Backyard Birds - December/January Report
Northern Goshawks, Christmas Bird Count, Pigeons and more!
Northern Goshawks don’t typically raid backyard bird feeders, but in December they tried in two places, both in Franktown. Karen Metz reported, “An adult female Northern Goshawk has made three appearances. During the first visit, she perched quietly near our deck, but we stared (marveled) too long at her to get a photo, and the second time she flew in rapidly, made three lunges at tree trunks (for woodpeckers, squirrels) and then in another lunge she flushed the juvenile male Sharp-shinned Hawk, a regular hunter here since September, off its hiding place. The songbirds had just returned so the Sharpie had had a good chance.
“On her third visit she lunged at birds flying out of the roofed hopper feeder and then she perched so close to a kitchen window (until she became aware of me) that I could see that her eye is pale, and not the dark red of a years-long experienced Accipiter.”
April Lahr, a professional photographer, sees them comparatively regularly. A couple of years ago, “I glanced at where my hens were free ranging and saw a big dark bird. I grabbed my long lens and camera and slowly walked outside my house. I took photos along the way so if it flew off, I’d still have a few. To my amazement, the bird eyed me and postured over its prey but did not move. I got many photos of both sides, front and back of the Northern Goshawk. Guessed to be about a 3-year-old female. She plucked feathers from the hen as her long talons grasped firmly into the chest. She was watching me closely while attempting to get her meal started. I slowly crept back to my home and watched from a window. She was thrilled to then tear into her meat and swallowed a few large bites without being so leery.
“I saw one last winter up on a tree too. They appear when it’s harder to get regular food.”
Bill Kunz, a new member living in west Arvada emailed: “I am the Lead Volunteer Gardener at the City of Arvada’s Majestic View Nature Center. We have a large natural area with a small pond, grasslands and many mature trees and shrubs. We also operate a demonstration garden focusing on perennials, trees and shrubs which have low water requirements and are wildlife and pollinator friendly. I consider this premier bird and wildlife habitat with a wide diversity of bird and mammal species which I want to start reporting on in the backyard birds listings.
“Interesting birds seen in December: American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bushtit, Townsend’s Solitaire, White-crowned Sparrow, and Spotted Towhee.
“The pond is now frozen, so waterfowl sightings are done for a while but the towhees, sparrows as well as loads of chickadees and juncos are always flitting around the garden and trails. We also have several trail cameras set up with sightings of raccoons (of course), red fox, coyotes, and a resident bobcat.”
After the Denver Urban Christmas Bird Count (results later) Kevin Corwin sent this entertaining note. “But we got nearly skunked on our best urban bird, the pigeon/rock dove/rock pigeon/squab. Our average for pigeons over the 15-year period from 2003 through 2017 was 417, this year we got 3. We have an end-of-day ritual we call “The Colfax Crawl,” whereby we travel Colfax Ave between Dayton and Pearl, counting pigeons on billboards, signs, roof edges, in the air, on wires, anywhere. We count other birds on the crawl as well, got a Red-tailed last year, but the pigeons are our real quarry. By the time we Crawled Colfax this year the snow had set in pretty hard, but I was still surprised we saw so few.
My favorite event of the day – and it’s events like this that made the potlucks such a great opportunity for swapping stories – was the 4-year-old Bald Eagle that glided in to land directly over our heads atop a tree in the northeast part of Denver City Park. Got a great look at some bits of grey/white on the undersides of the wings, the not-quite-all-white tail feathers, grey eye-stripe, not-quite-yellow eye and beak. He hadn’t been there a minute before a magpie landed on a branch just below and behind him, reached up, grabbed a tail feather in his beak and yanked… hard! Made the eagle jump a bit. About a minute later the adult female we’d seen flying the same route from north to south just a few minutes earlier reappeared on a powered beeline toward the youngster. He bailed out as she arrived, and she followed/pursued him back to the north from whence they each had come. Some of us thought it might be a pair-bonding behavior, others thought it might be a power/conflict issue. Either way, it sure was great to watch!”
Kathy Bollhoefer, who bicycles all over town, sent a note about her fall activities. She hikes with “Broads for Wildness,” most recently at the Audubon Center. She described her efforts at protecting migrant birds for “Lights Out Denver.”
“Polly Reetz and I have done a few early morning walks downtown in search of birds that have hit buildings during spring or fall migrations. Polly walks on one side of the street while I walk on the other. Last year Polly found a Poorwill near the Wells Fargo Cash Register building. I had never seen one close at hand and didn’t know it initially – its beak is very short, but relatively wide for aerial insects, and its patterning is almost checkered. It was dead, unfortunately. This fall another one was found that was stunned, and it go rehabilitated.
I’m still seeing very few House Sparrows. A few flocks have simply disappeared or dissipated, one along the Highline Canal and one close to the I-25 overpass on Steele Street, in a hedge near feeders. I’ve enjoyed some mixed flocks on my bike – one along the Highline included Black-capped Chickadees, Bushtits, House Finches, Cedar Waxwings, a Downy Woodpecker, Robins, White-breasted Nuthatches, and a Flicker.”