What’s that chirping? Ten common backyard birds of Colorado Springs

Published: June 20, 2013, 2:30 pm

Photo by Jim Patten, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

by R. SCOTT RAPPOLD – srappold@gazette.com

irds. For many people, their chirping and singing is the soundtrack of summer.

Some 280 bird species have been observed in El Paso County, and many of them like to call our backyards home. And many of us are happy to have them.

“With peoples’ hectic work schedules, it’s a way to just sit back and relax a little bit, just to hear the sounds of the birds and hear their activities,” said Frank Dodge, owner of The Wild Bird Center of Colorado Springs.

“It lets you connect with nature a little, but without having to stray too far from the house. It gives you a little bit of peace and relaxation.”

People who live near water, trees or natural food supplies may get visitors from feathered friends without even trying. For others, it will take a little work.

Dodge said a bird bath is the most important thing.

“We’re in such a dry, arid climate that the birds desperately need water. That means in winter time, provide free-flowing water, so the birds don’t have to eat the snow,” said Dodge.

Food is the next step. He recommends a feeder as well as some plants, trees and flowers that

produce seeds, berries or nectar to feed the birds naturally and encourage them to nest in the yard. Black oil sunflower seed is a pretty safe bet to attract birds.

“By having a nice mixture of quality bird seed and a yard that has natural foods, you’re going to get different foods and you’re going to keep more birds happy,” he said.

Residents in bear country, however, need to be aware that bird feeders might attract black bears, so don’t leave food out overnight.

The third step is shelter, especially in areas without many trees. A birdhouse might be occupied immediately, or it could take weeks or even years for a bird to become interested.

They’re not only soothing and entertaining, but as native birds, they play a crucial role in the ecosystem of your yard, eating insects, pollinating flowers and spreading seeds.

So what can you expect to see in your backyard bird paradise? Christine Bucher, president of the Aiken Audubon Society, identifed 10 of the most commonly seen birds in Springs residential areas. Much of the information comes from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (For more information on these birds, including audio of their songs and chirping, visit allabout birds.org.)

1. Northern flicker

This type of woodpecker is found across the country, pecking not on trees but the ground, in search of ants and other insects.

Spotted and striped with a spot of red on the head, they’re handsome birds, most commonly found in lawns near trees and parks and in mountain forests as high as timberline. They probably won’t come to a feeder but may stop by for a bath.

2. Downy woodpecker

Black, white and found nearly all over the country, this small woodpecker is as comfortable pecking away at a tree as eating from a backyard feeder, which is rare for a woodpecker. You’ll have the most luck with suet, sunflower seeds, millet, peanuts and peanut butter. You’ll most likely find woodpeckers in areas with large, established trees.

It’s smaller than its look-alike cousin, the hairy woodpecker, which has a much longer bill.

3. White-breasted nuthatch

These active little birds are known for jamming nuts and acorns into the bark of a tree and then hitting it with their bill to hatch the seed. They’ll also be happy to enjoy nuts, sunflower seeds or peanuts from a bird feeder.

Like woodpeckers, the more trees around your neighborhood, the more nuthatches.

Look for the smaller and more animated pygmy nuthatch in the higher elevation ponderosa pine forests of Colorado.

4. Rufous hummingbird

Called the “feistiest hummingbird in North America,” this Western species migrates, usually arriving in Colorado in the fall when returning to Mexico from the Pacific Northwest. They are known for their brilliant orange color and aggressively chasing off other hummingbirds from feeders and flowers.

Higher in the mountains, you’re likely to encounter broad-tailed hummingbirds, which live in sub-alpine meadows of Colorado.

5. Mourning dove

If you hear a solemn, almost lamenting song from overhead power lines, it’s probably a mourning dove.

Gray and rotund, they are common throughout the country and will often nest on power lines or in scrub oak. They do most of their feeding on the ground, so scattering millet seeds may attract them. Just don’t let any house cats out, as ground-feeders are particularly vulnerable.

6. Western scrub jay

These bright blue birds, often inhabiting dry shrub lands and lower-elevation pinyon-juniper forests, are no strangers to backyards. They may come to sunflower seeds or peanuts at a feeder.

They nest in shrubs or small trees and can be recognized with a sharp series of screeches.

7. House finch

Small and musical, house finches are found throughout the city, often in noisy groups. They are slow and have a bouncy flight, and are known for their cheerful, twittering song. Natives of the West that do as well in grasslands as in city parks and neighborhoods, they’re now found throughout the country.

They have large beaks and long, flat heads. Males have red breasts while females are gray. Finches take well to bird feeders.

8. Black-capped chickadee

Found in the northern half of the continent, this small round bird has the shape of an egg with wings. As the name suggests, they have black heads, and a call that sounds like “chick-a-dee.” They’re extremely curious and are not shy about visiting feeders. They have an affinity for suet, sunflower and peanuts.

9. Spotted towhee

You won’t find this large sparrow east of the Mississippi River, as it thrives in the thickets and bushes of the West, often in open habitat with plenty of undergrowth. With bright red eyes on a black head (brown for the female) over a striped body, they’re one of the more striking backyard birds in the region.

Ground dwellers, they’re more likely to eat seed scattered on the ground instead of a feeder, and are more common in neighborhoods of scrub oak and abundant underbrush.

10. Black-billed magpie

Black and white with blue in their wings and long tails, these social birds can often be found in groups feeding on carrion or, more pleasantly, eating fruit, grain, insects or other things in your yard. You can find them throughout most of the West in groups atop fences and utility poles, often squawking in what sounds like anger.