[American Dipper. Photo : Robert Pruner] Colorado is home to several species of birds and certainly has no shortage of picturesque backdrops for them to nest and roost. For those who consider themselves “Birders” and want to add a few sightings to their list, the state of Colorado is a great place to explore.
Being able to identify a bird you’ve noticed in your back yard or along a hike is also rewarding. Here are five common native birds of Colorado that you may encounter, whether enjoying the sights and sounds of the wide-open plains or trekking the scenic Rocky Mountains. Always keep an ear and eye alert for local wildlife, both for safety and memories.
1. Lark Bunting
No list of Colorado birds should be without the Lark Bunting. It is the Colorado State Bird after all! This unique Calamospiza is the only member of its genus and resides in the grasslands of North America with healthy numbers keeping it out of conservation concerns. Even though numbers are strong, the loss of their natural prairie habitat has resulted in a decrease in their population.
These songbirds are relatively small, measuring only six inches in length. They have a thick, short bill that has a blue tone to it. Adult male Lark Buntings are black with a large white patch on their wings. Females, however, are mostly brown with white undersides and heavy streaking. Like their male counterparts, females also have a light patch on their wings.
If you notice an open cup nest in a grassy area, it very well could be that of a Lark Bunting. They generally feed in low areas, too, with their main diet being insects and seeds.
2. Brown-capped Rosy Finch
Brown-capped Rosy Finches deserve extra care and attention as an endangered species. These medium-sized finches have a name that well-describes their plumage. Adults have brown heads with the color extending down their backs. Their “rosy” bellies are quite distinctive and they also have pink feathers on their wings and on their undersides. A long tail is forked and they have a black forehead and legs. An interesting fact is that they have mostly black bills during breeding season that turn yellow during the non-breeding season.
Although these birds spend the winter months at lower elevations, their breeding grounds are the central peaks of The Rocky Mountains. If they don’t reuse an abandoned Cliff-swallow’s nest, they will build their own cup nest in a rocky cavity.
They usually feed together in small flocks, mainly on seeds of various grasses and weeds. They also like to eat small insects, occasionally doing so mid-flight.
3. American Dipper
American Dippers are small but stout birds that feed solely in aquatic habitats. They are North America’s only amphibious songbirds with their nests being primarily alongside streams. They build dome-shaped nests out of moss, grasses, leaves, and bark. Since they live close to their water habitat, American Dippers protect their young by building nests 6-20 feet above deep water.
Living near streams means these medium-sized birds feed on aquatic insects and larvae as well as dragonflies, small fish and fish eggs, worms, and flying insects. They bob up and down while standing in rushing water and can even dive underwater in search of food. They are also known to move rocks at the bottom of a stream to get to their meal.
Although they are mostly monogamous, many choose to live in solidarity during the winter months. Once their young are old enough to leave the nest, they often divide their family and part ways until the following breeding season.
4. Gray Jay
Gray Jays, also known as Canada Jays, are omnivorous birds that feed on a wide range of foods. They hunt for amphibians, fledglings of other birds, rodents and small mammals, but they also eat insects, berries, and fungi. They are known to be curious about humans and any possible food they might be willing to share, too, so guard your snacks!
Gray Jays make their homes in forests across North America, which means you’re most likely to see them in the Rockies of Colorado. They will build their nests in trees at moderate to low height on the south-facing side of a forest area. This ensures they can take advantage of extra warmth provided by the sun, especially considering their choice to breed during the frosty months of February and March.
Despite their somewhat perverse feeding habits, Gray Jays are deceivingly charming in their appearance. Adults are a pale gray overall, but have a white head that includes a small patch of gray at the back. Their wings and tail feathers tend to be darker shades of bluish gray and their bills are usually black.
5. Belted Kingfisher
Belted Kingfishers are year-round residents of Colorado. They live near bodies of water that support their preferred diet of small fish, crustaceans, insects, and amphibians. They will also eat berries, small mammals and even other birds. You’re most likely to see a Kingfisher perched on a telephone wire or a bare branch, watching the water as it waits to see it’s target. Once spotted, the Kingfisher will dive swiftly to pluck it’s food from the water. Then it will return to its roost and swallow its catch head first, after banging it against the perch.
You’re not likely to see a Belted Kingfisher’s nest “by chance”. The male and female pair take turns digging into the ground with their strong bills. They cut a tunnel about 3-6 feet long before ending their burrow with a hollow that is 8-12 inches in diameter and about 7 inches high. They generally choose locations close to the water, but for obvious reasons avoid areas with tree roots that make digging difficult.
Belted Kingfishers are one of the few species of birds that have females generally showing more color than males. Both sexes have a slate blue head with a matching “breastplate”. Their wings are also blue with black tips and they have a white collar around their necks. Females have an additional band of rust-colored feathers across their upper belly which extends down to their legs. One of the most distinctive features of a Kingfisher is its large black bill that seems disproportionate for the bird’s compact frame.
As of September 2019, 507 species of birds have been identified in the state of Colorado. That’s a list that will certainly keep any bird watcher busy for quite awhile! How are you at identifying the common snakes of Colorado?
Perhaps you’ve already seen the five listed here, or maybe you’ve enjoyed their company in your backyard but didn’t know their names. Whatever the case, we hope you’ve learned some interesting facts about a few of Colorado’s feathered friends and that you’re keen to learn more about the rest of them!