Tag Archives: Year of the Bird

The True Meaning of the Christmas Bird Count

CPW Wildlife Biologist April Estep and volunteer Bobby Day participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count at the United States Air Force Academy.
All photos by © Travis Duncan/CPW

2018 was The Year of the Bird, a year in which Colorado Parks and Wildlife joined organizations like National Geographic, the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and BirdLife International to help rally local and worldwide awareness and support for birds and their habitats in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

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What to See Now: Shrikes

YOTB_stacked_KIn celebration of the Year of the Bird, we will highlight some of the birds and their behaviors that you can observe at certain times throughout the year.


A pair of loggerhead shrikes from the Pawnee National Grasslands. All photos by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

Driving down County Road 57 on the edge of the Pawnee National Grasslands, I saw a flurry of avian activity on a barbed-wire fence just ahead. I pulled over to see three of the four birds had moved off a bit, leaving one little bird sitting alone. Well, “sitting” isn’t quite right, because its legs were sticking out at odd angles. “Resting” isn’t correct either, because there wasn’t much peaceful about the scene. The small brownish bird was “stuck.” I edged my truck a few feet ahead to try and get a better idea what species I was looking at, but that didn’t help. It’s hard to identify a bird when it is missing its head. Read more

What to See Now: Red-winged Blackbirds

YOTB_stacked_KIn celebration of the Year of the Bird, we will highlight some of the birds and their behaviors that you can observe at certain times throughout the year.


A male red-winged blackbird. All photos by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

If you cruise along just about any road in Colorado that passes through marshy or wet land, or hike by a lake or stream, you are likely to see red-winged blackbirds. Sleek and black, with bright orange, red and yellow shoulder patches, the males are what you will notice first — sitting on a cattail, wire fence or power line singing their conk-la-lee! song. Males sing to mark their territory and attract females, both of which they will aggressively protect. I once saw a red-winged blackbird repeatedly dive-bomb a belly boater that had ventured too close to its territory. Read more

Grouse Getaway


Greater sage-grouse display on a lek in northwest Colorado.  All photos by © Wayne D. Lewis.

YOTB_stacked_KIn the pre-predawn haze on a northwest Colorado prairie, every dark spot, smudge or blot you see is a greater sage-grouse — until the gathering light proves they’re not. As sunrise approaches, the “sage-grouse” become the rocks, sagebrush and clumps of dirt they actually are. But you know the birds are there because you hear them — everywhere. It’s not the distinct call of a western meadowlark (also heard in the mix) or other prairie bird, but much more otherworldly. It’s like the sounds the exotic-cute indigenous critters would make as they surround the Zachary Quinto version of Spock on some far-off planet in a Star Trek movie. Whether we know it or not, the occupants of Mick and Nancy Sommer’s 4Runner are in a contest to see the first real greater sage-grouse. I end up taking bronze. Read more

Searching for Gunnison-sage Grouse


Nate Seward, CPW Wildlife Biologist, searches for Gunnison sage-grouse. All photo by © Joe Lewandowski/CPW

YOTB_stacked_KBy 6 a.m. most mornings from mid-March through mid-May, Nate Seward is sitting on cold ground – or snow, or mud ‒ peering through a spotting scope watching Gunnison sage-grouse perform their annual dance. But he’s not just bird-watching for fun. He’s counting the birds at areas known as “leks”, where males gather to establish their dominance and where females gather to choose a mate. The daily work by Seward is an essential component in the long-term conservation effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to sustain this iconic species of the American West. Read more

Celebrating 30 years of the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies


A spring snowstorm pounded the roadways for most of my white-knuckle drive to Barr Lake State Park the morning of April 21, while my 13-year-old daughter, Natalie, slept peacefully in the passenger seat. I had awakened her early in the morning with the promise of live raptors and kite flying at the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies’ 30th-anniversary celebration. The weather caused the Kite Festival celebration to be canceled, but plenty of birders still showed up at Barr Lake to check out some raptors and support 30 years of work by the Bird Conservancy

Soon after arriving, Natalie and I ventured into the Barr Lake Nature Center and were engaged in fun activities. Natalie made a bird feeder out of a pine cone, shortening, and seeds while I explored the many tables with interesting bird displays. We stopped by the Bird Conservancy table and learned lots of cool bird facts, like how a woodpecker’s tongue wraps around its skull and protects the bird’s brain while it hammers on trees for insects. A volunteer told Natalie the NFL is studying the birds to see if they can offer insights into designing helmets that protect players’ brains.

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My daughter, Natalie, learned about raptors and other birds at the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies table at Barr Lake Nature Center.

We also learned about the Bird Conservancy’s work placing geolocators on the backs of black swifts to find their migratory nesting grounds. These secretive birds make their nests on sheer cliffs and behind waterfalls and have been hard for scientists to track. Bird Conservancy biologists were able to measure light cycle data from the geolocators and determine where the birds had been over the past 12 months. It turns out, many of the black swifts in Colorado actually have nests in Brazil and Paraguay.

Natalie and I found a front row seat for the live raptor presentation at 9:30 a.m. Emily Davenport from Nature’s Educators told the group we should be very quiet because the raptor she was about to bring out “can hear your heart beating from inside its kennel.”

