Backyard Birds – Hummers, Hawks, and More

Backyard Birds - Late-August Sightings

This month’s reports to Hugh Kingery include hummers, hawks, and more.

Jody Gardiner of Greenwood Village emailed on Aug. 28:

“I live blocks away from Cherry Creek, not on the Highline Canal — not much water to speak of around my neighborhood. I wonder why I have seen so many Red-winged Blackbirds in the past 3 weeks?  Upwards of 30 at a time will throng in my backyard on the ground or on the platform feeders that hold black oil sunflower seeds. I have lived here for 30 years and have never experienced this.  Can you help me understand why they are here now?”

Hugh’s wife Urling has seen flocks of 20-50 Red-wing Blackbirds flying from Cherry Creek over their house to the top of the ridge, apparently to roost at some pond up on top. Red-wings typically flock up in the fall, but we’d love to know if others have seen behavior similar to what Judy reported.

group of red-winged blackbirds in the grass
two red-winged blackbirds on a platform feeder

Bill Eden of south Denver reports that more time for gardening has led to more birds in the yard. He’s seen goldfinches, chickadees, Bushtits, hummers, both types of nuthatches, flickers, Coopers Hawks, House Wrens, Spotted Towhees, and more.

“On Aug. 22, I had a female Wilson’s Warbler and 5 Chipping Sparrows bathing in the pond.”

Bill sent terrific pictures of three kinds of hummers (Broad-Tailed, Calliope, and Black-chinned) that he photographed on Aug. 2 at the Denver Audubon Nature Center. He also photographed a Swainson’s Hawk, about a 10-minute walk from his house. “It sits over a drainage pipe looking for prey.”

Broad-tailed Hummingbird feeding from a flower
Callioped Hummingbird perched on a feeder
black-chinned hummingbird at feeder

Alexa Krakauskas of Lafeyette Circle in the Denver/Englewood area shared a video she took of a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk dining on a rabbit in their back yard. She says, “The Swainson’s Hawks have a nest in a tree in the immediate area that has been used by a pair for several years now. This may be offspring from the pair that originally nested on Wellshire Golf Course — that pair has been well documented and photographed by the former groundskeeper of the course.”

Sharp-shinned hawk on wood post

Ed Curran, on July 28, forwarded pictures of what he thinks is a Sharp-Shinned Hawk, who just recently left his yard, after staying about 3-4 weeks. “We don’t think it’s a Cooper Hawk, as we were very familiar with the Cooper’s sound, which almost sounds like they’re laughing. The bird in the attached pictures had more of a wheezing/whistling sound. It would very often chase mice, squirrels, smaller birds looking for its next meal.”

Maggie Brahm of southeast Denver reports:

“All summer I’ve had at least one female/immature male Broad-tailed Hummingbird visiting the nectar feeder, Penstemon, Butterfly Bush, and Plumbago. S/he has a favorite perch about 8 feet off the ground on one of a group of bare shrub twigs, when not feeding.”

Maggie also described “a lovely, long visit from a flock of 20+ Bushtits. The Bushtits usually sweep through, feed at the suet feeder, and move on, but yesterday they stayed for several hours. They would all gather in a Chokecherry bush near the feeder and periodically feed and then back to the bush. That’s the first and only time I’ve seen them stay here that long.

“Also, all summer and ongoing, we’ve had a group of 6, now 3, chickadees from a pair that nested in a nest box near the back door, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, House Finches, goldfinches, and flickers.”

leucistic (white-headed) house finch

Amy Law-Ziegler (Green Mountain) says:

“This has been a great summer for hummingbirds in our back yard. My husband and I speculate that the drought pushed them into suburban areas. For the first time ever, we had a pair of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds nesting nearby, a male and female Calliope (I doubt they were nesting — they didn’t hang around long), and a Rufous.

“At one point, the female Broad-tail and the female Calliope were both interested in the same feeder. The poor Calliope couldn’t bring herself to feed with the Broad-tail sitting there. She hesitated too long — the Rufous zoomed in to break up the fun. This was one of many instances in August in which the Rufous ran the other hummers off. It usually happened at dusk, which is why the photos aren’t very clear.

“We walk the dogs every morning. Last week, we heard a lot of the beeping calls of Red-breasted Nuthatches. We found the source — three fledglings trying to learn to land on a fence. We’ve had a lot of Red-breasted Nuthatches in the neighborhood this summer. Yesterday, they were rejoined by a White-breasted Nuthatch. We’ll see if it over-winters with us as it did last year.

“What we missed this summer have been Lesser Goldfinches. We’ve had a few, but nothing like the flocks we’ve had in previous years.

“And, we’ve had an odd white-headed finch at the feeders this week. Is it anything other than an incomplete albino house finch?”

Hugh speculates that it could be just that, technically termed a ‘leucistic’ finch.

And finally, a word of caution. Barbara Spagnuolo (Highlands Ranch) reported, Sept. 1, about Avian Pox:

“I have confirmed sightings of at least two different House Finches at my backyard feeders with the wart-like lesions around their bills indicative of Avian Pox. I am in Highlands Ranch (Douglas County) on the east side near the University/Colorado Blvd intersection.

“I am going to remove all feeders and birdbaths to disinfect them with a diluted bleach solution. I have also advised my next-door neighbor to do the same as I watch the birds bounce back and forth between our yards. I know this disease is highly contagious in finches and may spread to other species like goldfinches (both LEGO & AMGO frequent my feeders), so I wanted to let others know and hear if anyone else in the area has spotted finches with the growths.

“The timing of this really stinks as I have noticed the birds’ feeding activity has increased with the coming fall migration.”

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