Backyard Birds – Colorful Migrants and More

Backyard Birds - Colorful Migrants and More

Colorful migrants make their way through the Denver area, plus a bluebird update in this edition of Backyard Birds with Hugh Kingery.


The blog posted April 25th reported fewer bluebirds; the May 5th post reported that they had arrived in some numbers. However, further reports suggest that bluebirds and some other species have not returned in normal numbers.

In Franktown, Karen Metz commented, “This is the first year since 1985 without bluebirds in my nest boxes and sometimes in tree cavities on my property. After hosting multiple pairs regularly for more than thirty-five years, I am saddened.”

From Larkspur, Kay Chambers reported her first of the season bluebird on May 29th.

The next day, Urling and I saw our first Western Bluebirds, two males feeding at the bottom of our driveway. On our mile-long road, we usually see three or four pairs of Mountain Bluebirds but this year, only one. Similarly, we counted only a few along the usually very bluebird-y Winkler Ranch Road.


Kay Chambers says she has “few numbers of hummingbirds, yet some of my neighbors on Woodmoor Mountain and Spruce Mountain are seeing more than we are.”

Karen emailed, “A male Broad-tailed Hummingbird is here all the time, and sometimes a second…my flowers really attract them, but I only occasionally see females and never more than three.  I did have to move most of my feeders up even higher where not as easily seen, but the amount of nectar taken is alarmingly small. I think a female Downy Woodpecker is the most frequent visitor to them!”

Urling and I have seen two female and two male Broad-taileds, but not often through the day. We also have picked up a couple of Black-chinned. We do encounter them on our walks, and I speculate that this spring may have produced lots of natural food for them so that they don’t need to supplement their diet with our sugar water.

Other scarce birds

Karen says that “species in alarmingly small numbers at my home and in my neighborhood are not only House Wren but also Plumbeous Vireo, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and Western Wood-Pewee. Lesser Goldfinches are here, but also not as many.”

Leslie Hankerson Laments, “Some birds are missing from my yard this spring: no wrens—I miss their beautiful singing—and no Lesser Goldfinches.”

From Kiowa, Jackie Dunn told us that she has seen NO Tree Swallows this year. We’ve seen one or two pairs, but none of them nor any bluebirds have commandeered nest boxes yet. And, we have only one pair of box-using House Wrens instead of the usual three. 

Colorful migrants

Nonetheless, many colorful birds did grace our yards. Patty Echelmeyer in Wheat Ridge enjoyed a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at her feeder for three days. Becky Campbell (near Cherry Creek State Park) emailed on May 21st, “We were graced with a new yard bird this morning!! A bright male Rose-breasted Grosbeak showed up first thing this morning and continued to come to feeders and birdbath off and on throughout the day. A life bird for me! The past few weeks have been quite colorful in my yard, with tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks, and goldfinches queuing up on the honey locust branch with the suet feeder.”

Lesley Brown reported on May 17th from Highlands Ranch, “We just had two male Western Tanagers on the jelly feeder. We saw them over the weekend, too. No females yet. We have also seen two male and two female Bullock’s Orioles, and two male Black-headed Grosbeaks at the feeders this last week or so.”

Our Franktown feeders have lured five or more tanagers, two pairs of grosbeaks, and an occasional oriole. We have seen Lazuli Buntings only two or three times.

From Green Mountain, Amy Law-Ziegler said, on May 28th, she “saw a funny knob on a tree just a few feet back from the sidewalk. I focused on it and realized it was a female Red-shafted Flicker, sticking her head out of a hole she’d pecked into a chokecherry tree. The tree is just a few feet back from the sidewalk, and the hole is right at eye level. We are worried that there will be too much traffic for her to feel comfortable enough to raise a family. But there isn’t much we can do about her choice of nest sites except swing wide as we pass it.”

In Franktown, Pat Brodbent relished his bonanza: “Today, as with most days around here, there must be about a 100 Pine Siskins on all the feeders and trees.  Attached are a couple pictures taken through the window.” This plethora has been there for most of the winter.

Kevin Corwin messaged on May 17th, “Just had a Western Tanager on the suet in my little townhouse yard near Holly & Arapahoe in west Centennial. Based on Sibley’s drawings the bird wasn’t in breeding plumage, which seems a little late. A few minutes later a Chipping Sparrow was at the sunflower seed.”

Jody Gardiner in Greenwood Village writes on May 17th: “I’m excited that I have a flock of Western Tanagers hanging about in my backyard. Both males and females enjoy the suet and the females also like the nectar in the hummingbird feeders. House wrens are happily back. Downy Woodpeckers and Bushtits share the suet and peanut butter.”

Northern Flicker peaking out of nest
Northern Flicker | Photo by Amy Law-Ziegler
A group of Pine Siskins feeding
Pine Siskins | Photo by Pat Brodbent
House Wren in nesting box
Downy woodpecker feeding at suet feeder
Downy Woodpecker | Photo by Jody Gardiner
Male Western Tanager perched on suet feeder
Male Western Tanager | Photo by Judy Gardiner
Lewis's Woodpecker on fence post.
Lewis's Woodpecker | Photo by Bill Schreitz
Woodpecker on fencepost
Lewis's Woodpecker | Photo by Bill Shreitz


Frances Cleveland (May 19) wanted help to identify “a black bird with a light maroon chest, a white band around its neck, and a long beak is living on my property. It is more significant than a robin, has a wide wingspan, and likes to peck at the trees and my wooden fencing. It has a distinct sound and is very vocal.”

Bill Schreitz emailed, “On May 10th, I saw a Lewis’s Woodpecker on a fence post along the road. Today (May 21st) I went back on the outside chance it was still around. It was, but it flew before I could get a decent picture. However, I set up the scope and found it again about 200 yards south across private property. Eventually the owner came out. She not only knew about the bird, but also had spoken with you about it.”

Karen appreciated “an Ovenbird that joined the chorus at my home today (May 15) and I watched him spend some time in the leaf litter of sumac and scrub oak near my deck.  He sang at about two-minute intervals. I have seen Ovenbirds here in my dry ponderosa forest in previous years in May and again in late August. During one cold and snowy May day an Ovenbird came to a window and I dropped mealworms out for him….worked out nicely for the bird until a Spotted Towhee caught on!”

We regularly hear an Ovenbird singing across the gully from home, and today we heard two of them in the next gully to the south.


Amy says, “As we worked our way around the neighborhood in late May, we heard the loud, almost honking cry of a Cooper’s Hawk. We recognized the honking call because Cooper’s have nested in this area for over a decade, although I doubt the actual birds are the same. Regardless, at least we won’t have to work very hard to avoid nest. But we will keep an eye on it, too, and see if any chicks hatch.

“Speaking of screaming hawks, later that same day, I heard a hawk screaming as it landed in a neighbor’s yard. I grabbed my trusty camera and tripod and got a couple of shots. We spotted the bird as he flew to his mate sitting on the nest. By the time I got in position, this Swainson’s Hawk was still preening and fluffing its feathers. Something really upset it. I suspect it got too close to a crow’s nest someplace, and they mobbed it.”

At the Walker Gravel Pit near Franktown, Diane Roberts saw a “Turkey Vulture eating fish” — a dining choice I hadn’t heard of before.

Swainson's Hawk in flight
Swainsons' Hawk | Photo by Carol Vogel
Turkey Vultures eating fish next to water
Turkey Vultures eating a fish | Photo by Diane Roberts.

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