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Vol. 49 No. 1
Winter 2015
Colorado Birds
The Colorado Field Ornithologists’ Quarterly
John Cassin
Flash Photography
Snake-eating Birds
Colorado Field Ornithologists
PO Box 643, Boulder, Colorado 80306
Colorado Birds (USPS 0446-190) (ISSN 1094-0030) is published quarterly by the Colorado Field Ornithologists, P.O. Box 643, Boulder, CO 80306. Subscriptions are obtained
through annual membership dues. Nonprofit postage paid at Louisville, CO. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Colorado Birds, P.O. Box 643, Boulder, CO 80306.
Officers and Directors of Colorado Field Ornithologists: Dates indicate end of current term. An asterisk indicates eligibility for re-election. Terms expire at the annual
Officers: President: Bill Kaempfer, Boulder, 2015; [email protected]; Vice President: Christian Nunes, Longmont, 2015*; [email protected]; Secretary: Larry
Modesitt, Greenwood Village, 2015; [email protected]; Treasurer: Tom Wilberding, Boulder, 2015*; [email protected]
Directors: Christy Carello, Golden, 2016*; Lisa Edwards, Palmer Lake, 2017; Ted Floyd,
Lafayette, 2017; Mike Henwood, Grand Junction, 2015*; Joe Roller, Denver, 2015; David Gillilan, Littleton, 2016*.
Colorado Bird Records Committee: Dates indicate end of current term. An asterisk
indicates eligibility to serve another term. Terms expire 12/31.
Chair: Doug Faulkner, Arvada, 2016; [email protected]
Committee Members: John Drummond, Colorado Springs, 2016; Bill Schmoker, Longmont, 2016; Glenn Walbek, Castle Rock, 2015; Mark Peterson, Colorado Springs, 2016*
Colorado Birds Quarterly:
Editor: Peter Burke, [email protected]
Staff: Christian Nunes, photo editor, Christy Carello, science editor
Contributors: Peter Gent, Dave Leatherman, Tony Leukering, Bill Schmoker
Annual Membership Dues (renewable quarterly): General $25; Youth (under 18)
$12; Institution $30. Membership dues entitle members to a subscription to Colorado
Birds, which is published quarterly. Back issues/extra copies may be ordered for $6.50.
Send requests for extra copies/back issues, change of address and membership renewals to
CFO, P.O. Box 643, Boulder, CO 80306; make checks out to Colorado Field Ornithologists. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.
COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Colorado Field Ornithologists. Reproduction of articles is permitted only
under consent from the publisher. Works by U.S. and Canadian governments are not copyrighted.
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
The Colorado Field Ornithologists’ Quarterly Vol. 49 No. 1
Winter 2015
PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE.......................................... 4
Bill Kaempfer
ABOUT THE AUTHORS............................................ 5
CFO BOARD MEETING MINUTES ............................ 7
Larry Modesitt
CFO ANNUAL MEETING MINUTES .........................10
Larry Modesitt
2014 CFO AWARDS .................................................12
Christy Carello and Joe Roller
CFO-WFO AGREEMENT...........................................16
Christy Carello and Joe Roller
JOHN CASSIN..........................................................17
Robert Righter
NEWS FROM THE FIELD: SUMMER 2015 ..............20
Peter Gent
THE HUNGRY BIRD: SNAKES ................................27
Dave Leatherman
Bill Schmoker
A Northern
Bobwhite of
surrounded by
invasive plants,
East Boulder
Rec Center,
13 June 2013.
Photo by Peter
CFO FIELD TRIP REPORT ......................................39
Bill Kaempfer and Christian Nunes
Tony Leukering
2014 CFO DONORS .................................................42
Exit Sterling, on to Salida
Bill Kaempfer
As I write this, we are just a few months out from the 52nd Annual CFO Convention in Sterling. I hope you were among the 180
or so in attendance and enjoyed that weekend of great
birding. One reality of having a fall convention followed by a spring convention in the next year is the
planning burden—the entire CFO Board of Directors
is hard at work planning for #53 in Salida!
Sterling certainly held some surprises for us. For
one, all those mud flats we were expecting were actually underwater—the extremely wet conditions of the
twelve months prior to our August convention, especially along the South Platte River in northeastern
Colorado, rendered nearly all of the prime shorebird
spots along the Platte, well, sub-prime. On the plus
side of the surprise ledger, however, the weather was
Bill Kaempfer
incredibly mild, for late-August on the plains, that is.
While the water conditions weren’t as expected,
convention participants were able to tick off plenty of shorebirds if
they were in the right spots—Jumbo Reservoir, Red Lion State Wildlife Area and especially Riverside Reservoir had good variety. Keynote speaker Jon L. Dunn gave us lots of instruction and insights into
shorebird identification, and I think there are now lots of Colorado
birders prepared to go out in the field and not only identify Shortbilled Dowitchers, but know why!
Overall, we tallied a collective 200 species during the Sterling
convention; a list that included Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Prairie
Chicken, Long-tailed Jaeger and Piping Plover to name just a few,
plus, of course, Sterling’s Mississippi Kites soaring over town park.
Other convention highlights included an outstanding selection of
papers presented on Saturday afternoon sessions, Jon Dunn’s extra
talk on Friday afternoon and especially Christian Nunes’ delightful
Jeop-birdy that had us all taxing our skills while roaring in laughter
on Friday night.
But let’s exit Sterling and move on to Salida for our next convention, June 4-8, 2015. Salida is just about smack-dab in the middle of
Colorado, situated at the foot of the Collegiate Range and forming
the entrance to Colorado’s Upper Arkansas Valley. This is not an
area that we get to very often for conventions—the only mountain
convention we’ve had in the last 30 years was 2003 in Frisco. Be
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
prepared for specialties of the southern mountains—Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Three-toed Woodpecker, Dusky Grouse, Band-tailed
Pigeon, Gray Jay and perhaps even White-tailed Ptarmigan.
Sterling hosts some great birding spots close to town and several
high country spots within easy driving distance. Some old favorites
like Antero and De Weese Reservoirs and Russell Lakes SWA are
just an hour away. We always try to come up with a few private spots
to visit at the convention and this year I can promise the spectacular
Hutchinson Ranch. Homesteaded in the 1860s, the property has remained in the family continuously for seven generations. I took the
CFO Board there on an outing before our October meeting in Salida,
and it was all I could do pry them off the site.
Of course the convention will feature all its regular activities including a welcome picnic on Thursday, a second go at Jeop-birdy on
Friday night, Saturday afternoon’s paper session and our annual banquet on Saturday. More details are forthcoming, and don’t be tardy
getting your registration in as space in Salida will be limited.
Bill Kaempfer, [email protected]
News From the Field
Peter Gent has lived in Boulder and worked at the National Center for Atmospheric Research since 1976. At NCAR, some people think his real job is birding. He has twice been the President
of CFO, twice served as the Chairman of the CFO Bird Records
Committee and was a co-editor of Colorado Birds in the mid 1980s.
The Hungry Bird
Dave Leatherman is a photographer, entomologist and expert
on Colorado birds. He is a regular contributor to Colorado Birds
as author of The Hungry Bird. His photographs of birds carrying food are of such high quality that many of the invertebrates
can be identified to species. He obtained his B.S. from Marietta
College and his M.S. from Duke University. When not birding,
Dave has been known to occasionally enjoy a night on the town
listening to live jazz.
Colorado Birds
Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
In The Scope
Tony Leukering is a freelance ornithologist currently based in
Florida. His primary interest in birds is migration, and his work
has included nearly 14 years at the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. He is a recipient of CFO’s Ron Ryder Award and has
authored virtually all of the In The Scope columns for Colorado
Fully Exposed
Bill Schmoker is a middle school science teacher, is extremely
active in the birding community and is a frequent photo contributor to Birding and other ABA publications in addition to a
wide variety of books, magazines and other media. HE authored the Geared for Birding column in the American Birding
Association›s Winging It newsletter and contributes to birding blogs for both
ABA and Leica. He is involved with the ABA Young Birders program as a
Camp Colorado and Camp Avocet instructor and photo module judge for the
Young Birder of the Year contest. Bill is an eBird reviewer and member of the
Colorado Bird Records Committee and is a past president of CFO.
Featured Authors
John Cassin
Robert Righter is co-author of Colorado Birds, Birds of Western
Colorado and author of Bird Songs of Rocky Mountain States. He
has lived in Colorado for 47 years, 34 of them as a CFO member.
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
18 October 2014
Gateway Inn, Salida, CO
Larry Modesitt
President Bill Kaempfer called the October quarterly meeting to order at 11:00 A.M., requiring his strong leadership skills to
evict board members from a pre-convention inspection tour of the
Hutchinson Ranch. Having already discovered what for most were
personal record numbers of Pinyon Jays, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Northern Flickers and Townsend’s Solitaires, plus pairs of Red-naped and
Williamson’s Sapsuckers, the group wondered what other delightful
birds were lurking there. Other officers present were Vice President
Christian Nunes, Secretary Larry Modesitt, and Treasurer Tom Wilberding. Directors Peter Burke, Christy Carello, Lisa Edwards, David
Gillilan, Mike Henwood, Joe Roller and Ted Floyd were present. Director Doug Faulkner sent his regrets from Ecuador.
We adjourned to tour the Steam Plant to make banquet arrangements, reconvening at 12:04 P.M.
Secretary’s Report: Larry Modesitt. Directors approved the minutes
of the 19 July board meeting and 30
August 2014 annual meeting.
Treasurer’s Report: Tom Wilberding’s previously emailed financial
statements were approved.
