You’ve decided you want to go birdwatching. Your binoculars are packed, lunch is in the backpack, and your floppy hat is resolutely tugged into place, but where to?
Luckily for natives, Colorado is one of the top ten states with the most extensive birdwatching trails and national parks. Non-natives have a substantially justified reason to plan a cross-country trip to the birdwatching utopia of Colorado!
Seven great places to go bird watching in Colorado are:
- Barr Lake State Park
- St. Vrain State Park
- Chatfield State Park
- Castlewood Canyon State Park
- Cheyenne Mountain State Park
- John Martin Reservoir State Park
- Mancos State Park
Birdwatching provides a way for humans to get out of their heads and into nature. By living in the present moment, we can be in a world where we appreciate the natural miracles gifted to us each day.
The Colorado parks listed in this post are the start of your new adventure of discovering and learning to enjoy the gifts of nature and, more specifically, our avian friends!
1. Barr Lake State Park
The Barr Lake State Park is located in northeastern Colorado and features an impressive bison wallow created by the strong prairie winds. A bison wallow is a natural depression occurring along flat prairies.
These topographical depressions serve as natural collecting troughs for water-run offs and support a diverse ecosystem supporting the 350 plus resident and migratory bird species that call the park home.
The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies is located within the park and offers hikes and various education programs. Park naturalists provide a guided tour in the Eagle Express, a 13-passenger car if you don’t desire a long hike to your birdwatching destinations.
As not-so-subtly hinted at in the name, the Eagle Express allows you to witness the beauty of the resident mated pair of Bald Eagles. Although many of these raptor birds retreat to Barr Lake for the winter months, only one pair stays year-round to nest and raise their young.
2. St. Vrain State Park
Water is one of the key attractants for creating abundant birdwatching opportunities. With 14 ponds dispersed throughout the park, St. Vrain State Park supports a riparian and wetland ecosystem.
The park’s many transient bird guests will delight birders year-round. The winter months allow sightings of Bald Eagles, while the summer months provide birders with the opportunity to witness the vulnerable American White Pelican population.
Disney could not outdo St. Vrain in spring, as the many songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and even birds of prey make the area their nesting site of choice.
St. Vrain boasts two other claims to fame as it plays host to the only Colorado-based nesting site of Great Egrets and provides a home to the largest Blue Heron rookery in the state.
3. Chatfield State Park
Chatfield State Park does not have the other two parks’ birding resumes, but it offers unique viewing opportunities in Colorado. Although not frequently sighted, Burrowing Owls have been known to make their homes in Chatfield.
These long-legged owls hunker down in their ground-based burrows during the midday heat.
If you’re not a night owl but still get goosebumps when viewing nocturnal animals, you will enjoy the chance of glimpsing Burrowing Owls.
Unlike most owls, these comical little creatures are still active during daylight hours, especially near dawn and dusk; there’s no need to blunder around in sleepy-eyed darkness trying to see them!
Should the burrowing owls not captivate you, the remaining 211 bird species should do the trick! When not viewing birds, the varied wildlife and herpetofauna create a diverse and lush viewing experience.
The herpetofauna is the collective term for the many reptilian and amphibian species calling Chatfield home.
4. Castlewood Canyon State Park
Castlewood Canyon State Park offers a unique ecosystem as it exists at the boundary of the prairie and montane. Although black bears and mountain lions are not permanent residents of the park, they have been known to meander their way through the park on their migratory routes.
It is best to stay in the designated areas unless you desire an attempt at outrunning a bear!
There are over 100 bird species found within Castlewood Canyon, the most exotic of which is the Turkey Vulture. Although only resident in summer, these awe-inspiring birds are a must-see for any avid bird watcher.
Their 6ft wingspan is an eclipsing shadow of black when extended to their full reach. Despite their large wingspan and fearsome appearance, these birds are deceptively light-framed, only weighing on average 3lbs.
5. Cheyenne Mountain State Park
Moving into the southeastern Colorado region, Cheyenne Mountain State Park holds a prominent place on many experienced birders viewing lists.
Although the park only lays claim to 100 resident bird species, the list continues to grow each year, making this park an exciting one to visit if you want to be the first birder to spot a new avian visitor in the park!
Home to the wickedly agile Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, and both the Prairie and Peregrine Falcon, Cheyenne State Park is not short on birds of prey!
The birds of prey sightings are more than rounded out by a robust population of wild turkey and the resident and migratory songbirds calling Cheyenne Mountain home.
6. John Martin Reservoir State Park
John Martin Reservoir State Park is a diamond of the first water, a premier bird watcher’s destination, and enough to send any bird lover’s heart aflutter. With over 400 species, John Martin’s Reservoir provides a diverse ecosystem of bird species.
Both the apex Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle may be seen during the winter months, while the Belted Kingfisher and Turkey Vulture are summer residents of John Martin Reservoir.
The park has more than 8 owl species for those who favour the night-loving birds of prey, including the Snowy Owl, Northern Saw-Whet Owl, and the Eastern and Western Screech Owls.
Two shoreland species found in John Martin Reservoir that are protected by federal law are the humble Piping Plover and the sleekly graceful Interior Least Tern. In 1996, Colorado recognized both of these shoreland birds as being endangered due to human activity.
As a conscientious birdwatcher, it is crucial to avoid the nesting sites of these birds and educate others on the necessity of leaving these birds undisturbed by human traffic and competition.
7. Mancos State Park
Mancos State Park has all the prerequisite “big birds,” the typical tourist attractants, but I love Mancos for its little birds, particularly the Hummingbirds and the Indigo Bunting. The tiny statures and delicate flittings of the hummingbirds offer a glimpse into a fairy realm of magic.
These miniature birds thrill my spirit with their darting grace of the flower dance. The more common Broad-tailed Hummingbird and the purple collared, Black-Chinned Hummingbird may be seen in Manco in spring and summer.
The moniker “Indigo Bunting” is undeniably attributed to the male of the species. The small brown females are courted by the vibrant blue males who vie to catch their attention. Most commonly seen in the warm months, the small finch-like birds have a stocky build offset by the blue patina of their males.
Birdwatching is an exercise of patience. It anchors you to be present as you revel in the glory of nature, the deadly grace of birds of prey, the throaty calls of marsh birds, and the cheerful fluttering of the Western Tanager.
The 7 places listed here offer some of the best birdwatching experiences to be had, courtesy of colorful Colorado!