It was a great-horned owl. Davenport told us interesting facts about him. How he was hit by a car and lost an eye, which is why he couldn’t be released back into the wild. How his tufts “aren’t ears, and scientists aren’t exactly sure what they’re for, but they know the owls use them for communication.” And we learned that one of his ears is smaller and asymmetrical than the other, contributing to the owl’s ability to locate prey underneath Colorado snow.

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Emily Davenport from Nature’s Educators answered questions about a great-horned owl.

Then they brought out a Swainson’s hawk. Every fall, these hawks leave Colorado and travel 8 to 12,000 miles, as far south as Argentina following their favorite food, grasshoppers. Davenport said the hawks come back to Colorado around April 15, although we haven’t seen too many so far this year. When they migrate, they follow thermals in what looks like a swirling black cauldron with hundreds of birds. This is why a migrating group of Swainson’s hawks are called a “kettle.”

We learn that Swainson’s hawks can digest bones, so they bring up a “cast” of fur instead of a pellet-like an owl that includes the bones.

After the presentation, Natalie and I decided to hike a bit on the trail around Barr Lake, even though it was still snowing quite hard. We were rewarded with lots of wildlife. We saw a small herd of deer, pelicans, red-wing blackbirds, geese, ducks, cranes, and even a bald eagle that took flight from the top of a tall tree as we approached from the Fox Meadow Trail.

We returned to the nature center in time for coffee and tea from Birds and Beans and a good seat for the Bird Conservancy’s 30th-anniversary presentation, Nelda Gamble Award and guest speakers.

Bird Conservancy of the Rockies Board member Yvette Martinez presented Chairman Larry Modesitt was with the Nelda Gamble Volunteer of the Year Award for his many years of dedicated service.

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Bird Conservancy of the Rockies Board Chairman Larry Modesitt was honored with the Nelda Gamble Volunteer of the Year Award.

CPW Director Bob Broscheid spoke to the group afterward, saying, “Conservation is about passion, commitment, and dedication. I’d like to personally thank every volunteer for what you do. At the Bird Conservancy, people stand out as part of the solution.”

Then Bird Conservancy of the Rockies Executive Director Tammy VerCauteren thanked CPW for its help with bird banding and for “helping us take our monitoring to 15 states around the U.S.” Vercauteren said CPW had helped with BCOR’s private land conservation and had invested in their first biologist for the Prairie Partners Program.

Natalie and I wrapped up the day with lunch provided by the Bird Conservancy: burritos, nachos, and cupcakes topped with pictures of birds.

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The snow finally stopped as we were eating and gathering our things for the drive back to Colorado Springs. Natalie stayed awake this time for the drive back. The whole way, it seemed we were pointing at the birds we spotted in the fields beside the highway, our senses awakened to all the wildlife in the sky around us.

Year of the Bird
2018 marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate 2018 as the “Year of the Bird.” Learning more about birds in your area is a great way to participate in the Year of the Bird. Find out how you can participate and take the Bird Your World Pledge.

Raptor monitoring program leverages power of citizen scientists

In order to understand the health of an ecosystem on the ground, wildlife biologists often look to the skies. Top predators like raptors are sensitive to changes in the environment and can serve as an indicator of environmental health. That’s why Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Raptor Monitoring Volunteer Program is so important.

On Thursday, April 5, I had the privilege of joining CPW volunteers from the Colorado Springs area to learn more about the Raptor Monitoring Volunteer Program and discover some of the rewards and challenges volunteers face. Read more

With Eyes on the Sky, Raptor Monitors Help Protect the Ecosystem


YOTB_stacked_KWere you one of more than 14 million visitors to a Colorado State Park in 2017? People have been flocking to our parks in record numbers over the last few years. And there are good reasons. Our state parks are located in some of Colorado’s most spectacular landscapes and they host a plethora of recreational activities, ranging from fishing and hunting to hiking, biking, kayaking and climbing. The increased popularity is a reassuring sign of people’s interest in the outdoors; however, the popularity brings with it the dynamic challenge of balancing recreation and the human impact on the ecosystem. Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff is tasked with identifying methods to monitor and strike a balance between nature and human interaction so that the park system remains healthy and available for generations to come. Read more

Species of Greatest Conservation Need: Brown-capped Rosy-Finch


Brown-capped Rosy Finch. All photos by © Joe Lewandowski/CPW

YOTB_stacked_KThe brown-capped rosy-finch goes by a delicate name, but it is one tough little bird that lives year-round in Colorado’s high country. While biologists don’t have much information about the brown-capped rosy-finch, there is concern that the population might be declining. Colorado Parks and Wildlife researchers, along with other collaborators, have started a project to learn more about the species and are inviting the state’s bird watchers to help gather information.

In CPW’s State Wildlife Action Plan, the brown-capped rosy-finch is identified as one of the 55 tier 1 “Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN)” in Colorado. Based on anecdotal evidence from the National Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count, numbers of brown-capped rosy-finches are down, raising concern among scientists that climate change could be affecting the finch’s high-altitude habitat. Read more

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