Sterling 2014 Convention Feedback: Bill Kaempfer reviewed David
Gillilan’s summary of the participant
survey. Registration, which for the
first time was conducted solely online, was successful. Attendees stated
unequivocally that birding trips and
related arrangements are of higher
priority than lodging, food and amenities. Participants want field trips
to private properties, general birding
workshops and technical programs
focused on improving birding skills
such as birding by ear. They appreciate detailed field trip descriptions
that include not just target species
and departure times, but also subjective information such as terrain descriptions, expected pace and areas
where walking may be difficult. It is
imperative that people realize that
trip departure times are when wheels
roll. Despite the unusual high water
in all reservoirs that reduced shorebird habitat, Jon Dunn’s shorebird
workshop was outstanding, as was his
keynote address featuring shorebird
identification. Christy Carello increased both the quantity and quality
of paper sessions, with a record number of students attending. Christian
Nunes’ creative Jeop-birdy game was
the highest rated activity. In summary, participants decreed the fall Sterling convention to be a great success.
Colorado Birds
Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
2014 Salida Convention Planning
for June 4-8, 201—Bill Kaempfer
1. Facilities. Convention headquarters will be the Gateway Inn and
Suites in Salida. Our banquet will be
at the “Steam Plant,” a historic building on the banks of the Arkansas River that has been converted to an art
and event center.
2. Field Trips will include many different mountain and desert habitats.
Owling is expected to be excellent.
Ted Floyd wagered Joe Roller that
a White-eyed vireo will be reported
sometime during the convention.
3. Sherrie York will contribute the
artwork for the T-shirts.
4. Food preparation at Sterling’s
Ramada Inn was below expectations.
We plan to see major improvements
in Salida.
5. We discussed many potential
keynote speakers agreeing that the
level of participation Jon Dunn contributed in all aspects of the convention was exemplary, and something we
would like to see from future speakers.
6. The student mixer was successful and will be continued.
7. Field trip leader compensation
at the Salida convention will be as
Ê UÊ i>`iÀÃÊ œvÊ œ˜ÞÊ œ˜iÊ wi`Ê ÌÀˆ«Ê
will receive a complimentary T-shirt.
Ê UÊ i>`iÀÃÊ œvÊ ÌÜœÊ œÀÊ “œÀiÊ wi`Ê
trips will receive a complimentary Tshirt and be eligible for a registration
fee refund (paying only the banquet
Ê UÊ œÕ«iÃÊ Ì…>ÌÊ Vœ‡i>`Ê ÌÀˆ«ÃÊ
will each receive a complimentary Tshirt, but only one registration refund.
UÊ ˜Ê œÀ`iÀÊ ÌœÊ “>˜>}iÊ Ài}ˆÃÌÀ>̈œ˜Ê
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
numbers, leaders are asked to register
and pay in full prior to the convention. Refund checks will be mailed
after the convention.
UÊ ÀœV…ÕÀiÊ «Àˆ˜Ìˆ˜}Ê `i>`ˆ˜iÃÊ
were determined.
Colorado Bird Records Committee (CBRC): Doug Faulkner submitted his report by email. Doug had initially stated he would resign as CBRC
Chairman at the end of the December
31, 2014 term, but his request to remain Chair through the 2015 Convention was approved.
CFO Website: David Gillilan reported that Ann Johnson is requiring
some additional information from a
few people prior to completion of the
new CFO website, with a target date
of November 1 for public use. Convention registration will be added later. CFO, CBRC and County Birding
all will have the same design. Joe Roller reported that after review, experts
consider our coloradocountybirding.
org website to be superior to the eBird
portal, so no further action is needed.
Proposed CFO-Western Field
Ornithologists (WFO) Partnership:
The CFO Board met with Jon Dunn
during the Sterling convention to
discuss a partnership with WFO. He
announced that WFO passed a resolution in its October 9, 2014 board
meeting in favor of a partnership with
CFO. While the organizations are different in many ways, each can learn
from the other, thereby strengthening
both. CFO passed a resolution similar
to WFO’s, opening the door to explore
Vol. 49 No. 1
a partnership. Ideas discussed included
cross-promoting news, meetings and
field trips on our websites; collaborating on each other’s journal by sharing peer reviewers, making field trips
available to each other’s members, attending one another’s conferences and
exploring joint funding for applicable
projects. Larry Modesitt will be CFO’s
liaison with Jon Dunn of WFO. Each
board will approve actions before they
are taken.
Social Media Communications:
Christian Nunes reported 817 Facebook followers, up 300 from last meeting.
Additional Committee Reports
Nominating & Awards: Joe Roller
reported that there were no vacancies now, but people who volunteer
for CFO committee and other duties are being considered when future
needs arise. Persons wishing to suggest
a recipient for the Ron Ryder Award
should submit a detailed description
for review at our January meeting.
Colorado Birds: Peter Burke stated
that our winter issue 49-1 has an editorial deadline of November 16. Peter
Gent will compile News from the Field
in the upcoming issue. Bill Schmoker
will provide an avian photography column and Bob Righter will provide articles on historical ornithologists with
ties to Colorado. In addition to new
content, Peter is preparing to redesign
Colorado Birds, providing a fresh look.
Peter continues to solicit ideas for future articles, particularly showcasing
the entire state of Colorado.
Publicity: Ted Floyd will give a
winter talk at the Denver Public Library on his book, Birds of Colorado,
and will promote CFO membership.
Membership: Lisa Edwards announced 39 new memberships between April and July, 30 of which
were totally new members. We continue to exceed 500 members.
CFO Field Trips: Bill Kaempfer
noted upcoming quarterly CFO Field
Trips led by himself, Ted Floyd, Christian Nunes and Mike Henwood.
Project Fund and Scholarships:
Christy Carello received approval for
extending the grant deadline from
12/1 to 12/15. The scholarship deadline remains 3/31.
New Business: The role of conservation in the mission of CFO will be
discussed in the January meeting.
The next meeting will be at 11 A.M.
on January 24, 2015 in the Center for
Innovation and Creativity (CINC) in
President Kaempfer adjourned the
meeting at 3:58 P.M. to review the location to be used for our picnic.
Colorado Birds
Respectfully submitted,
Larry Modesitt, Secretary
Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
30 August 2014
Ramada Inn, Sterling, CO
Larry Modesitt, CFO Secretary
President Bill Kaempfer welcomed 175 attendees, the third
highest total on record, to CFO’s Annual Convention in Sterling,
Colorado. The first business transacted was to determine the rightful owner of car keys to a Lexus found in the parking lot—out of
twenty claimants. Sterling hosted the convention again after eight
years. This was the first fall occurrence since Denver 1992, and just
the third fall convention ever of 52 total conventions. Bill thanked
Treasurer Tom Wilberding for obtaining national publicity, resulting
in 25 attendees from outside Colorado. Bill remembered three former
CFO directors who passed away during the year: Warren Finch, Bob
Coen and John Yeager. He thanked directors whose board service
ended during the year including past President Jim Beatty, Colorado
Birds Editor Nathan Pieplow and Webmaster Brenda Linfield—all of
whom raised the bar in their respective positions. He then welcomed
two new members: Colorado Birds Editor Peter Burke and Webmaster
David Gillilan.
Bill thanked Todd and Peggy Sherlund for opening their 2,000acre ranch on North Sterling Reservoir for the first-ever bird field
trip, Skip Dines for obtaining access to Riverside Reservoir and to
Bruce Bosley for obtaining access to Muir Springs, which had been
closed to birding for 25 years.
Bill announced CFO highlights of the past year. First, the completion of two redesigned websites: and, with expected by year’s end.
Second, CFO’s sponsorship of the Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas II.
In addition, Jon Dunn graciously donated his speaker’s fee to the Atlas. Third, continued funding for CFO Projects and Scholarships, including funding for research described in papers presented earlier in
the day by Amber Carver, Colin Wooley and Matt Warning. Board
Member Christy Carello, in charge of Projects and Scholarships,
passed the hat to fund future recipients, collecting $958.
Nominating Committee Chair Joe Roller presented the slate of
officers as: Bill Kaempfer, President; Christian Nunes, Vice President;
Larry Modesitt, Secretary and Tom Wilberding, Treasurer. Membership approved the slate. Joe announced that a Homeowner’s Award
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
had been presented to the Sean Walters family for hosting more than
150 people to see a Varied Thrush. Joe also presented a Lifetime
Achievement Award to Dick Schottler, an unabashed lister, who
identified his favorite list as all the friends he’s made birding.
Bill Kaempfer announced that Salida, for the first time, will be
the destination for next year’s convention the first weekend in June.
Christy Carello reviewed the criteria for the Ron Ryder Award:
distinguished service to CFO and its goals, scholarly contributions to
Colorado field ornithology and sharing knowledge of Colorado field
ornithology with others. The Ron Ryder Award is the highest honor
CFO can bestow and is not awarded every year. Christy introduced
the latest recipient, Dr. Catherine P. Ortega, formerly of Fort Lewis
College. Dr. Ortega thanked CFO Lifetime Achievement winner
Bob Spencer, “Bob and Bob” author Bob Andrews, and Ron Ryder
Award winner Alexander Cruz for inspiring her to study ornithology.
Keynote speaker Jon Dunn presented an informative and enjoyable shorebird identification class that provided many helpful hints
for distinguishing often confusing plumages within a challenging
family of birds. In time, tertials and coverts gave way to less technical
topics, including a few new names for birds. Jon suggested that Kentish Plover, at best a casual visitor to Kent County, England, might
better be named Kentless Plover. He continued that a bird unable
to pass a sobriety test likely is a Wilson’s Phalarope. Finally, Jon suggested birders in Colorado stay on the lookout for long-overdue Little
Stint, Spotted Redshank and Purple Sandpiper that could bring the
Colorado State list to 500 species. His advice for finding rare birds is
to become expert in identifying Colorado’s common birds.
More field trips Sunday, featuring Jon Dunn’s shorebird identification, and Monday concluded the convention.
