You’ve got your binoculars in hand, ID book in one pocket, notebook and pen in another, and your resolutions to be a responsible, ethical birder firmly in place—you are ready to go birding. But, where will you go?
While birds may be found virtually anywhere, they are not evenly distributed across the landscape. When birders discover a place with lots of birds (both in numbers and variety of species) that location is called, in birder-speech, a “hotspot.”
Just as people tend to congregate in places with housing and markets or restaurants, birds have their own favorite hangouts, and for the same reasons. Birds need water, food, and shelter. Any site providing all three is bound to have great birding.
In arid Colorado, the biggest attraction for both resident and migrant species is water. The draw for waders and shorebirds is obvious, but even desert birds need a drink. Every bird benefits from clean plumage, for both insulation and parasite control. The scarcer water is in an area, the more concentrated the birds will be at the neighborhood oasis. Examples of Pikes Peak area watering holes include Big Johnson Reservoir, Fountain Creek, Lake Pueblo, and Ramah SWA (when snow melt fills the “lake”).
Along with water, birds need food. To a large extent, the food available in a particular habitat determines which birds will be found there. Many local ponds have plenty of water, but little in the way of plants and bugs. Therefore, few birds will hang around for long. Manicured and sprayed landscapes, monoculture lawns, and “fruitless” trees likewise have little to offer a hungry bird. The greater the diversity of native plants, the more birds. This is one reason Aiken Canyon and Chico Basin are hotspots.
Shelter is the third hotspot requirement. Birds exposed to predators and weather extremes won’t last long. A large body of open water protects sleeping waterfowl from land-based predators such as coyotes. As birders quickly discover, little brown birds quickly disappear in dense thickets and tall grasses. Try spotting a yellow warbler among the green and yellow leaves of a tall cottonwood. The same cover that protects the birds challenges the birders. Isn’t that part of the fun? Ramah SWA, Fountain Creek Nature Center, and Aiken Canyon are among the local hotspots that provide the birds plenty of shelter.
One of the best ways to learn about local hotspots is to join your local Audubon chapter on a field trip. Not only will there be birds, there will be experienced birders to help you find and identify them. You don’t need to be a member to go on a trip, and beginners are welcome.