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Spring birds make their appearance right on time

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By Sylvia Brockner

Spring has finally arrived with days hovering around 70 degrees and nights only just freezing. Here in the foothills, I don’t trust the night temperatures until after June 1, and even then we have a frost occasionally. Most of our summer birds arrive during the first week of May, and many of them came in as usual last week.
Betty Mingus called to tell me that May 1 brought yellow warblers, black-headed grosbeak, lazuli bunting, bullocks oriole, blue-gray gnatcatcher, house wren, fox sparrow and white-crowned sparrows to her yard in Genesee. These birds are just about on their usual schedule, a bit late for fox sparrow.
Yellow warblers arrive almost always on May 1. Black-headed grosbeaks usually arrive at my house on May 5, however, Genesee often has things a few days earlier than I do here farther into the mountains. House wrens and ruby crowned kinglets have not arrived here at the house yet but should be in. This is also the time that a few rose-breasted grosbeaks show up at local feeders. These exquisite birds are on their way north to Canada and are usually only seen for a few days before they move on.
Birds have declined at my feeders due to a cooper’s hawk, which has discovered their presence and now spends part of every day perched on the feeders. It is a large cooper’s hawk, so I presume it is a female. She must have a nest nearby and is trying to help the male supply enough food for their young. The nest is probably back in the old Conway property, which has not all been developed yet, or in the adjacent Denver Mountain Park property. It is a big area too rough for me to get into anymore. I haven’t seen her actually take a bird from my feeder, but just her presence above the feeders keeps the song birds silent and motionless.
The first broad-tailed hummingbird arrived at my feeder on Wednesday, May 4. In the past, they have usually arrived here on April 27 or 28, although we have had earlier dates from folks closer to the plains. Saturday, May 7, a second hummer arrived and started territorial wars over the one feeder I had up. I must put a second feeder up to stop the fighting as they need the security of an adequate food supply to nest.
We have about three pairs of evening grosbeaks still coming to the sunflower seed feeder, so I presume this means they are going to nest in the area again this year. Evening grosbeaks like to have some of their own kind nesting in the area. They are not colony nesters like some birds that gather in large numbers, nesting in close proximity, but several pairs may nest in the same valley where they can nest within hearing distance of each other.
Several people have told me that the curved-billed thrasher is still lingering in Red Rocks Park at the feeding station behind the trading post. They have wondered why it had not left with the spring urge to migrate. However, this is a bird without a strong migratory urge. It spends most of its life in the Sonoran Desert, finding the brushy habitat satisfactory for both nesting and wintering. It has been expanding its range a bit in recent years for Bill and I saw the first one we had ever seen just north of Colorado Springs some years ago. Since it doesn’t normally migrate each spring, it may just stay at Red Rocks where it appears to have felt very much at home over winter. Most books show its range as including the southeast corner of Colorado, so it is not really all that far out of range. Many of the birds that are finding their normal range deteriorating or completely gone are wandering in search of the habitat they need.
So far, I have pygmy and white-breasted nuthatches nesting in my yard in bird boxes, and the wrens and violet-green swallows are not back yet. They will probably claim a few more bird houses. Unfortunately, my need for oxygen and back problems keep me off the mountain trails, but at least I am home and can still enjoy the birds that are willing to trust me enough to come into the yard. Enjoy spring. It is the best time of the year.