Respectfully submitted,
Larry Modesitt, Secretary
Colorado Birds
Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
Recipient of the Ron Ryder Award:
Dr. Catherine P. Ortega
Christy Carello
The Ronald A. Ryder Award was established in 1995 in honor of
its namesake. Awards are given to those that meet all three of the following criteria: Distinguished service to CFO and it its goals, scholarly contributions to CFO and Colorado field ornithology and the
sharing of knowledge of Colorado field ornithology with the people
of the state of Colorado. Dr. Catherine P. Ortega, a former student
of Dr. Alex Cruz (a 2010 Ron Ryder recipient), was selected for the
2014 Ron Ryder award by the CFO board
of directors.
Dr. Ortega has studied birds for more
than 30 years, mostly in the state of Colorado. She is well known for her work on
cowbird parasitism, though her contributions extend far beyond that subject,
mostly in the area of avian conservation.
She began her studies as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado Boulder
where she completed an honors thesis on
egg acceptance of Shiny Cowbird eggs by
Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds and other
passerines in Puerto Rico. During this
same time period she also designed a Colorado-based study of Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism on Red-winged Blackbirds
and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. This study
Dr. Catherine P. Ortega
eventually became part of her Ph.D. thesis
and established her as a respected ornithologist.
After earning a doctorate degree at the University of Colorado
Boulder, Dr. Ortega served as a Professor of Biology at Fort Lewis College in Durango from 1991-2009 where she mentored and inspired
countless students. In addition to teaching courses in Ornithology,
Bird Identification and Wildlife Management, she also supervised
student research projects and encouraged students to participate in
her own research on cowbird parasitism and the effects of human
disturbance on birds. As a professor, she also served as director of the
San Juan Institute of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Today Dr. Ortega continues her work as a private consultant,
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
mainly conducting studies on avian conservation and advising private and government organizations on actions that impact natural
resources. Currently she works with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on
a wetland focus group helping landowners achieve the goals of the
North American Waterfowl Plan, the North American Waterbird
Conservation Plan, the United States Shorebird Conservation Plan
and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. She is coordinator of the San Juan Watershed and Woody-Invasive Initiative,
a partnership with four states (AZ, CO, NM, UT) and four Native
American Tribes (Jicarilla Apache Nation, Navajo Nation, Southern
Ute Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe) that implements citizen science programs and habitat restoration projects.
Dr. Ortega has served on the board of directors for CFO and has
authored more than 50 published articles, including six in Colorado
Birds, most of them focused on birds found in Colorado. A prodigious
speaker, she has given some 40 presentations at regional, national
and international conferences including two CFO conventions
(1991 and 2002). She has been awarded over $1,000,000 in grant
money to study birds and their habitats.
Dr. Ortega is an inspiration to young men and women pursuing
careers in Ornithology. Although we have known each other for more
than two decades, I only just met Dr. Ortega in person at the 2014
CFO convention in Sterling. She motivated me as a graduate student
and was the only female Ornithology professor I knew of who had
earned a Ph.D. at CU-Boulder. In fact, my own research on cowbirds
was inspired by Dr. Ortega’s work. She always made the time to correspond with me and I continue to reach out to her to discuss ideas for
research and experimental design. Dr. Ortega is a true field ornithologist, and it was an honor for me to personally present the Ron Ryder
award to her at the 2014 CFO convention in Sterling, Colorado.
Christy Carello, [email protected]
CFO Thanks Sean Walters Family
Joe Roller
On 5 December 2013 Sean Walters was delighted to spot an adult
male Varied Thrush eating millet below a feeder in his Loveland,
Colorado backyard. He posted the sighting on CFO’s COBirds listserv and quickly found himself host to scores of birders during the
busy holiday season. For several weeks the Walters welcomed birders
to their home.
Colorado Birds
Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
His parents, Michelle and Tom, and
his sister Meghan were
gracious hosts, allowing
guests to observe the
bird from their yard and
even from inside their
home. Nearly all of the
119 eager visitors were
able to see this handsome thrush, a rare winter visitor to Colorado
from the Pacific Northwest, as it lingered until
The Walters Family L to R: Tom, Meghan, Sean and Christmas Day. On one
occasion, Meghan took
a break from studying
in the basement and was surprised to find 10 strangers standing in the
living room! Her mother was nonplused with the daily traffic of birders, instead finding herself far more concerned that someone might
miss seeing the thrush.
Birders came from all over Colorado, but also from Wyoming and
Texas. According to Sean, “If the bird had stayed just a few more
days, we would have had the opportunity of meeting a vacationing
Welsh birder!”
CFO thanked the Walters Family with a special presentation of
a Homeowner’s Appreciation Award at the picnic prior to the 2014
convention in Sterling. When a rare bird visits a private home, we
could only hope the occupants prove to be as accommodating as the
Joe Roller, [email protected]
Dick Schottler Honored with CFO
Lifetime Achievement Award
Joe Roller
The CFO Lifetime Achievement Award honors, “A person of fine
character who has earned the esteem of birders by long service to the
birding community.” Previous recipients include Joe Himmel, Bob
Spencer, Warren Finch, Suzi Plooster and Lynn Wilcockson. In 2014
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
this honor was bestowed upon Dick Schottler at the annual convention hosted in Sterling, CO.
Born in New York in 1934, Dick fondly recalls his years in the
Boy Scouts, when he earned the Bird Study and Reptile Study merit
badges. Birding was put on the back burner during Dick’s college
years studying geological and mining engineering. While serving
in the US Navy on a minesweeper, he met Marie Ward, a nurse.
They were married in 1960, raised a son and daughter and now have
three grandchildren. Dick’s career was spent with the U.S. Bureau
of Mines, lastly as Chief of the Branch of Mineral Land Assessment.
The birding bug bit hard in June 1978 when Dick noticed a flock
of Western Tanagers in his backyard, and with them - a male Scarlet
Tanager! He reported the rarity to the Denver Field Ornithologists,
was invited to join the group and the rest is history. Soon he was leading the first of countless DFO field trips, helping beginners and inspiring all. He served as DFO vice president and managed its annual
Audubon Christmas Count for 24 years in addition to leading scores
of spring and fall counts at Barr Lake. Dick was honored with the
prestigious Ptarmigan Award for, “Outstanding, loyal and meritorious
service to the DFO and the advancement of bird study in Colorado.”
Dick “worked his patch,” the Wheat Ridge Green Belt, for decades. In May 1993 he heard an unfamiliar song and tracked down
the singer - Colorado’s first Red-faced Warbler! He called the Rare
Bird Alert compiler and buddies who lived nearby, and soon birders
arrived in a sweat to see this gem. Although it was a one-day wonder, more than 50 birders were able to see it. This warbler earned a
special place among the 341 species seen over the decades on Dick’s
Jefferson County list.
Dick also served on
the Colorado Bird Record
Committee for six years.
For years he tirelessly prepared and recorded the daily Rare Bird Report, kicking
off each message with his
signature greeting, “Howdy,
Friends describe Dick as
fun to be with in the field,
a curious naturalist and an
all-round good guy. He and
Warren Finch, a boon companion, ventured to Cali- Dick Schottler
Colorado Birds
Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
fornia in 1986 in search of California Condors, then on the brink
of extinction. Dick referred to the trip as “three days of the condor.”
They found Golden Eagles feeding on carrion, and when two Condors swooped in, the flustered eagles vamoosed and seemed tiny by
Accepting the award, Dick noted that it should have been given
to his wife, Marie, instead! “She deserved the award for putting up
with my obsession for over thirty years - intrusive phone calls, missed
meals, pre-dawn departures and the surest way to earn ‘doghouse
days,’ spring counts on Mothers Day!”
Congratulations from the CFO to Dick Schottler (and Marie) for
your achievements of a lifetime!
Joe Roller, [email protected]
CFO and WFO Announce New Partnership
CFO has entered into a relationship with Western Field Ornithologists
(WFO) in order to benefit members of both organizations. Currently, officers
and board members of both organizations are communicating how each organization functions, how best to partner and how to mutually benefit. Goals we will
pursue include sharing of technical reviewers for each other’s journal (Western
Birds and Colorado Birds), field trips led by members of both organizations, invitations to attend each other’s conference at member rates, publicity with links
to each other’s websites to share information and reduced rates for members of
each organization to join the other. Liaison between the two organizations will
be Larry Modesitt from CFO and Jon Dunn from WFO.
CFO President Bill Kaempfer said, “Western Field Ornithologists is a great
organization of amateur and professional field ornithologists that promotes the
study of birds throughout western North America including Hawaii, the northeastern Pacific Ocean and western Mexico. I’m excited to invite WFO members
to participate in our programs and to learn more about their programs and initiatives with the goal of making both organizations stronger.”
WFO president Dave Quady said, “I’m very pleased that we and Colorado
Field Ornithologists, an organization whose purposes so closely parallel WFO’s,
have developed this partnership, and we look forward to identifying ways that
the members of both organizations can benefit from it in the years ahead.”
Larry Modesitt, [email protected]
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
Who was John Cassin and why were
so many birds named after him?
Robert Righter
From a back room of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia one of the foremost ornithologists of the nineteenth century,
John Cassin conducted his business, deciding which specimens were
new to science and which were duplicates or variations of a previously known species. Cassin was a highly skilled “closet” ornithologist,
more interested in describing bird specimens from inside the Academy than venturing outside in pursuit of new ones.
During this era very little was known
about the lands west of the Mississippi
River. The United States government had
a great interest in mapping western topographic features for military purposes, and
later for determining feasible routes for a
new Pacific Railroad. As a consequence
many government expeditions, small and
large, were launched for scientific purposes.
