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

The Amazing Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Cuckoos are a widespread worldwide family but only two species breed in North America. Like other cuckoo species the breeding behavior of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is odd. It's breeding cycle is extremely rapid, taking only 17 days from egg-laying to fledging of young with nestlings becoming fully feathered within two hours which is remarkable. Like most cuckoos, Yellow-billed is a brood parasite choosing the American Robin's nest most frequently in which to lay its eggs, but it has been known to select 10 other bird species' nests as well.  There is evidence that Yellow-billed Cuckoos select their host based on egg color (robins' eggs are blue). In part of its range, Southern California, Yellow-billed Cuckoos have been observed with at least three or four adults tending a single nest, an example of cooperative breeding, a breeding strategy not found in many bird species.  Two of these very interesting birds were at Rose Pond today.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/27/2013

The Lonely Horned Grebe
In migration, grebes, including the small Horned Grebe, are very social.  One at Rose Pond has been solitary for at least three weeks, the reason unknown.  It should be far north on a small lake performing its elaborate and well-studied mating ritual to its mate.  They have four pair-bonding ceremonies and these are similar to bonding ceremonies in other grebe species.  One bonding ceremony is called the "discovery ceremony" and it can include behaviors described as advertising, bouncy posture, cat display, ghostly penguin display, penguin dance with head turns, habit preening and (multiple) repeated penguin dances. One other behavior I will mention is the weed ceremony. It involves the presentation of weeds from male to a female.  The weeds will become the Horned Grebe's floating nest. These are very cool birds who are often overlooked.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/24/2013

Midge Hatch - MacGillivray's Warbler
Sometimes we forget why birds are on the Chico.  Treed habitats provide shelter for migrants, yes, but it is really about food.  Long migration flights deplete fat reserves quickly and therefore all birds must stop to rest and to refuel.  Tiny midges can hatch during any month of the year. They provide food for many migrant species.  Here a female MacGillivray's Warbler launches towards one of many midges flying in the peach leaf willows.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/24/2013

No Longer Rare
Until three days ago, Cape May Warbler had only been recored once on the Chico.  Named for the location where it was first collected, Cape May, NJ, it was then not seen there for over 100 years.  They winter ALMOST exclusively in the West Indes so why were there 2-3 birds on the Chico this week?  There is a small population of Cape May Warblers that winter on the eastern edge of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and likely these are the birds that travel north through Colorado to Canadian boreal forests. They are mostly known as a spruce budworm specialist; during years of budworm outbreak this warbler can become abundant but when the budworms are controlled, this species can seemingly disappear for many years.  Often considered one of the most attractive warblers.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/24/2013

In a Cholla!
Yellow Warbler might be the most common bird on the Chico this week.  They breed here, up in the tall cottonwoods or sometimes in the willows.  Here, one searches for food out of its element in a cholla out on the grassland.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/24/2013

New Ranch Bird - #333
The newest Chico bird was found today by Nick Moore as it rocketed overhead at the banding station.  Swifts have cigar-shaped bodies and their wings are designed for very rapid flight and also for gliding.  They eat aerial insects, flying with open mouths while hunting.  One of Colorado's largest breeding colonies is in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  If you were able to see swifts' feet they would look similar to those of the hummingbirds (tiny) and somewhat surprisingly swifts and hummingbirds are very closely related. The White-throated Swift has black and white markings similar to those on Orca whales. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/20/2013


Feathers are a necessity to a bird and only birds have them.  It takes a tremendous amount of energy to replace a feather so frequent bathing and preening are a necessity to maintain them.  Here, a still wet male Western Tanager has completed bathing and is removing any dust, mites, or other unwanted materials from feathers by rubbing its head on a branch.  Birders often wait at water features knowing that birds will soon come by to bathe and/or drink.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/19/2013

