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

Wednesday, Jul 30, 2008
Bird Plumages & Molt - Lark Bunting
After breeding, many songbirds or passerines undergo a post nuptial molt.  In addtion, males and females of many bird species have distinctively different plumages called sexual dimorphorism.  Lark Bunting, the State Bird of Colorado, is a good example and is iillustrated in the three photographs above.

In the summer during wet years, many Lark Buntings can be found on the Chico.  The males' spectacular skylarking song fills the air, and their deep blackish plumage is a contrast to much of their environment.  Becasue the female, second photo, incubates the eggs in a ground nest, her plumage has the same colors as her surroundings, moslty browns and tans.  The photo shows that while she feeds or incubates on the ground, her camouflage will aid her from being spotted by predators.  

Male Lark Buntings undergo a complete body molt after breeding, begining in July and completed at stop-over sites, or on their wintering grounds.  The third photo shows a male Lark Bunting in transition from alternate or breeding plumage into basic or winter plumage.  Yesterday, there was a flock of 10 males, all of them undergoing a molt along the county line fence.  Since there didn't seem to be any breeding Lark Buntings this year on Chico, these birds are likely on their stop-over molting site.  All three birds were photographed on the Chico.

Posted by Bill M. on 07/30/2008

Friday, Jul 18, 2008
Barn Owl
Barn Owls are found on all of the continents except Antarctica and they are in a family separate from the true owls.  All species of Barn Owl have heart-shaped faces, a characteristic that is easy to see.  The heart shape funnels sounds into the owls' ears.  Barn Owls have long feathered tarsi (legs), with a pectinated (grooved) middle toe that is a characteristic of the Barn Owl family.  Their whitish plumage and scream gives the bird a ghost-like appearance. 

These birds are resident on Chico, hunting at night, and roosting during the day in dense foliage (olives on Chico) or in cut-bank cavities, where they also breed.  

Like all ows, barn owls have ears that are offset.  While in flight, it would be impossible for owls to locate prey if their ears were not positioned in this fashion.  Therefore, the bird's left ear angles downward and the right ear angles upward, a guarantee that sound waves are triangulated when they reach the owls' brains.  Their smallish eyes suggests that thees owls hunt food using their sense of hearing more than their sense of sight.

As the name suggests, Barn Owls will nest in old buildings and barns. Although they are found across North  America, this species is declining rapidly in areas where habitat is converted and where old buildings are sealed, preventing these beautiful birds to nest.

Posted by Bill M. on 07/18/2008

Sunday, Jul 13, 2008
American White Pelican - Fish-eater
Although July is considered a month when birds are breeding, some birds leave their breeding areas early.  In some species, such as shorebirds, males often leave as soon as egg-laying has begun, their duites being completed. Other birds may leave breeding areas when a nest has failed or if conditons are not good enough to produce any offspring.  

A few American White Pelican appeared at the Chico in early July.  They are fish-eaters and they are good at what they do, mainly because of their large expandible pouches.  Pelican pouches are large and need to be stretched.  On occasion, you might see a pelican throw back its head, stretching the pouch, a method used to keep the pouch pliable.

The lower jaw of a pelican consists of two long bones that are flexible, to which is attached a pouch.  When a pelican opens it beak, the pouch rapidly expands which causes the two lower jaw bones to flex, creating a wide opening.  The bones rapidly return to their normal postion, pressing against the upper jaw.  Water spills out between the two jaws and what is left behind, fish, are then swallowed.

Pelican pouches are also used as displays during the breeding season.  Males lift their heads to show off their pouches and they can also inflate them with air.  During the breeding season, male American White Pelicans also grow large epidermal plates on their upper bills, impressive growths thought to help attract females.  The plates are reduced in size during non-breeding.  

American White Pelcans also use strategic group hunting techniques.  One of the more nteresting techniques involves a small group of pelicans swimming togehter, side-by-side. Waiting for the group in shallow water, is a second group.  The first group herds unsuspecting fish into shallow water where the second group of  big-billed birds await. 

Posted by Bill M. on 07/13/2008

Saturday, Jul 05, 2008
Owl shpaes
Although rare migrants on the Chico, Flammulated Owls are common breeders in the mountains visable from there.  Although these owls are infrequently seen because they are cavity nesters, only hunting at night, it is sometimes possible to see these diminutive owls in migration. 

There are only two records of Flammulated Owl at Chico and both were spotted at the banding station area during the month of May.  When seen in the daytime, Flammulated and other owls elongate, making their bodies' "ears tufts" become erect, in an effort to blend in more with a tree trunk roost.  In the evening however, owls pouch out thier feathers, and lower their "ear tufts".  Their real ears are located in the outer edge of the facial disc.  Fluffed feathers are more silent than when they are pressed to a bird's body.  If you find an owl feather, you can shake and it will make very little nose, because individual feather shafts bend up to dampen the air rushing over them.  Structurally different, feathers of diurnal raptors do not dampen the air, so a daytime raptor needs to use more stealth when stalking prey.  

Although it is unlikely that you will encounter the small Flammulated Owl on Chico, unless you get very lucky, they do migrate north on the plains from their wintering areas in Mexico to the Rocky Mountains where they nest in the cavities in decadent aspen and ponderosa pines.  The  bird at the bottom was one of the Flammulated Owls that spent one day at Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/05/2008

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