If you loved adventure and relished finding
new birds, one way to go was to be assigned
to a scientific expedition. Alternately, many
naturalists in the 1830s-1850s, inspired by
Lewis and Clark and John James Audubon,
simply went out on their own with a backpack and rifle. Both of these methods produced a steady flow of new specimens to be
and most of these would find their
John Cassin by Unknown - The
to Spencer Baird at the SmithsoOsprey Volume 1 1902
nian Institution in Washington, D.C., or to
John Cassin at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
A strong connection developed between Cassin and several of
these field naturalists, forged with the language of natural history. It
was common for these “field trips” to last years, and loneliness was a
very real obstacle. The connection with Cassin offered motivation.
A Naturalist may have wondered how Cassin would appreciate his
new specimens, or imagined what was going on back at the Academy
in Philadelphia. Cassin himself spent time wondering about the naturalists. What was being collected? Were they OK? When might they
return to Philadelphia with new specimens for him to sort through?
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Remarkably, ornithologists at
that time from different museums
were very cooperative with each
other, sharing both specimens
and information. In particular
Cassin and Baird were quite close,
a friendship that even included
naming species after one another.
Before a potential new species
could acquire its vernacular and
scientific names, an ornithologist would typically take extensive measurements and compare
the new specimen to those in his
collection. If it was determined
that what he was looking at was
Cassin’s Auklet, Santa Barbara Channel, in fact different enough to warCalifornia, 1 March 2009. Photo by David rant species status, it was then
his prerogative to assign the new
species its common and scientific
name. Sometimes the original collector would ask the describing
ornithologist to name the new species after someone he wanted to
acknowledge. It is of interest that none of the birds carrying Cassin’s
name were described by him.
William Gambel, (1823-1849), inspired by Thomas Nuttall,
probably the most knowledgeable naturalist of the day, was one of
those who grabbed his rifle, shouldered his pack and headed west
to California. While on the west coast, Gambel bagged a footballshaped, dark alcid that he named after his friend Cassin. At the time
he didn’t know that the Russian scientist, Peter Pallas (1741-1811),
had previously described the bird. In keeping with ornithological
priority, the scientific name, Ptychoramphus aleuticus, remains as
first described by Pallas but the common name, Cassin’s Auklet,
Cassin’s Kingbird was first collected in Mexico in the 1820s by the
father-and-son team of William Bullock, Sr. and William Bullock, Jr.,
and was described by William Swainson, in England in 1826. However, in 1850 George Lawrence (1806-1895), living in New York,
described what he thought was a new flycatcher collected in Texas,
which he named Cassin’s Kingbird. Later, similar to the Cassin’s
Auklet situation, the scientific name assigned by Swainson remained,
but Cassin’s name remained with the new kingbird. Errors like this
were relatively common during that era as ornithologists often didn’t
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
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know what was in the collections
of other museums. While zoological collections were increasing in
this country, the largest collections
were still in Europe, and there were
also many private collections in
Europe, USA and elsewhere. Compounding the problem was the fact
that collections were often bought
and sold, making it virtually impossible to know what was where
Cassin’s Sparrow, Cheyenne County, CO,
at any given time.
Cassin’s Sparrow was collected July 2005. Photo by Bill Schmoker
near San Antonio, Texas, in 1851
by Dr. Samuel Woodhouse. The naturalist suffered a wound to the
leg by a Yavapai arrow and was bitten on the hand by a rattlesnake,
but he continued collecting, even bagging a sparrow that he named
for his friend John Cassin.
During the winter of 1853-54, two naturalists attached to a Pacific Railroad Survey, Dr. Caleb Kennerly and H. B. Mollhausen collected a finch New Mexico. The specimen was sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it was described by
Spencer Baird. Since Baird and Cassin were great friends, Baird
classified and named the new finch Carpodacus cassinii, commonly
known as Cassin’s Finch.
In 1861, at the age of forty-seven, Cassin felt obliged to volunteer during the Civil War on the side of the Union Army. Shortly
after he joined he was captured by the Confederates and marched
south where he was incarcerated in the notorious Libby Prison
in Richmond Virginia.
Like nearly every other
prisoner at Libby, Cassin’s health failed. He
never fully recovered,
dying four years after his
release, yet his legacy
lives on in the many
Cassin’s Finch, Boulder County, 7 May birds that were named
2014. Photo by David Waltman
after him.
Robert Righter, [email protected]
Colorado Birds
Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
Summer 2014 (June–July)
Peter Gent
Overview of the Season
“News from the Field” contains reports of rare birds sighted in
Colorado. These reports are compiled from the COBirds listserv
([email protected]), eBird (, and the West Slope
Birding Network ([email protected]).
Very rare species that were reported nesting in unusual places in
Colorado this summer were Red-necked Grebe, Acorn Woodpecker,
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Pacific Wren and Painted Bunting.
The monthly average temperature in Denver was normal in June
and was very slightly above normal in July, even though July seemed
cooler than most recent Julys to me. Precipitation in Denver was
1.82 in. in June, which is 0.16 in. below normal, however the 3.85
in. received in July was 1.69 in. above normal, making it a fairly rainy
The reports contained herein are largely unchecked, and the
editors do not necessarily vouch for their authenticity. Species in
capitals are those for which the Colorado Bird Records Committee
(CBRC) requests documentation. Please submit your sightings of
these “review” species through the CFO website at
Abbreviations: CFO-Colorado Field Ornithologists; CG- campground; CR- County Road; m.ob. - many observers, Res. - Reservoir.
Red-necked Grebe: Chuck Hundertmark and Paul Slingsby report
on birds seen at Lake John in North
Park, Jackson. A pair were first seen
building a nest on 30 May, and on
10 July photographs were taken that
appear to show three eggs. A total
of three adults were seen on 19 July.
When they left the nest area, no eggs
or eggshells were observed in the nest
or young birds seen on the lake. On
31 July a single adult and no young
were observed. So, the nesting attempt was assumed to be unsuccessful. However, this is the first report of
a nesting attempt by this species in
Colorado, and the location is many
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
hundreds of miles south of the regular
breeding area for this species, which
is northwest Montana and eastern
North and South Dakota. This was
truly a very unexpected breeding record for Colorado.
seen at Denny Lake in Cortez, Montezuma, 5- 10 June (NM, SM), and
another was at the Holcim Wetlands,
Fremont, also on 10 June (RM).
Great Egret: Young birds were
seen near nests at Walden Res., Jackson, on 17 July and 1 Aug (CH, PS).
This is probably the first nesting record for the county.
Vol. 49 No. 1
Barrow’s Goldeney, Echo Lake, Clear
Creek County, 12 July 2014. Photo by
David Leatherman
Red-necked Grebe, Lake John, Jackson County, 17 June 2014. Photo by
Charles Hundertmark
White-tailed Ptarmigan, Loveland Pass, Clear Creek County, 27 July 2014. Photo
by Janeal W. Thompson
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Ferruginous Hawk, Road V north of
Eads, Kiowa County, 11 July 2014.
Photo by David Leatherman
Mountain Plover, Pawnee National
Grasslands, Weld County, 7 July 2014.
Photo by Mark Chavez
Red Phalarope, Wahatoya Lake, Huerfano County, 31 July 2014. Photo by
Polly Wren Nelder
Least Tern, Sutphen’s Gravel Ponds,
Lamar, Prowers County, 8 June 2014.
Photo by David Leatherman
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Fremont County, 20 July 2014. Photo by Mark Chavez
Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Greenhorn
Park, Colorado City, Pueblo County,
16 July 2014. Photo by Janeal W.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Walsh, Baca
County 7 July 2014. Photo by Janeal
W. Thompson
Pacific Wren, near Telluride, San
Miguel County, 17 July 2014. Photo
by Paul Tickner
Acorn Woodpecker, Stoney Pass Road,
Jefferson County, 16 June 2014. Photo
by Mark Chavez
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Grace’s Warbler, Eldorado Mountain
Open Space, Boulder County, 2 June
2014. Photo by Peter Burke
Loggerhead Shrike, CR 5 north of Buckeye Rd., Lamar County, 23 June 2014.
Photo by David Leatherman
Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, Summit
Lake, Summit County, 13 July 2014.
Photo by Mark Chavez
Red Crossbill, Sullivan’s feeder west of
Stove Prairie, Larimer County, 18 June
2014. Photo by David Leatherman
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Blue-winged Warbler, Welchester Tree
Park, Jefferson County, 15 June 2014.
Photo by Mark Chavez
Vol. 49 No. 1
Black Phoebe, Boulder Creek and 75th
Street, Boulder County, 24 June 2014.
Photo by Jane Baryames
McCown’s Longspur, Pawnee National
Grasslands, Weld County, 30 June
2014. Photo by David Leatherman
was seen at Cherry Creek State Park,
Arapahoe, on 12 June (PP), and another was at the Holcim Wetlands,
Fremont, on 15 June (SEM).
Cattle Egret: Adults and young
were seen out of the nest at Walden
Res., Jackson, on 17 July (CH, PS).
This is also probably the first nesting
record for the county.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHTHERON: An adult was seen on the
island at Glenmere Park in Greeley,
Weld, on 8 June (GL), one was seen
at the intersection of CR 17 and CR
196, Prowers, on 10 June (JS, JT),
and a one-year old bird was at Stalker
Lake, Yuma, on 17 July (SM, SW).
Mississippi Kite: One was seen
and photographed in Fort Collins,
Larimer, on 21 June (GD, DW). This
species is slowly spreading north and
west towards the northern Front
Range of Colorado.
Sandhill Crane: A pair with a
good-sized juvenile was seen near Carbondale, Garfield, on 18 July (TM),
which is possibly the first nesting record of this species in the county.
Red Phalarope: A female was seen
at Wahatoya Lake, Huerfano, on 31
July (P&PN).
was seen at Ball Res. in the northeast corner of Elbert county on 1 June
(SM), and one was seen at John Martin Res., Bent, on 7 June (DN).