Good Day to Watch Migrant Birds
Sunday a male Hooded Warbler, an eastern species, was heard singing. It was easily found.  Hooded Warblers like to forage on the ground and sing from a high perch and this bird did both.  They are refered to as a "gap specialist" because of their preference to nest at the edge of a forest or in a wooded area with few trees.  In the northern part of their range, they prefer mixed-hardwood forests, but in the southern part of their range they prefer cypress-gum swamps.  Neither of these habitat types are found in Colorado so this is a migrant, blown off course or born with a bad navigation system. A new bird species for Laurence visiting the Chico from London, England.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/19/2013

I like to think this branchling Great Horned Owl was winking at me.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2013

The Yellow American Redstart
Here is a second year male American Redstart spreading its tail feathers (rectrices) at the Bell Grove.  Older male American Redstarts are red-orange where this bird is yellow and it is from the flashing red-orange tail from which the name redstart was derived. This species frequently fans its tail to display to the females. 

The 1st year Snow Goose is still in the grass on the west side of HQ Pond. An attractive Stilt Sandpiper was feeding with Wilson's Phalaropes and White-faced Ibis on HQ Pond.  A White-throated Sparrow came to the water drip at the banding station.  In addition to the American Redstart, warblers seen today, not all by me, include Ovenbird (banded), Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warblers, three Black-and-White Warblers (previously banded), two Wilson's Warblers, Townsend's Warbler,  Common Yellowthroats in the marshes, and the soon to be breeding Yellow Warblers in the cottonwoods.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2013

Hepatic Tanager - finally
Finally, I found my last Chico tanager, a Hepatic Tanager and the rarest one for Chico.  It was in the Moons' back yard in the big cottonwoods (near the asparagus).  It can be told from its closest relative, Summer Tanager, by the duller red coloration, the gray on the flanks and back, dark bill, dusky wing tips and the light gray patch on its ear coverts.  They breed in the wooded canyons in southeastern Colorado but only one other time was one seen on the Chico.  This male flew off from a high branch in a cottonwood and is ready to capture a small flying insect (upper left).
Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2013

Last Day - Spring Bird Banding

Today, Saturday, was the last banding demonstartion until September.  A couple birds are most likely very pleased (anthropomorphism) they won't be caught again, like this Bullock's Oriole (see leg band).  I watched the expressions on the kids' faces when they saw the different colors, sizes, shapes, bills, feet, and feathers.  Many were amazed to learn that birds can fly to South America for most of the year, our winter.  Those who were given a bird to release were thrilled. Teachers, parents and the kids (old and young) couldn't believe the Long-eared Owls, all of them.  Time to schedule a fall session by contacting Kathyrn or Lee.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2013

Southern Species Moving North
White-winged Doves were rare in Colorado until about 10 years ago.  They are expanding their range to the north and some now many winter in Pueblo and some are resident in Colorado Springs, but they still remain rare on the Chico.  During the Pueblo County Spring Count yesterday, one was observed on the Moons' back fence and a few days ago it was investigating the grain in the sheep pen. Their song, who-cooks-for you, is reminiscent of a Barred Owl.  Unlike the invasive Eurasian Collared-Dove, White-winged Doves are native.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/12/2013

Sunday, May 12, 2013
An eastern species, Red-headed Woodpecker does breed in Colorado but not on the Chico.  One stopped yesterday to inspect a tall snag at the south end of the Chico alfalfa field. Red-headed Woodpeckers often flycatch or they may glide to the ground to pick up a beetle or other insect.  No denying their beauty. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/12/2013

Early Migrant - Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Sort of nondescript, the well named, lively Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is always on the move its long tail swishing here and there.  They are a widespread species found in both the eastern and western U.S.  Their unmusical, squeaky calls often give away their location, someties foraging low in a shrub, sometimes high in a tree. Normally an early migrant and always found in spring on the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/10/2013

Warbler Migration Has Begun
Ask birders what types of birds they most want to see and most will say WARBLERS.  Warblers come in a variety of colors and some sing amazing songs.  Uncommon on Chico was this Nashville Warbler found by some out of state birders. Interestingly Nashville Warblers in the West sound a little different from their eastern counterpart and it is the eastern subspecies that is most often found on the Chico.  Other warblers seen were Wilson's, Common Yellowthroat, and the warbler with the non-warbler name, Northern Waterthrush.  Many of the warblers today were feeding on insects on either leaf or flower buds, but the many Yellow-rumped Warblers were mostly finding food by fly-catching. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/10/2013

