5 Places to go Birding

Colorado is home to more than 400 species of birds, making it a paradise for birdwatching

Great,horned,owl,with,a,rodent

With warmer weather fast approaching, it’s time to pack away the skis and get out the binoculars. Bird watching season is soon to be in full swing. 

Colorado is made up of a wide range of different habitats, from marshes and meadows to ponderosa pine woodlands and alpine tundras. The state’s ecological diversity makes it the perfect home for quite a few birds, according to the Audubon Society. With 4 national parks and more than 1 million acres of important birding areas, both experienced bird watchers and rookies alike can venture out and catch a glimpse of the state’s more than 400 species of birds — as long as they know where to look.

Rocky Mountain National Park

This popular state park boasts diverse habitats and ample birding opportunities no matter the season, but the Audubon Society says birding here is best from June through September because snow lingers on the roads and trails throughout much of the springtime.

Many birders come to this park to see its high-elevation birds, and hikes around the Bear Lake or Wild Basin areas could yield sightings of the dusky grouse, Williamson’s sapsucker, American three-toed woodpecker, Hammond’s flycatcher, gray jay, Clark’s nutcracker, mountain chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, Townsend’s solitaire, pine grosbeak, Cassin’s ginch, red crossbill or pine siskin.

In the lower elevations — Moraine Park, for instance — birds might see a broad-tailed hummingbird, Red-naped sapsucker, western wood-pewee, dusky flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Steller’s jay, black-billed magpie, violet-green swallow, pygmy nuthatch, American dipper, mountain bluebird, MacGillivray’s warbler, Wilson’s warbler, Lincoln’s sparrow, green-tailed towhee or western tanager.

Colorado National Monument

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Colorado National Monument

Home to many southwestern bird species that aren’t as common in central and eastern Colorado, this park near Grand Junction has been designated an Audubon Important Bird Area. 

Quite a few species call this arid, balmy stretch of sagebrush and pinyon pine home: Gambel’s quail, golden eagles, white-throated swifts, black-chinned hummingbirds, broad-tailed hummingbirds, prairie falcons, peregrine falcons, gray flycatchers, Ash-throated flycatchers, gray vireos, plumbeous vireos, pinyon jaya, western scrub-jays, juniper titmouses, rock wrens, mountain bluebirds, sage thrashers, Virginia’s warblers, black-throated gray warblers, black-chinned sparrows, brewer’s sparrows, black-throated sparrows, spotted towhees and Lazuli buntings.

The best birding is typically in riparian zones along the creek beds.

Barr Lake State Park

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Bald Eagle flying over Barr Lake

With more than 370 species of resident and migratory birds, this park is touted as one of Colorado’s top birding areas. You can even download a birding checklist for the park from the state’s website

With a 1,900-acre reservoir, the area is best known to birders looking for waterfowl and shorebirds, but in the summer months, there are also ample opportunities to see an American white pelican, herons, egrets, black-crowned night-herons, white-faced ibises, and American avocets. There are also about 20 species of gulls and terns and four species of grebes.

In addition to the cottonwoods around the lake, the state park includes about 700 acres of grassland, providing habitat for prairie birds, according to Audubon. Land birds nesting here or seen regularly include burrowing owls, prairie falcons, Say’s phoebes, warbling vireos, blue jays, horned larks, lark sparrows, lark buntings, blue grosbeaks, Lazuli buntings, yellow-headed blackbirds and orchard orioles.

A pair of bald eagles live in the park, too, and visitors can watch them nest and raise their young. Barr Lake State Park is also the home of the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, which aims to conserve birds and their habitats through science, education and stewardship. It operates a birding station at the park.

Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird at Monte Vista

In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, this area is best known for the sizable flocks of sandhill cranes that stop here in the spring and fall during their migration period. This species is so beloved, in fact, that the refuge and town hold a festival each March with special programming and trips to see as many as 20,000 cranes.

Nesting waterbirds include cinnamon teals and several other duck species, pied-billed grebes, eared grebes, American bitterns, great blue herons, snowy egret, black-crowned night-herons, white-faced ibises, Virginia rail, soras, American avocets and Wilson’s phalaropes. Marsh wrens sing from marshy areas, and on dry land, you can look for a northern harrier, prairie falcon, sage thrasher, yellow warbler, Brewer’s sparrow, vesper sparrow or yellow-headed blackbird. 

John Martin Reservoir State Park

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Stellers Jay

With almost 400 documented species of birds in this area alone, this impoundment along the Arkansas River is one of Colorado’s premier birding areas. Visitors might be able to see two federally protected shorebirds — the least tern and the piping plover — during the spring and summer months. It also boasts a great number of waterfowl, grebes, American white pelicans, gulls and terns.

If you go in the summertime, you’re likely to run into crowds of vacationers, so some birders recommend going in the fall or spring instead. Certain areas are also closed seasonally to prevent disturbance to birds, so the best bet is usually to call ahead for advice from the park visitor center. Here’s a checklist of bird species you can use to document your sightings.

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A Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay enjoys a Colorado winter morning

Throughout all the nature reserves, parks and refuges, be mindful of the wildlife; you don’t want to frighten or disturb the animals. Always observe them from a safe distance — if the animals seem to be jumpy or startled when you move, you’re probably too close. 

Never chase wildlife, refrain from feeding the birds and avoid animals that behave strangely or aggressively, as they might be sick, injured or have babies nearby. For more ethical viewing tips, check out Colorado’s state website.

Happy birding!

Categories: Colorado Destinations