A female bird was seen at John Martin
Res., Bent, also on 7 June (DN), and
another bird was seen at Navajo State
Park, Archuleta, on 19 June (ED).
There are five previously accepted records for Colorado, the last of which
was seen at the rest stop in Julesburg
for much of November 2011.
several birds seen at the Nucla sewage ponds, Montrose, in the spring
continued to be seen at that location
between 1 and 19 June (BW, CD).
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD: A female was seen in Cheraw,
Otero, on 29 July (SM).
was seen on Stoney Pass Road, which
is northwest of Cheeseman Lake, Jefferson, between 7 and 20 June (JL,
m.ob.) and several Red-headed Wood-
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peckers were also regularly seen at this
location. A nesting pair with young
was seen at the Pueblo Mountain Park,
Pueblo, between 12 June and 8 July
singing bird was seen along the Poudre
River bike trail in Fort Collins, Larimer,
between 26 and 30 June (JM, m.ob.).
Black Phoebe: One was regularly
seen at the 75th Street bridge over
Boulder Creek, Boulder, throughout the
whole summer period (PG, m.ob.).
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher: A pair
was regularly seen near Wetmore, Fremont, between 8 and 31 July (RM, SEM,
m.ob.). Nest building was observed, but
it was not determined whether eggs
were laid, and no young were observed
in the nest. This species only breeds
regularly in the very southeast corner
of Colorado.
PACIFIC WREN: One was heard
singing along the Bear Creek Trail in
Telluride, Ouray, between 13 and 18
July (J&DL, CD), with nest-building
behavior seen on 18 July. This is the
first summer record of this species in
the state with nesting behavior observed, and the first report of this species from the West Slope of Colorado.
Wood Thrush: Very unusual in
summer was one seen in Colorado City,
Pueblo, between 2 and 4 June (DS, VR).
Blue-winged Warbler: The male
that was at Welchester Tree Park, Jefferson, during the last week of May was
regularly seen in the same location between 1 and 26 June (m.ob.). This bird
stayed for over a month before finally
giving up on finding a female.
Golden-winged Warbler: One was
seen at the Lamar Community College,
Prowers, on 6 June (PH).
LUCY’S WARBLER: Seven birds
were seen in Yellowjacket Canyon,
Montezuma, on 5 June (SM), which is
probably the largest number ever seen
in this location.
Painted Bunting: A pair was seen
feeding young in Picture Canyon, Baca,
on 9 June (DL), for a rare confirmed
breeding record of this species in Colorado.
Many thanks to the volunteer regional compilers: Jim Beatty (southwest), Coen Dexter
(west central), John Drummond (southeast), Forrest Luke (northwest), and Brandon
Percival (Pueblo area). Special thanks to Tony Leukering for extracting all the data from
eBird, and preparing a table of all the reports from Colorado.
ED: Eric DeFonso; CD: Coen Dexter; GD: Georgia Doyle; JD: John Drummond; KMD:
Kathy Mihm Dunning; PG: Peter Gent; CH: Charles Hundertmark; PH: Paul Hurtado;
BK: Bill Kaempfer; JL: Jean Langel; DL: Dave Leatherman; GL: Gary Lefko: J&DL: Jeannette &Derek Lovitch; JM: Joe Mammoser; TM: Tom McConnell; RM: Rich Miller;
SM: Steve Mlodinow; NM: Nick Moore; SEM: SeEtta Moss; P&PN: Polly Wren & Paul
Nelder; DN: Duane Nelson; BKP: Brandon Percival; PP: Philip Pratt; VR: Van Remsen;
DS: Dave Silverman; PS: Paul Slingsby; JS: Jane Stulp; JT: Janeal Thompson; DW: David Wade; SW: Sean Walters; BW: Brenda Wright.
Peter Gent, [email protected]
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
Dave Leatherman
Big birds flying overhead, crossing one’s windshield, making a big
moving shadow beside the trail – all tend to catch one’s eye. At least
once, I’d wager, everyone reading this article has focused on a big
bird, and found it to be a hawk carrying a snake. Snakes are one
of those natural objects that tend to attract human attention. Like
spiders, our reaction to snakes, often fear, seems inborn. Oh, some of
us counterintuitive souls can learn to appreciate, even marvel at serpents. Of course, many of us feel the same about birds. Appreciating
both once landed me in Fort Collins Municipal Court, an incident
that also, unfairly, could be blamed on Nathan Pieplow and a pair of
It was one of those days when winter was calling it a season and
spring flipped the storefront sign to “OPEN.” In Fort Collins’ Pineridge Natural Area, along a ridge east of Dixon Reservoir, flew two
Black-billed Magpies heading southeast in single file. In the bill of
the front bird, and obviously desired by the rear one, was a fairly large
snake. The predator, prey and pursuer quickly flew over the hill and
out of sight. My thoughts were, “First snake of the year. Didn’t know
magpies killed live snakes. Wonder what kind it was?” And without
hesitation, up the slope I went. At its crest, the feather and scale pairing I sought was long gone.
Fifteen minutes later a Trail Ranger with one article of clothing
in a bind, unceremoniously grilled me about why I was off-trail in
an un-posted “No Access” area. I quickly developed an attitude,
which, however justified, probably hurt my chances for leniency.
Instead of doing what I was doing - trying to see what kind of snake
a magpie was carrying - it was hinted I was probably really hunting Native American artifacts or endangered plants. My attitude
intensified, which is when Mr. Pieplow entered the story. I muttered something to Deputy so-and-so about this being, “as ridiculous
as the warning I had been given by a different ranger earlier that
year for going off-trail to help Nathan record a ‘stub-tailed’ wren
we thought might be a Pacific Wren.” Busted! Suddenly my current transgression was elevated to a second offense, which in the
black-and-white world of ticket books triggered a mandatory court
appearance. The conclusion of this story includes the District Attorney laughing at my explanation for what placed me in this predicament, something about my wearing an orange “research” vest
Colorado Birds
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if I wanted to be curious like this again, one year’s probation and
directions for paying court costs.
But I digress.
Yes, snakes as bird food. “The Hungry Bird.”
Colorado Snakes
Colorado is home to 25 species of snakes, with records of unknown
veracity for an additional four. Mere mortals have a reasonable shot
at seeing 250-350 bird species in Colorado in a year. But even if,
while in the field looking for birds, we are paying attention to snakes,
a year list for them above 10 species is pretty special.
There are several attributes that increase snakes’ vulnerability to
bird predation, among them: 1) relative abundance, 2) diurnal behavior (active during daylight hours), 3) conspicuous appearance (in
pattern or movements), 4) lack of exceptional defenses, 5) association with other bird food items (e.g. rodents) or feeding areas (e.g.
roadsides) and 6) knack for becoming road kill or other scenarios
conducive to being scavenged.
Our most common diurnal species include Gopher Snake (a.k.a.
“bullsnake” Pituophis catenifer), a few garter snakes (Western Terrestrial (Thamnophis elegans), Common (T. sirtalis) and Plains (T. radix)), Racer (Coluber constrictor), Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum),
Western Hognose (Heterodon nasicus) and Western Rattlesnake
(Crotalus viridis).
With no proof or literature citation, I will come out of a hole and
say these eight species account for the bulk of snakes in Colorado
bird diets.
Snake-eating Birds
The great majority of birds that eat snakes on a regular basis
come from just a few families: Bitterns, Herons and allies (Ardeidae); Hawks, Kites, Eagles and allies (Accipitridae); Typical Owls
(Stringidae); Caracaras and Falcons (Falconidae) and Jays and
Crows (Corvidae). Other families containing species known to at
least occasionally eat snakes are: Partridges, Grouse, Turkeys and
Old World Quail (Phasianidae); Storks (Ciconiidae); Darters (Anhingidae); Ibises and Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae); New World
Vultures (Cathartidae); Ospreys (Pandionidae); Rails, Gallinules
and Coots (Rallidae); Cranes (Gallidae); Cuckoos, Roadrunners
and Anis (Cuculidae); Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae); Thrushes
(Turdidae); Mockingbirds and Thrashers (Mimidae) and Blackbirds
(Icteridae) (Beal 1916).
Based on personal experiences and those of other Colorado birders
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
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I have talked to, species that
eat the most snakes in our state
are probably American Bittern,
Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Mississippi Kite, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk,
Greater Roadrunner, Eastern
Screech-Owl, Burrowing Owl,
American Kestrel, American
Crow, Great-tailed Grackle
and Common Grackle. Perhaps topping the list is Redtailed Hawk (Fig. 1) with more
than 50 percent of its dietary Fig. 1. Red-tailed Hawk eating a Coachwhip (jubiomass in at least one United venile?), Fairmount Cemetery, Lamar, Prowers
States location and season be- County, CO. Photo by Janeal Thompson
ing snakes (Knight 1976).
Great Blue Heron is probably a
strong challenger at times.
