Chico Basin Ranch is a great place to bird all year round, but it is a must-see during spring migration. It’s easily worth the 45 minute drive from Colorado Springs, and the $15 daily access fee (annual passes are also available).
What makes this such a great spot?
A look at a map of Colorado shows why birds and birders love Chico Basin. Straddling the El Paso/Pueblo county line, the ranch attracts species found in the southeast corner of Colorado as well as those more that live in the north and west. Strategically situated between miles of arid, short-grass prairie on one side, and more miles of arid short-grass prairie on the other, the year-round ponds and green trees are a welcome rest stop for tired and thirsty migrating birds.
In fact, some feel so at home that they stay to set up housekeeping and raise their families. The riparian trees and shrubs around the ponds slowly give way to sagebrush, perennial grasses and cactus. That is why the ranch bird list (now surpassing 300 species) includes Sage Thrashers, Mountain Plovers, and Scaled Quail as well as ducks, grebes and shorebirds.
Rare birds also turn up occasionally. A few years ago, a Long-billed Thrasher was resident all winter, giving Colorado its third record of this southern Texas native. Additionally, the ranch is currently the most northern known site for breeding Ladder-backed Woodpeckers.
Chico Basin is a working cattle ranch. While this is their business and main source of income, the ranch also places a high value on conservation. To maximize this stewardship of the land, the ranch has working partnerships with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, the Colorado Native Plant Society, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado State University Extension, Land EKG, Holistic Management International, and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (RMBO).
During spring and fall, RMBO maintains a bird banding station, which has provided a wealth of data on the movements of migratory birds. The station is also a popular field trip destination for local schools, offering a chance for a new generation to become advocates for birds—and nature in general.
You can learn more about Chico Basin ranch by visiting their informative website.