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Bird is the Word: Local Avians and Where to Spot them

There’s another world out there, hovering above our heads and fluttering amongst the trees, floating on the lakes and rivers, scurrying across the deserts, meadows, and tundras. That world is the world of birds, and it’s vibrant, dramatic, and constantly evolving throughout each season. Bird watching is the gateway into that fascinating world.

Bird watching (or “birding”) in western Colorado offers special access into the world of birds. This is due to the nature of migration patterns. Even though a higher concentration of migratory birds pass through the Eastern half of the U.S., more species of birds call the West home, year-round and part-time collectively. While some birds land in Colorado as a pit stop en route to their destinations, others happily make themselves at home here in the Uncompahgre Valley for the breeding season.

Red-winged Blackbird at Chipeta Lake | Photos by Kim Navarrete

During migration and nesting seasons, eager “birders” flock to forests, rivers, deserts, wetlands, and shorelines in attempts to spot and identify as many birds as possible, in hopes of adding new species to their “life lists.” A life list is a personal catalog of species someone sees in a lifetime. New birds added to that checklist are referred to as “lifers.” You’ll see a different set of birds in each specific habitat, depending on your location on the Western Slope.

At Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park, you may spot the fastest animal in the world, the Peregrine Falcon, soaring between the canyon walls. In Fruitgrowers Reservoir near Delta, you might hear the bugling chorus of Sandhill Cranes as they fly overhead. At Ridgway State Park you can discover several waterfowl including the Green-winged Teal, and wading birds such as the white-faced ibis.

Green-tailed Towhee in Ouray

Many other migratory birds can be found close to home without involving a field trip or a major expedition. High in the trees that fringe Chipeta Lake, you can find Bullock’s Orioles foraging and constructing their impressive hanging nests with fishing line and natural found materials. At Cerise Park in Montrose, you’re guaranteed to spy several Yellow Warblers fluttering about from tree-to-tree, hunting for insects, sporadically pausing to sing their sweet, sweet melodies. If you’re lucky, you may spot the flame-colored male Western Tanager skipping through greenery along the Uncompahgre River or the Ouray Perimeter Trail.

Mourning Dove at Chipeta Lake

Birders in the valley can enjoy migratory species approximately from April to October, but bird watching in general can be practiced all year. The best way to start birding is to step right out your door and observe your everyday backyard birds. Common year-round residents include Mourning Doves, House Finches, American Robins, and Red-winged Blackbirds. By learning these everyday birds’ distinctive markings, calls, habitats, and behaviors, over time you’ll be able to distinguish a different species when it comes along.

The key to the world of birds is available to everyone. All that’s needed for bird watching are a pair of binoculars, a love for nature, and some time. With seasonal and full-time avian residents, you can appreciate our feathered friends all year-long in the valley, and that’s a good enough reason to nest here for a while.


Written by Kim Navarrete

Kim is a freelance motion graphics designer and video editor whose mission is to bring her clients’ ideas to life. After recently swapping her native Louisiana swamps for Colorado mountains, she now calls the Western Slope home. Her favorite activities are trail running, birding, playing hacky sack, traveling with her husband, and spending time with friends.

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