The complete roster of
birds on the Colorado checklist mentioned as eating
snakes: Wood Stork (Coulter
1999), Anhinga (Bent 1922,
Imhof 1962), American Bittern (Ingram 1941), Least
Bittern (Palmer 2009), Great
Blue Heron (Baynard 1912),
Great Egret (Baynard 1912),
Snowy Egret (Kushlan 1978),
Cattle Egret (Mcdonald 1971), Fig. 2. Red-shouldered Hawk with Rough Green
Green Heron (Kushlan 1978), Snake (Opheodrys aestivus) in Louisiana. PhoBlack-crowned Night-Heron to by Bill Schmoker
(Bent 1926), Yellow-crowned
Night-Heron (Hopkins 1975), White Ibis (Baynard 1912), Glossy
Ibis (Baynard 1913), Turkey Vulture (Rapp 1943), Osprey (Poole
2002), Swallow-tailed Kite (Meyer 1990), Mississippi Kite (Parker
1999), Common Black Hawk (Cottam 1939), Harris’s Hawk (Bednarz 1988), Red-shouldered Hawk (Bednarz 1985, Dykstra 2003)
(Fig. 2), Broad-winged Hawk (Goodrich 2014, Matray 1974, Slud
1964), Swainson’s Hawk (Bent 1937, Fitzner 1978, Bednarz 1988),
Red-tailed Hawk (Preston 2009), Golden Eagle (Bent 1937), Virginia Rail (Conway 1995), Purple Gallinule (Helm 1982), Sandhill
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Fig. 3. Western Terrestrial
Garter Snake impaled on
fence by Loggerhead Shrike
near San Luis, Costilla
County, 25 May 2009. Photo by David Leatherman
Crane (Bennett 1978, Mullins 1978), Whooping Crane (Hunt 1987), Greater Roadrunner
(Hughes 2011, Meinzer 1993), Eastern ScreechOwl (Gehlbach 1984), Burrowing Owl (Poulin 2011), Crested Caracara (Morrison 2012),
American Kestrel (Smallwood 2002), Great Kiskadee (Brush 2002), Pinyon Jay (Bendire 1895),
Western Scrub-Jay (Brown 1963), American
Crow (Kilham 1989), Eastern Bluebird (Flanigan 1971), American Robin (Davis 1969, Richmond 1975, Erickson 1978), Brown Thrasher
(Bent 1916, Flanigan 1971) and Great-tailed
Grackle (Davis 1972). While not specifically
mentioned in the Birds of North America accounts for shrikes, Bill Maynard and I have observed snakes impaled by Loggerhead Shrikes
(Laniidae) in Florida and Colorado, respectively
(Fig. 3). Common Grackles also eat snakes. See
below for details. No doubt many other Colorado birds rarely, maybe even regularly, eat snakes.
Bird species occurring in North America but
not in Colorado that eat snakes include various
introduced francolins (Telfer 1986), Common
Peafowl (Kannan 1998), Short-tailed Hawk
(Ogden 1974), White-tailed Hawk (Stevenson
1946), Gray Hawk (Bibles 2002), Elf Owl (Ligon 1968), Whiskered Screech-Owl (Gehlbach
2000), Aplomado Falcon (Keddy-Hector 2000),
Island and Florida Scrub-Jay (Atwood 1978,
Woolfenden 1976), Mexican Jay (Brown 1963),
Northwestern Crow (Verbeek 1998, Verbeek
1999) and LeConte’s Thrasher (Sheppard 1996).
The Ecology and Physiology of Snake-eating by Birds
Birds commonly find snakes by hovering, watching the advancing
front of significant terrestrial events like floods or fires (Hunt 1987,
Keddy-Hector 2000), carefully observing wetlands and riparian strips
and cruising roads and roadsides. Roadways are particularly productive since: 1) the road surface itself provides a background against
which snakes are conspicuous, 2) the heat-conserving road surface
is attractive to cold-blooded creatures like snakes (especially in late
afternoon and for several hours after sunset), 3) crossing them necessarily places distance between the snake and escape cover, 4) road30
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
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side edges often are vegetated
with plants attractive to rodents that serve as food for
both birds and snakes and 5)
vehicles often convert snakes
from living things into carrion (Stevenson 1946, Rapp
Once found, how a bird
eats a snake seems to depend on both the size of the
bird and the snake. Smaller
snakes captured by larger
birds are gulped down whole. Fig. 4. Common Grackle eating captured Plains
Larger snakes are usually Garter Snake, Fort Collins, Larimer County,
skinned and the meat pulled Grandview Cemetery, 8 June 2013. Photo by
in chunks from the skeleton David Leatherman
(Goodrich 2014). It should
be noted that birds observed interacting with snakes are often defending themselves or their nests, not necessarily attempting to eat
them. In fact a tables-turned article detailing snake consumption of
birds, including their eggs, would be much longer than this one.
And there are variations on the above themes. Sometimes only
certain parts of the snake are eaten, as with the American Crow that
caught a Red-sided Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis), cut
it open, and only ate the liver (Aleksiuk 1977). Some birds, including American Crow, cache snakes (Kilham 1989). Snakes, obviously
small ones, can be fed to nestlings. Would you believe Purple Gallinules and robins do this (Helm 1982, Richmond 1975)? Probably
only owls regularly find nocturnally-active snakes, but when they
do, the snakes are fair game. Examples include Elf Owls eating Blind
Snakes (Leptotyphlops sp. or spp.) (Henry 1999) and Eastern ScreechOwls eating Blind, Earth (Virginia spp.) and Ground (Sonora semiannulata) Snakes (Gehlbach 1995). No doubt birds in the habit of
hunting roads in early morning take advantage of road-killed nocturnal snakes not already taken by nighttime scavengers.
As often occurs with birds and caterpillars, the minutes immediately before and after snake capture by a bird can involve considerable animation and violence. Red-tailed Hawks sometimes engage in
erratic hopping (me too!) when confronting a snake (Bent 1937). A
snake’s ability to bite, whether involving a venomous species or not,
needs to be deactivated. This usually includes a bite right behind
the head, grasping the snake at mid-body and whipping the head
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forcefully against a hard object like the ground or a rock (Preston
2009, Hughes 2011) or beheading altogether. I once witnessed an
American Bittern at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in South
Texas that, from a distance, looked like a cowboy practicing fancy
rope work. The prey was a long (in excess of 5 feet), mostly-black
snake. For lack of a proper ID, let’s call it a “Lariat Snake.”
Snake consumption alone can meet a bird’s water requirements
(Hughes 2011). Particularly in northern latitudes, for reasons of
availability, snake inclusion in bird diets is higher in the warm
months (Hughes 2011). Both statements directly reference roadrunners, but probably apply to some degree to most snake-consuming
bird species.
A venomous snake can be killed and eaten with no ill effects to its
avian foe. Roadrunners, Red-tailed Hawks and White-tailed Hawks
are examples (Hughes 2011, Fitch 1978, Farquhar 1986). However,
one study of Red-tailed Hawks found that although they kill and eat
rattlesnakes (Sistrurus spp. and Crotalus spp.) they do so with less frequency than would be expected for their relative abundance to nonvenomous species (Fitch 1946). The capture of big snakes, including
rattlesnakes, by Roadrunners can involve teamwork among cohorts
(Meinzer 1993). Other birds, such as Common Black Hawk, seem to
avoid venomous species (Schnell 1988). Captive Great Kiskadees,
known to eat certain small snakes, avoided models painted like the
small, poisonous Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius tener) in one experiment (Smith 1976). One has to wonder if the Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum), a widely-distributed-in-Colorado, diurnally-active,
non-poisonous Batesian mimic of the Coral Snake, benefits from its
coloration in the form of reduced avian predation? In other words, do
birds know key points of the ditty “red touch yellow, kills a fellow, red
touch black, friend of Jack”?
Noteworthy Anecdotes
While the literature contains reference to Great-tailed Grackles
eating snakes (Davis 1972), this habit is not specifically mentioned
for Common Grackle. Based on the following observation, the high
proportion of meat in the typical diet of this bird, and its affinity
for riparian habitats where garter snakes abundantly occur, I suspect
grackle predation on snakes is not particularly unusual. On 8 June
2013 at Grandview Cemetery in Fort Collins, I observed a grackle
that flew under a lilac bush near the irrigation ditch carrying a large
object. This proved to be a Plains Garter Snake (Fig. 4). While I was
not able to watch the whole process, the portion that was observed
involved the bird peeling back the skin an inch or so, tearing off
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
pieces of muscle, additional
peeling, and so forth (picture
somebody older than eight
eating a Hershey bar). A
passing car flushed the bird
before it finished its meal, resulting in a 14-inch piece of
snake’s body and tail lying on
the grass (Fig. 5).
A detailing of the diet of
Loggerhead Shrikes will probably be fodder for a future The
Hungry Bird, but their predation on snakes warrants coverage here. As stated earlier,
“reptiles” are mentioned in
a general sense in the literature pertaining to shrike diets
(Yosef 1993) but I could not
locate anything documenting specific use of snakes. Bill
Maynard told me he once saw
a headless Florida Kingsnake
impaled by a Loggerhead
Shrike on a citrus tree thorn
in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida. My not-asexotic observation was of a
fence-impaled Western Terrestrial Garter Snake on 22
May 2009 near San Luis in
Costilla County (Fig. 3).
As the grand finale to this
discussion, there is Rachel
Hopper’s interesting story. It
occurred during the August
2014 Annual Long Pond Association Beach Party near
the prestigious Fort Collins
Country Club. A Swainson’s
Hawk brought a large Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
to a pole above the proceed-
Fig. 5. Uneaten portion of Plains Garter Snake
killed by a Common Grackle, Grandview Cemetery, Fort Collins, Larimer County, 8 June 2013.
Photo by David Leatherman
Fig. 6. Swainson’s Hawk with large, gravid Western Terrestrial Garter Snake, Long Pond, Fort Collins, 5 August 2014. Photo by Rachel Hopper
Fig. 7. Two of seven unborn Western Terrestrial Garter Snakes removed from the abdomen of
the mother snake and discarded by a Swainson’s
Hawk, Long Pond, Fort Collins, 5 August 2014.
Photo by Rachel Hopper
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Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
ings and began to dine (Fig. 6). Hey, it’s a picnic, right? Interestingly,
and distinctly anything but “elegant” (as the snake’s Latin specific
epithet implies), the buteo opened the snake’s abdomen and into the
party below coldly bombed large pieces of carcass. Upon inspection,
these proved to be seven unborn baby snakes (Fig. 7). Apparently
this classless hawk did not have a pallet for snake “veal.” Neighborhood Association membership declined.
And remember, if you should glance off-trail one day and happen
to see a bird in possession of a snake, don’t let curiosity get the best
of you. Unless, that is, the $25 bucks for court costs is burning a hole
in your pocket.