There comes a time in every birds life when it must launch into the air and either attempt to fly or glide.  The first of the headquarters' Great Horned Owls left its cavity nest and it is now a branchling.  Branchling owls depend on their parents for food and even after they can fly, the juvenile owls depend entirely on the adults.  As branchlings they are most vulnerable so it is not surprising that this one wasn't spotted until I was looking at another bird in the vicinity.  Chickens, cats, and ducks too are vulnerable at this time as Chico Great Horned Owls are hunting incessantly for food for their young.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/10/2013

Spotted Sandpiper Flock
A large flock of the common Spotted Sandpiper was flying around headquarters pond this morning seemingly looking for a good resting spot.  Their cryptic coloration helps protect them from predators. How many are in this photograph?

Shorebirds have some of the more interesting mating systems and like phalaropes (the ones spinning at the small headquarters pond this week) Spotteds also have sex role reversal where the males incubate the eggs while females may seek more than one mate.  They can be identified from a distance because of their characteristic teetering behavior and they have some common names like teeter-peep, teeter-bob, perk bird, teeter-snipe, and tip-tail.  They have a unique flight, low over the water with shallow, stiff wing-beats unlike the deep wingbeats of most shorebirds in flight.  I count 11 birds.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/06/2013

The White Herons
Egrets, like this Snowy Egret, are herons, long-legged wading birds.  The family has 65 species worldwide which also includes bitterns.  Snowies eat frogs and small fish by standing still waiting to locate an obtainable food item before extending their long neck and striking with their long bill.  The national Audubon movement was begun when thousands of egrets and herons, who grow long nuptial plumes on the backs of their heads, were killed on their nests only for the plumes.  The plumes were at the time fashionable to be worn on hats, the fancier the plume the more disirable.  Now both migratory and native non-game birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and all the heron species in North America have made a very nice recovery.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/06/2013

The Eagle and the Raven
While standing on the dam at Lower Twin Pond, I saw a distant immature Golden Eagle flying south towards me.  Suddenly in tucked its wings and began a powerful descent.  I was able to capture the moment but I never did see what it was stooping towards.  As the eagle flew past a Chihuahuan Raven flew north to meet the eagle and they came back towards me, the raven chasing the eagle.  They flew very close to my location (see photo) but suddenly the eagle seemed to have enough and it maneuvered so it was chasing the raven.  The eagle/raven interaction seemed more playful than aggressive. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/04/2013

Northern Saw-whet Owl
When I arrived at the Chico Banding Station this a.m. I heard multiple excited Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a mobbing sound often heard when an owl is nearby.  I walked quietly to a dense Russian olive but there I only saw three kinglets.  After searching for migrants without much success, I returned to the original spot and noticed a lot of "whitewash" on the lower limbs of an olive.  I poked my head in and looked up and there was a Northern Saw-whet Owl staring back at me.  These small owls weigh only as much as our American Robins and they specialize in preying on small mice.  They are common in all types of woodlands but because of their small size and nocturnal habits, they are rarely seen in daylight hours. In Colorado they are a mountain speices but may winter in dense thickets on the plains.  Very rarely seen on the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2013

Shorebird Dispute
The tiny pond by Chico headquarters was being expored by 7 species of shorebird this a.m. as the rain tried to fall.  Two of the five Lesser Yellowlegs had a constant battle over the best spot to forage.  Lesser Yellowlegs nests in open boreal forest all across the Alaskan and Canadian arctic regions and it is one of our common shorebirds (seen in spring and in fall) on the Chico.  They usually feed by slowly walking in mud or shallow water using the tip of their bill to grab aquatic insects and sometimes probing in the mud with their medium length bill.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2013

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