Backyard Birds – Early Summer Sightings

Backyard Birds - Early Summer Sightings

It’s been a hot summer so far, but Hugh Kingery has received lots of recent sightings. Here’s what people reported:

Yellow-breasted chat

Tom Loucks has spent a few months monitoring the birds at the Denver Audubon Nature Center. He sent interesting pictures of some of the species he found, starting with the Yellow-breasted Chats often sing near the nature center. On June 28, Tom captured a picture of a handsome American Redstart. The nature center area has had nesting pairs of Redstarts over the years, but we don’t see them regularly. Tom also sent a nice picture of a Gray Catbird, which has a disjointed song, including many sweet notes interspersed with an occasional cat-like “mew.”

Over the 4th of July, Tom journeyed up to Summit County, where he encountered a female Hairy Woodpecker feeding a youngster with yellow lores, which confounded him. The Sibley Field Guide says that juveniles occasionally have yellow (instead of red) on the tops of their heads. Perhaps this yellow can transfer to the lores in rare circumstances.

In addition, Tom puzzled over a flycatcher he found nesting on a bathroom east of the parking lot. Much discussion resulted in a verdict of a hybrid Eastern/Black Phoebe. Later, Scott Somershoe, our local eBird coordinator, said on Cobirds, “In Jefferson County, I am aware of three pairs of birds trying to breed where both birds of the pairs are hybrids! I am not sure where all these hybrids are coming from, but this phenomenon is worth thoroughly documenting. This is really fascinating, and I encourage everyone to look more closely at their ‘Eastern’ Phoebes and get photos, if possible.”

American Redstart in branches
Gray Catbird in tree
Female Hairy Woodpecker feeding its young
hybrid Eastern/Black Phoebe on a tree branch
Three fledgling Say’s Phoebes

On June 18, Jill Holden photographed a huddle of Say’s Phoebes fledglings nesting in her Roxborough yard.

Backyard with model train set running behind a large tree

Keith Hidalgo, in his Lakewood yard, spotted a Northern Cardinal — very rare along the Front Range. “It hopped around on the ground looking for bugs. I got excited and hollered for my kids and wife to come see it, but then it took off out of the yard, likely due to our excitement.” It did not return. His pictures don’t depict the cardinal clearly, unfortunately. But the photos show an enticing yard — from a model train track to a dense patch of vegetation.

A chipping sparrow standing in grass
Red-breasted nuthatch perched on a tree

From Green Mountain, Amy Ziegler wrote:

“What’s been flying by our yard for the past couple of months: Some charming Chipping Sparrows dropped by in May to eat our dandelion seeds. They were welcome to all they wanted. Both White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches overwintered in the area. We think the Red-breasted nested nearby, because suddenly, there were three of them, one fluttering its wings. We’ve had English (House) Sparrows for the first time in 15 years. Don’t know what we’ve changed, but they’re back.

“As we walked the dogs this morning, a pair of kestrels were screaming up a storm—one finally chased the other away.

“Usually, we don’t have many hummingbirds until fall, even with several feeders out. But with the late hard freeze in April, and then the very cool weather earlier in the summer, it seems that flowers have been struggling. I think this has driven more hummers to our feeders.

“What we haven’t seen this year is an active Cooper’s Hawk nest. We’ve had a nesting pair in the area for a decade, but not this year.”

Cooper's hawk perched in a leafless tree

On the other hand, Spencer Barrowes, in south Denver reports:

“A gorgeous pair of Cooper’s Hawks are nesting in my neighborhood. They have what appears to be a successful nest going this spring and are unbothered by the busy human activity around. I saw one of them swoop straight into my yard snatching a House Finch sitting on my fence, and they definitely seem to have depressed activities around my feeders. I don’t mind—how many people have the opportunity to regularly see Cooper’s Hawks up close?

“The hawks have something of a rivalry going with a nearby murder of crows, and the boundary of their respective territories seems to be, roughly, my yard. I rarely see the hawks venture west of my yard, and if they do they are quickly swarmed by crows, but east of my yard they go largely unbothered.

“Neighbors tell me they’ve been residents of the neighborhood for several years (I moved here last summer). Hoping they have a successful brood this year, and many future years!”

Adult Horned Lark feeding a nest full of babies

In May, Janice Facinelli reported finding three nests of Horned Larks at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. The second nest had “fledglings running around in the prairie around the nest. And on May 3, I watched a lark build a nest. I was so excited to see them. I am amazed at how close to the road they are (within 6 feet!). I see them just between the bunker and the Burrowing Owls, and just after the Burrowing Owls on the wildlife loop at the arsenal.”

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on an electrical wire
Juvenile red-tailed hawk sitting on an electrical wire, facing the camera

Melanie Koll emailed Denver Audubon: “We live over in Golden and are fortunate to have 4 juvenile Red-tail Hawks hunting our yards. Thought I’d share some pictures.”

Your contributions write this column. Thanks to all who send in these intriguing reports. Send a note or post card to P.O. Box 584, Franktown 80116, or Email Hugh Kingery at