Aleksiuk, M. 1977. Sources of mortality in concentrated garter snake populations. Can.
Field-Nat. 91:70-72.
Atwood, J. L. 1978. Breeding biology of the Santa Cruz Island Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma
coerulescens insularis. Master’s Thesis. California State Univ. Long Beach.
Baynard, O. E. 1912. Food of herons and ibises. Wilson Bull. 24:167-169.
Baynard, E. O. 1913. Home life of the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis autumnolis Linn.). Wilson
Bull. 20:103-117.
Beal, F. E. L., W. L. McAtee, and E. R. Kalmbach. 1916. Common birds of southeastern
United States in relation to agriculture. U.S. Dep. Agric. Farmer’s Bull. 755.
Bednarz, J. C. 1988. A comparative study of the breeding ecology of Harris’ and Swainson’s hawks in southeastern New Mexico. Condor 90:311-323.
Bednarz, J. C. and J. J. Dinsmore. 1985. Flexible dietary-response and feeding ecology
of the Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo-lineatus, in Iowa. Canadian Field-Naturalist
Bennett, A. J. 1978. Ecology and status of the Greater Sandhill Cranes in the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Bendire, C.E. 1895. Life histories of North American birds. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 3
Bent, A. C. 1922. Life histories of North American petrels and pelicans and their allies.
U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 121.
Bent, A. C. 1926. Life histories of North American marsh birds. Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. No. 135, Washington, D.C.
Bent, A. C. 1937. Life histories of North American birds of prey, pt. 1. U.S. Natl. Mus.
Bull. 167.
Bibles, Brent D., Richard L. Glinski and R. Roy Johnson. 2002. Gray Hawk (Buteo
plagiatus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab
of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.
Brown, J. L. 1963. Social organization and behavior of the Mexican Jay. Condor 65:126-153.
Brush, Timothy and John W. Fitzpatrick. 2002. Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus),
The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.
Contreras, B. A. J. and S. C. H. Trevino. 1987. Notas sobre predacion de aves en reptiles.
Southwest Nat. 32:505-506.
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Conway, Courtney J. 1995. Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola), The Birds of North America
Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds
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Coulter, M. C., J. A. Rodgers, J. C. Ogden and F. C. Depkin. 1999. Wood Stork (Mycteria americana), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell
Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.
Davis, W.F. 1969. Robin kills snake. Wilson Bull. 81:470-471.
Davis II, W. R. and K. A. Arnold. 1972. Food habits of the Great-tailed Grackle in Brazos County, Texas. Condor 74:439-446.
Dykstra, C. R., J. L. Hays, M. M. Simon, and F. B. Daniel. 2003. Behavior and prey of
nesting Red-shouldered Hawks in southwestern Ohio. Journal of Raptor Research
Erickson, D.B. 1978. Robin feeding on snake. Murrelet 59:26.
Farquhar, C. C. 1986. Ecology and breeding behavior of the White-tailed Hawk on
the northern coastal prairies of Texas. PhD. diss. Texas A & M Univ. College Station.
Fitch, H. S., F. Swenson, and D. F. Tillotson. 1946. Behavior and food habits of the Redtailed Hawk. Condor 48:205-257.
Fitch, H. S. and R. O. Bare. 1978. A field study of the Red-tailed Hawk in eastern Kansas. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 81:1-13.
Fitzner, R. E. 1980. Behavioral ecology of the Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) in
Washington. Pac. NW Lab. PLN-2754.
Flanigan, A. B. 1971. Predation on snakes by eastern bluebird and brown thrasher. Wilson Bull. 83:441.
Gehlbach, Frederick R. 1995. Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio), The Birds of
North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
Gehlbach, Frederick R. and Nancy Y. Gehlbach. 2000. Whiskered Screech-Owl (Megascops trichopsis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://
Goodrich, L. J., S. T. Crocoll and S. E. Senner. 2014. Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of
Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.
Helm, R. N. 1982. Chronological nesting study of Common and Purple gallinules in the
marshlands and rice fields of southwestern Louisiana. Master’s Thesis. Louisiana State
Univ. Baton Rouge, La.
Henry, Susanna G. and Frederick R. Gehlbach. 1999. Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi),
The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.
Hopkins, Jr., M. N. 1975. The birdlife of Ben Hill County, Georgia and adjacent areas.
Occas. Publ. Georgia Ornithol. Soc. no. 5.
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Hughes, Janice M. 2011. Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), The Birds of
North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
Hunt, H. E. 1987. The effects of burning and grazing on habitat use by Whooping Cranes
and Sandhill Cranes on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Phd Thesis. Texas
A&M Univ. College Station.
Imhof, T. A. 1962. Alabama birds. Univ. of Alabama Press, Montgomery.
Ingram, W. M. 1941. American Bittern eats garter snake. Auk 58:253.
Kannan, Ragupathy and Douglas A. James. 1998. Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus), The
Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology;
Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
Keddy-Hector, Dean P. 2000. Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis), The Birds of North
America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved
from the Birds of North America Online:
Kilham, L. 1989. The American Crow and the Common Raven. Texas A&M Univ.
Press, College Station.
Knight, R. L. and A. W. Erickson. 1976. High incidence of snakes in the diet of nesting
Red-tailed Hawks. Raptor Res. 10:108-111.
Kushlan, J. A. 1978. Feeding ecology of wading birds. Pages 249-297 in Wading birds.
(Sprunt IV, A., J. C. Ogden, and S. Winkler, Eds.) Nat. Aud. Soc. Res. Rep. No. 7,
New York.
Ligon, J. D. 1968. The biology of the Elf Owl, Micrathene whitneyi. Univ. Mich. Mus.
Zool. Misc. Publ. 136.
Matray, P. F. 1974. Broad-winged Hawk nesting and ecology. Auk 91:307-324.
Mcdonald, C. A. 1971. Some ecological aspects of a nesting colony of herons. Phd Thesis. Auburn Univ. Auburn, AL.
Meinzer, W. 1993. The Roadrunner. Texas Tech Univ. Press, Lubbock.
Meyer, K. D. and M. W. Collopy. 1990. Status, distribution, and habitat requirements of
the American Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus forficatus) in Florida. Final
report. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm. Tallahassee, FL.
Morrison, Joan L. and James F. Dwyer. 2012. Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), The
Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology;
Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
Mullins, W. H. and E. G. Bizeau. 1978. Summer foods of Sandhill Cranes in Idaho. Auk
Netting, M.G. 1969. Does the robin eat DeKay’s snake? Wilson Bull. 81:471.
Ogden, J. C. 1974. The Short-tailed Hawk in Florida. I. Migration, habitat, hunting
techniques, and food habits. Auk 91:95-110.
Palmer, R. S. 1962. Handbook of North American birds. Vol. 1. Yale Univ. Press, New
Haven, CT.
Parker, James W. 1999. Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis), The Birds of North
America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved
from the Birds of North America Online:
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Poole, Alan F., Rob O. Bierregaard and Mark S. Martell. 2002. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of
Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.
Poulin, Ray, L. Danielle Todd, E. A. Haug, B. A. Millsap and M. S. Martell. 2011. Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole,
Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America
Preston, C. R. and R. D. Beane. 2009. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), The Birds
of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
Rapp, Jr., W. F. 1943. Turkey vulture feeding habits. Auk 60:95.
Richmond, M.L. 1975. American Robin feeds garter snake to its nestlings. Wilson Bull.
Ross, D. A. 1989. Amphibians and reptiles in the diets of North American raptors. Wisconsin Endangered Species Report, no. 59.
Schnell, J. H., R. L. Glinski, and H. Snyder. 1988. Common Black-Hawk. Pages 65-70
in Southwest Raptor Management Symposium and Workshop. (Glinski, R. L. and et
al., Eds.) Natl. Wildl. Fed. Washington, D.C.
Sheppard, Jay M. 1996. Le Conte’s Thrasher (Toxostoma lecontei), The Birds of North
America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from
the Birds of North America Online:
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vol. 128.
Smallwood, John A. and David M. Bird. 2002. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), The
Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology;
Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
Smith, S. M. 1978. Predatory behaviour of young Great Kiskadees (Pitangus sulphuratus). Anim. Behav. 26:988-995.
Stevenson, J. O. and L. H. Meitzen. 1946. Behavior and food habits of Sennett’s Whitetailed Hawk in Texas. Wilson Bull. 58:198-205.
Telfer, T. C. 1986. Final Report: ecological study of the Erckel’s Francolin on Kauai.
Pittman-Robertson Proj. no. W-17-R, Study no. R-V-A, 1980-1985. Hawaii DLNR,
Div. For. and Wildl.
Verbeek, N. A. M. 1998. Food fed to nestling Northwestern Crows. Wilson Bull.
Verbeek, N. A. and R. W. Butler. 1999. Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus), The
Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology;
Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
Woolfenden, Glen E. and John W. Fitzpatrick. 1996. Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma
coerulescens), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell
Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.
Dave Leatherman, [email protected]
Colorado Birds
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Don’t Fear the Flash
Bill Schmoker
One of my favorite bird photographs in my catalog almost didn’t
happen. I was heading over Cameron Pass on my way to North Park
one Friday evening in early October 2003. By the time I reached the
upper stretches on the final approach to the pass, I thought it was
dark enough to try a little owling. To prove that everybody gets lucky
sometimes, I had a Boreal Owl respond to a recording on the second
stop. Being fall, the bird didn’t sing but rather gave a very clipped, dry
“rrhheeeet” that sounded fairly close to the parking lot. On a whim
I shouldered my camera (back then a Nikon D100 coupled with an
80-400 f/5.6 zoom) and grabbed the mag light from my truck’s cab to
investigate. Within maybe 30 meters I emerged from dense woods
to a small clearing about the size of my classroom. Pausing to get my
bearings, I heard the call again close to one side, followed by another
out in front of me.
