Springs heard large number of flight calls in the night sky at 11:30 P.M., birds all heading north.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/30/2011

The Other Oriole
Although Bullock's and Orchard orioles breed on the Chico, Baltimore Oriole, the eastern counterpart to Bullock's, does not.  A bright male was found yesterday by Bryan Patrick (photo by Bryan) and it was present today as well.  It takes two years for this species to obtain this bright coloration.  

In 1731 Mark Catesby named this species the “Baltimore-Bird” because black and orange were the colors of the Baltimores, the colonial proprietors of the Maryland colony. Using Catesby’s description, the famous Swedish taxonomist, Carl Linnaeus, named this species Coracias galbula which translates as the small yellowish jackdaw. Not that many years ago, Baltimore and Bullock's orioles were lumped and called Northern Oriole until biologists proved that the Baltimore Oriole was in fact more closely related to Streak-backed Oriole than to Bullock's. 

The English  name “oriole” is based on the superficial resemblance of the New World orioles to the orioles of the Old World, but they are in completely different families.  Our orioles are tropical species and most migrate to the neotropics for the winter, one of the earlier late summer migrants to leave.

Sadly, many migrants left overnight but the singing Bay-breasted Warbler at headquarters remained and an addional 5-6 people came to see it.  Spring migration at the Chico is almost over.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/29/2011

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Yellow-billed Cuckoos are big and usually they are difficult to view.  (A coincidence that the bend in the branch matches the bend in the bird's neck?) That is unless 10 jillion miller moths are around for food.  Then it is time to get out the cameras.  This Yellow-billed Cuckoo fed on all sides and on the roof of the white-walled, tin-roofed building by the banding table at the RMBO/Chico banding station. 

The  breeding cycle of Yellow-billed Cuckoo is extremely rapid taking only 17 days from egg-laying to fledging and nestlings become fully feathered within two hours. Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Black-billed Cuckoos are the only known facultative (can choose between parasitism or non-parasitism), interspecific brood parasites (lay their eggs in other species nests) among altricial birds (hatched blind, naked, and helpless). At least 11 passerine species have been used as hosts, most frequently the American Robin followed by Gray Catbird. The mechanisms controlling parasitism remains mostly a mystery; there is some evidence to support the cuckoo's selection of hosts based on egg color as studies have shown that eggs are likely to be recognized by host species as not being their own (coloration and size) but once hatched huge differences in size and coloration of chicks is not recognized by the host species.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/28/2011

2 Bay-breasted Warblers!

Bay-breasted Warbler is rare in Colorado.  I saw my 2nd and 3rd today, and my first in Colorado was at the Chico too.  Not always easy to see, a number of local birders came looking  for this warbler species and to see what late spring migration might hold.

Bay-breasted Warbler breeds in boreal coniferous forests across central and eastern Canada, primarily in northern spruce-fir forests, feeding and nesting in the dense conifers.  They undergoe significant changes in population density correlated with outbreaks of the forest pest, spruce budworm, upon which Bay-breasted feed.

This year's bumper crop of miller moths, especially near the white building at the banding station, is a good spot to see lots of birds.  The very rare Prothonotary Warbler remains, eventually coming near the table where earlier in the month birds were given a metal bracelet.  I did not observe the Bay-breasted Warbler feeding on the moths but instead it was gleaning smaller insects from leaf surfaces.

There still should be a couple more days of spring migration.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/28/2011

The Referee Bird
A striking warbler, Black-and-white Warbler forages on tree bark like a nuthatch, often searching upside down while looking for spider eggs and small insects.  This one spent over a week on the Chico (banded female) before departing.  The male's song is reminiscent of the sounds made while using a hand pump to pump up a bicycle tire. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/27/2011

Heading North
Three Red-necked Phalaropes made a brief stop at the Chico before continuing north.  One of three phalarope species and one spending the winter offshore, Red-necked Phalarope females are brighter (in coloration) than the males.  Why is this?  The roles of the phalarope sexes are reversed. Dull-plumaged males incubate the eggs and raise the broods, not needing the brighter plumage to attract a mate.

 In the Northern Hemisphere north of Mexico, only phalaropes and Spotted Sandpipers are polyandrous where a female forms a bond with more than one male. In the world's approximately 10,000 bird species, only about 1% of all birds are polyandrous. 

On the water, phalaropes can be spotted from a distance spinning in circles. Why?  The spinning motion creates an upwelling that brings invertebrate snacks up to the surface.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/27/2011

Hot Warbler
Non-birders shake their heads during May as birders with bins and cameras scour the many migrant traps on the Chico in search of rare migrants and especially warblers.  Sixteen warbler species were observed today at a late date for migrants in this part of Colorado.  Although not the most rare, the Magnolia Warbler is one of the most handsome warbler speices. 

