If spring brings mating displays and nest building, then summer is sure to be filled with baby birds. Lately, everywhere I look I see frazzled parents bringing food to their ravenous offspring. No sooner have they stuffed the moth or grasshopper or beetle or dragonfly down that bottomless gullet than they’re off looking for the next morsel.
Usually, Colorado’s seasons have little to do with the calendar. This may be the vernal equinox, but we still expect snow and it’s way too early to plant those tender flowers and veggies. After gardening in California for years, I’ve mostly adapted to the challenge here, but from March through mid-May I would drag around the house feeling frustrated that I couldn’t plant anything the least bit frost-tender.
Then I started birding—and to the birds, March means spring! As a birder, there’s plenty of activity to keep me glued to my binoculars.
When does migration bring new birds to Colorado? I’ve been pondering that question ever since I started birding. As a gardener with years of experience, I know when to plant each crop or flower. I know that 70° afternoons can be followed by 3° nights. Yes, April is like that—don’t be fooled.
But migration varies from species to species, and even sometimes from year to year. Instead of learning when to set out a dozen veggie varieties, I have to become familiar with the timing of hundreds of birds. For the most part, that’s still a huge mystery to me.
If Spring brings courting birds, claiming territories and wooing mates with beautiful songs, July is the month of nestlings. Nature, in her efforts to reproduce herself, takes advantage of the abundance of food produced by a fruitful summer. A recent trip to the southwest parts of El Paso county (Colorado) confirmed that this has been a fruitful summer indeed. Everywhere we looked yielded an abundance of hungry nestlings and frenetic parents trying to keep up with the demand for food.
Our first stop, at Bear Creek county park, took us to a patient Broad-tailed Hummingbird, sitting dutifully on her nest. While the branch was over our heads—too high for a peek into the tiny cup-like nest—we guessed that the eggs hadn’t hatched yet. Perhaps this was a second attempt to reproduce, somewhat late in the season.
June isn’t a great time to go birding. In most parts of the country, territories are established, nests are built, eggs are laid, and the birds are either busy incubating those eggs or are run ragged trying to satisfy the insatiable appetites of their demanding offspring. Either way, the parents are being especially careful to hide the whereabouts of their progeny, making it very difficult for us birders.
However, June is a great time to take bird photographs. Family photos are so much more appealing than those of solitary portraits. If you can manage to locate a nest, grab your telephoto lens and settle in for a shoot.
While we’re still shoveling snow and scraping windshields, bluebirds are thinking about spring. Colorado has three species of bluebirds, Eastern, Western (seen here) and Mountain, and all of them are what birders call “early nesters.”
Why do they arrive here so early in the year? Maybe it’s because they don’t travel very far for the winter. While other kinds of thrushes migrate to central America, bluebirds tend to stick closer to home.
Bluebirds living in the southern parts of the United States stay there year-round. Western Bluebirds from harsher climates winter along the Pacific coast or in the dry scrubland of the Southwest and Mexico. A few stay in Colorado.