Backyard Birds – Possible Fire-driven Sightings & Turkey Vulture Bonanza

Backyard Birds – Possible Fire-driven Sightings and Turkey Vulture Bonanza

Deidra Horan, of the Tech Center area, exulted over “a special visitor I had at my feeder, on October 15 – a Northern Cardinal!  And a Northern Cardinal was spotted the same day at a small neighborhood park about a mile or so north of me in Orchard Hills Park. I went there three different times but never saw the cardinal, so I was thrilled when I saw it in my backyard. It came around 5 times that I am aware of, all between 12:15 and 6:30 PM.”

People speculate whether the fires have driven birds to unusual places, and we have a handful of anecdotal reports.

Several report Steller’s Jays on the east fringe of the metro area. On October 6, in Aurora, Susie Nobles and Meg Reck. And on October 10, James Connell who said, “for the first time at my feeder along with the two Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays that have been hanging around for a few weeks.”

Denver Audubon staffers saw Mountain Chickadees: Andy Carstens in North Denver and Rhonda Shank in Littleton; both saw them for a couple of weeks.

A less recent visitor: Red-breasted Nuthatches have taken up residence in many parts of town. The two in my Backyard Birds file came from Andy Carstens. Rex Nelson, sent pictures of one Red-breasted and a Mountain Chickadee taken on October 11.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

In Franktown, a Brown Thrasher showed up in our yard on October 18 – our second yard record. We saw it three times as it picked at the millet Urling strews on the ground below the feeders.

Brown Thrasher

Also in Franktown, we had two fly-over sensations. On Sept. 27, the most amazing sight: tens of Turkey Vultures poured over the cliff north of our house, headed south but then all of them started circling (searching, we suppose, for better air currents). We watched them for 15 minutes, and we estimate 175 or more passed over. A couple of tardy ones came by 15 minutes later. Well worth standing in the cold temperatures and wind to watch this enchanting spectacle.

The next day Karen Metz went out early to Castlewood Canyon park to check their traditional roost sites. She counted 172 Turkey Vultures (minimum). This is the highest count this year at the Castlewood night roost. Nearby meanwhile, another raptor monitor tallied over 300. “An occasional Swainson’s Hawk and Northern Harrier were also in the thermals, but more than 99% were vultures. Sunday into Monday was a most significant migration day for vultures, and it was the highest number of any autumn day in the several years that we have monitored.”

The same day, Cheryl Thompson reported that, at about 6 p.m., she saw “175 Turkey Vultures moving south over my home in Arvada. I wonder where they might have gone to roost.” (She says probably not Crown Point)

The vulture bonanza eclipsed the regular crane migration. We did count five flocks of Sandhill Cranes overhead on October 14. We managed to see only a couple of the flocks, one of which had 650 cranes. We estimate that each of the others had at least 100. We heard three flocks the next day but saw only one (with 75 birds). Lots of other observers reported migrating cranes this fall.

Michael Smith sent from Westminster “a photo taken October 2 in the Westminster area of two Red-tailed Hawks hanging out together. It appears that the hawk on the left is a dark morph, light morph, or a rufous morph? I have been watching these two hawks for a few months and they appear to be a ‘pair,’ and my guess, by the way they interact and their size, is that the dark one is the female.”

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