The first ranch record Prothonotary Warbler, banded on the 18th of May, is still being seen, mostly near the table at the banding station and mostly from 2:00 - 3:00 P.M.  The rare Philadelphia Vireo, banded on May 12, is remarkably still present too, an indication that it spring has not yet sprung to our north.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/26/2011

She's Back
Back for the third year in a row and using the same protected nest in the Casita carport, a female Black-chinned Hummingbird added another nest on top of the others and now has the tallest hummingbird nest in the world (no proof of this).  With conditions being so dry and almost no flowers for nectar, hummingbirds on the Chico must be feeding mostly on small insects which they also feed their young.

Stay tuned for updated reports on this bird.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/26/2011


The Arctic Tern, a champion traveler, breeds around the Arctic Ocean to the northern tip of Greenland at almost 84°N, and as far south as Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and with a new breeding site recently found in Montana. It winters at the edges of pack ice around Antarctica, thus enjoying two summers. The annual direct round-trip is 40,000 kilometers. During these long flights, most Arctic Terns are pelagic and are rarely seen from shore, but here is one at Headquarters Pond at the Chico, a first ranch record of an unexpected species. 

The Arcitc Tern has been feeding on the surface of the large pond for two days now, building fat reserves for its long flight north.


Posted by Bill M. on 05/25/2011

Orchard Orioles
Orioles are tropical species that leave the U.S. in winter but take advantage of the abundance of insects in the U.S. and Canada to raise their young during our summer.  Many oriole species leave again as early as August.  One of the orioles that is not yellow or bright orange is the brick-red Orchard Oriole.  In the past, some have remained to nest at the headquarters area and near Holmes.  Currently, two males are giving their distinctive hic-up calls near the banding station. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/20/2011

Stretching the bird banding into the afternoon hours produced a new Chico bird.  Steve Brown came into the banding station shortly after 1:00 P.M. announcing he had a very good bird in one of the bags.  After he gave the first two letters of the name, I excitedly called out Prothonotary Warbler, a bird we had been expecting, but not at the banding station. 

In Low Latin, protonotarius is a papal notary who wears a lemon-colored hood.  The warbler caught at the banding station had a deep yellow head, neck, and breast, a beauty of a bird.  Way out of range, it is one of only two warblers that nest in tree cavities. Prothonotary Warblers nest in the Southeast in wooded swamps in natural cavities. Like bluebirds, this species has benefited from manmade nest boxes too.

A very good day for migrant birds at the Chico with many Swainson's Thrushes, Lincoln's Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, along with warblers such as: Black-and-white, Blackpoll, Palm, Yellow, Yellow-breasted Chat, Nashville, Magnolia and more. 

The last day for bird banding is Saturday. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2011

Acting Like An Owl
This young Red-tailed Hawk was luckily captured on film regurgitating a pellet in a manner similar to owls.  Owls and diurnal raptors collect food trash (bones, scales, feathers, hair) in their crop and when it becomes compacted they discard it by coughing it up through their mouth. Although I have found many owl pellets I have never witnessed a hawk coughing up a pellet until today. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/17/2011

Green Heron
A platform built to encourage nesting Canada Geese was today used by a Green Heron.  The small heron eventually moved to the shore of the little headquarters pond where large bullfrogs were in imminent danger.  Green Heron is infrequently recoreded on the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/17/2011

Chestnut-sided Warbler Banded
One of the wood-warblers that is noticeably different in coloration is the appropriately named Chestnut-sided Warbler.  An eastern species (although it breeds in Canada due north of Colorado), it is therefore sought by birders.  Its song is described as very, very, very pleased-to-meet-ya. It is often seen with its tail cocked and wings dropped which is simalar to the way in which the non-warbler, Blue-gray Gnatchatcher is often posed. One second year male was caught and banded today, Tuesday.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/17/2011

Pueblo County Spring Bird Count
As usual, the Pueblo portion of Chico Basin Ranch was surveyed for birds during the designated Pueblo County Spring Bird Count.  Mark Peterson, Kara Caragher, and Chip Clouse combed the varied habitats for birds.  Their findings are summarized below.  As usual, the Chico added species tallied nowhere else in Pueblo County.

Canada Goose 16
Gadwall 18
Mallard 8
Blue-winged Teal 22
Cinnamon Teal 4
[ read more ]    
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