Spring Birding Checklist

#1 Song Sparrow

Singing like crazy all of a sudden these days. Listen for them anywhere around water, such as Hallam Lake, Hunter Creek, North Star, any of the trails along the RF River, Castle & Maroon Creeks, Woody Creek, etc. Streaky breast with a dark ‘stick pin’ spot, they sing from the tops of cat-tails and marsh grasses. Read more here.

#2 Osprey

Due to arrive back in the valley in late April.  Fun to watch for the return of these fish-eating raptors.  They are long-distance migrants; some returning from as far away as northern South America.  A species that is increasing in local abundance; lots of great habitat with fish-filled water for these birds in the RF valley. Easily viewed nests near Emma and Crown Mountain Park. (ACES and Pitkin County have a nest cam on the Emma nest).

#3 Black-capped Chickadee

Both black-capped and mountain have been around all winter – you’ve seen them every day at your feeder… but in the last few days these birds have noticeably ramped up their singing.  Still hanging out and feeding in flocks at this time; but as early summer approaches mated pairs will establish their nesting territories and we will not see them in flocks while they are raising their broods (social distancing?)

#4 Mountain Chickadee

See above… The elevational ranges of these two species overlap, but generally black-capped occupy habitats in the lower valley all the way up to Aspen, while mountain occupy conifer and mixed forests from the mid-valley up into subalpine forests. These cheeky birds will eat from your hand during the winter but become more shy as warm weather food sources become available.

#5 Fox Sparrow

Will be returning soon.  Always comes back to the valley while the winter snowpack is still on the ground.  Occupies willow thickets in moist areas along creeks and rivers, and nearby uplands.  A large, handsome sparrow with a lovely song.

#6 Mountain Bluebird

These beauties are already back!  And more will be coming and passing through.  Flocks are on the move throughout their western range as they return to re-occupy breeding territories.  Easy to see in flocks right now – look for them along McClain Flats Road, along Owl Creek Road, around the airport, and similar, open, grassland habitats.

#7 Red-winged Blackbird

Everyone is familiar with this one!  A happy sign of spring, widely familiar and recognizable.  Found in the cattails and surroundings.  More and more are pouring back into the valley daily as they return for breeding season. Listen for the males’ konk-a-ree choruses.

#8 Virginia Rail

This is a secretive bird, obscure and difficult to see, but we’re tossing it in an an interesting outlier of sorts.  Rails inhabit extensive marsh habitats such as those at North Star and Hallam Lake.  Best found by voice:  listen for its sharp, raspy calls kidick kidick kidick.

#9 Great Horned Owl

These owls may be incubating eggs already; they are known for getting an early start.  They don’t build their own nests, rather they take over the old nests of other large birds like Red-Tail Hawks and Magpies. Young will be fledged and out of the nest by early June.

#10 Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

Will begin nest construction any time now… talkative and active in family groups with complex social structure.  One of three jay species in the valley, the others being Steller’s Jay (the one with the crest) and the Gray Jay, aka Camp Robber.

#11 Western Meadowlark

Watch for this one, due to arrive in the lower and mid valley soon.  Easy to ID with yellow breast and bold, black ‘V’.  Arrives when the pastures and grasslands are just starting to show their first tinges of green as the grasses begin to grow.  Easy to spot because it loves low perches in open expanses, such as fence lines around pastures or lone shrubs or snags in similar settings. An enthusiastic songster and a welcome sign of warm weather.