Swinging up my flashlight, I was gobsmacked to see one and then
a second Boreal Owl looking at me with their characteristic angrily
interested expression. The problem was that I didn’t yet have an external flash in my kit, and quite honestly didn’t know what to do
with one at the time anyway. But on the proverbial hope & prayer,
I popped up the camera’s built-in flash, propped my flashlight on a
downed log to illuminate the nearest bird, autofocused on it, and
pushed the trigger. I did have the presence of mind to crank up my
ISO to 1600 and switch to Program mode, letting my camera “talk”
to my lens and decide the best exposure to use. After getting some
shots I retreated back to my truck, leaving the birds to their dark,
dank subalpine forest. While a little dim, it turned out there was
plenty of exposure to work with in the images. The only significant
editing I used was noise reduction (via NoiseWare plugin) and levels
adjustment to deliver a pleasing photo for publication. Later analysis
of the pics show that my subjects were young-of-the-year birds, perhaps explaining their naiveté (although I’ve also had adult owls just
look at me calmly so who knows?) While I’ve seen and photographed
Boreal Owls a few more times in the intervening years, nothing has
come close to those few surreal minutes spent with those two birds.
Last May I had another encounter in which a really neat bird was
doing really neat things really nearby in the dark. But lo, I again
had no external flash. I was attending the Biggest Week in American
Birding, staying in a cottage at Maumee State Park, Ohio. It turns out
that American Woodcocks love to display on the mown lawns there,
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and their peenting and timberdoodling could be heard from any open
window of our cottage as darkness fell. One evening a family from a
neighboring cottage was watching one perform, with a young girl delightedly given the responsibility of holding the flashlight. On regular intervals the bird would first peent for a while from its preferred
square meter of grass before whirling around in its flight display, only
to land seemingly within centimeters of its take-off position. During
one such flight I sat down on the paved driveway perhaps 10 meters
from the bird’s lek, and when it again landed right on the mark I
was able to autofocus with the help of the girl’s flashlight-wielding
expertise. My Nikon D7100’s built-in flash (now with an upgraded
80-400mm AF-S f/5.6 lens) pulled off the shot, this time using shutter priority at 1/160 and ISO 800. The bird didn’t seem to mind at
all, carrying on with its routine. I used the next flight sequence as an
opportunity to retreat and the bird descended once again to its mark,
repeating the cycle into the evening.
For serious night work, an external flash, flash extender and expertise in using both is ideal, but that’s another subject for another
time. For those interested in pursuing this technique, I’d suggest the
excellent Using Flash to Photograph Birds (parts 1 & 2) by Tom
Stephenson and Scott Whittle. PDF versions of each are included
in the articles section of The Warbler Guide website: http://www. In the meantime don’t be afraid to try
your built-in flash if you’re in a dark pinch!
Bill Schmoker, [email protected]
CFO Late Fall Trip to Eastern Colorado
If I were to say that the best bird on CFO’s late fall trip to eastern Colorado
was Red-winged Blackbird what would you think? Probably, “glad I missed that
That is, in fact, precisely what transpired. Fifteen birders joined CFO President, Bill Kaempfer, and Vice President, Christian Nunes, for a late fall CFO
field trip to eastern Colorado on Saturday, November 8. Frankly, things were
slow. Perhaps birds that had been enjoying our belated balmy fall weather departed, following an innate avian anticipation of an upcoming cold slam. At
the now desiccated Bonny and Flagler Reservoirs along the Republican River,
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a few scattered residents, like a Red-bellied Woodpecker, could be found. A few
glum hunters were having about as much luck with their quarry as we were with
ours at Flagler SWA.
There were a few goodies here and there, albeit not seen by all: a Say’s Phoebe on the road around Limon, a White-throated Sparrow at Flagler SWA; a
Rough-legged Hawk between Flagler and Seibert. At Seibert we all got terrific
looks at a really dark, adult female taiga sub-species Merlin. It stared us down,
sallied forth to pick off a grasshopper mid-wing and gave icy, contemptuous
looks to a couple of House Finches.
The real excitement occurred as we started for home after unsuccessfully
searching for Sprague’s Pipits. Cresting a hill on Yuma County Road CC just
south of YCR 3, we saw a Prairie Falcon zooming around. Over the next hill we
found out why—Red-winged Blackbirds in a massive flock. It was a stupendous
murmuration alternately settling on the ground then returning nervously into
the air in an elastic cloud of synchronous wings. The Prairie Falcon watched
as attentively as we, and at one point we saw it slice through the flock. Failing
to cull any blackbird from the flock, it returned to its perch on a nearby telephone pole to watch as the waves of blackbirds deftly pulsated to and fro in a
mesmerizing display. As we departed, our hearts were exalted by the spectacle
displayed by one of the more common of species performing an uncommon
dance of survival.
Bill Kaempfer, [email protected], and Christian Nunes, [email protected]
Soft Parts: Female Dabbling Ducks
Tony Leukering
What catches your eye when you flip through your field-guide?
What do you study? Plumage color and pattern? Bill shape and other
structural features? Range maps?
I’d bet that most birders focus on plumage color and pattern,
which is perfectly understandable as this is the primary clue to identification. More than any other feature, feathers evoke a sense of wonder and envy – at least among humans. Plumage is also the aspect of a
bird’s overall appearance that is stressed most in field guides, so much
so, that other aspects are often given short shrift. These “secondary”
identification clues, overall shape and structure, wing length to tail
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length ratio, eye-bill distance, primary projection, etc. are important
to field identification as we often don’t get a “text book view” of our
quarry. In fact, the ability to use such identification cues, particularly
overall shape and structure, is probably the single ability differentiating the skilled birders from the rest of us. This essay is intended to
encourage birders to increase their awareness of the whole bird, and
in particular to notice features that may not be considered identification-critical in most situations. Doing so is an important step toward
mastering field identification.
“Soft parts” is the term given to the parts of a bird not covered
by feathers, although some of these parts are not actually “soft.” For
most species the list is limited to the bill, eyes and legs, but a sizable
minority have additional features such as orbital rings, bare facial
skin or even largely un-feathered heads. Many of us already use these
features, at least half-heartedly, in bird identification. Bird A has a
longer bill than Bird B, while Bird C has shorter legs. There are even
species named for soft parts, such as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-eyed
Vireo, and Greater Yellowlegs. We are thus aware of the importance
of the colors of these particular soft parts on these particular species.
However, many birders seem to ignore soft-parts coloration on
most individual birds that they encounter. For example, what is the
leg color of an adult Bufflehead? (Don’t bother looking it up in Sibley
(2000), as you will not find the answer there.) Buffleheads are so
distinctive in plumage that we usually don’t need to know what color
legs they have in order to identify them, right? Yet consider the following hypothetical situation. You observe a black-and-white duck
flying directly away from you showing some white on otherwise black
wings and a white belly that contrasts with the darker rump and vent
regions... Is it a Bufflehead? A goldeneye? A merganser? Well, if you
noted the bubblegum-pink legs, you would instantly know the bird to
be an adult male Bufflehead.
Female Dabbling Ducks
January in Colorado is typified by a bewildering assortment of
brown ducks massed on ice shelves, lakeshores or riverbanks, often
with their necks scrunched or their heads tucked away. Not the pretty profile your field guide presented! For many birders, the uniformity
is overwhelming. However, unless those massed birds are all facing
directly away, they can usually be identified and, not surprisingly considering the essay title, soft parts can play a significant role in identification, or can help to greatly narrow the field of options.
The first step may seem counterintuitive: Ignore the plumage color and pattern, at least temporarily. Impossible you say? Well, humor
Colorado Birds
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me. Birders are human, you see, and human minds can get stuck in a rut. Yet
once we get past the brown-ness, our minds open to the subtle nuances of size,
shape, and soft-parts coloration.
To illustrate this point, I’ve taken the liberty of including a homework assignment on the back cover of this issue. The photographs on the back cover
present a hodge-podge of beaks and legs from a variety of female dabbling ducks
that regularly occur in Colorado. Your first assignment is to correctly match
each beak with each pair of legs, and then determine the species to which they
belong. When attempting this, pay close attention to bill shape, as well as coloration and pattern. The solutions will be provided in the spring 2015 issue of
Colorado Birds. Good luck!
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Tony Leukering, [email protected]
CFO's Generous 2014 Donors
CFO gratefully acknowledges 2014 contributions from the following donors, as well as the anonymous cash donations made at the Sterling convention’s pass-the-hat appeal.
Julie Barraza
Donald L. Beaver
Alan Bell
Wilford W. Burt
Christy Carello
Kevin E. Corwin
Susan H. Craig
Dr. Alexander Cruz
Jeffrey L. Dawson
David C. Dowell
David Driscoll & Mary Loving-Driscoll
Lee & Linda Farrell
Mary F. Geder
John B. Hayes
Alison Hazel
Mike Henwood
David Hill
Sue Ellen Hirshman
William F. & Patricia J. Hoadley
Ann Johnson
Colorado Birds Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
Janet Justice-Waddington
William H. Kaempfer
Nyla J. Kladder
Elena Klaver
David A. Leatherman
Brenda Linfield
Brad & Noma Macurda
Steven Mlodinow
Larry Modesitt
Susan E. & David Pellegrini
Pamela Piombino
Robert Righter
Bill Schmoker
Robert L. Spencer & Sondra Bland
Peggy Wait & Lowell Baumunk
Shirley Wendell
Eleanor Whitehurst
Thomas Wilberding
Robyn & Jeremy Winick
The Colorado Field Ornithologists’ Quarterly
Instructions for Contributors to Colorado Birds
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[email protected]
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Colorado Birds
Winter 2015
Vol. 49 No. 1
In the Scope:
Soft Parts: Female Dabbling Ducks . . . 40