Winter in Colorado brings many opportunities for outdoor recreation, with bird-watching high on our list. While we wait for zipline courses to open and get ready to soar between the trees, it is exciting to watch Colorado’s birds fly through these same trees.
From majestic raptors soaring over snow-capped peaks to delicate songbirds seeking refuge in frost-covered branches, Colorado’s winter birds offer a show above the snowy wilderness. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the diverse avian species that call Colorado home during the winter months and uncover the best spots across the state to witness their flights.
Winter Bird Species in Colorado
Colorado is a prime destination for spotting bald eagles during the winter. Lakes, reservoirs, and other bodies of water, especially along the Front Range and the Eastern Plains, become hotspots for these magnificent raptors. Barr Lake State Park and Cherry Creek State Park are renowned for offering excellent opportunities to observe bald eagles in their natural habitat.
Winter may bring an influx of snowy owls to Colorado, particularly during irruption years. Keep an eye on open fields, prairies, and agricultural areas where these majestic white owls may make a temporary appearance. The expansive grasslands near Pueblo and Lamar are known to attract snowy owls seeking suitable hunting grounds.
Mountain bluebirds are common at middle and high elevations and can be spotted in a variety of habitats during winter, including open fields and foothill areas. Look for their vivid blue plumage against the snowy backdrop. Spots like Roxborough State Park and Castlewood Canyon State Park are great for observing these colorful songbirds.
Winter provides an excellent opportunity to spot red-tailed hawks perched in trees or soaring through the sky. Keep an eye on open areas and along highways where they hunt for rodents. The grasslands near Boulder and the San Luis Valley are known for their red-tailed hawk populations.
Dark-eyed juncos, often referred to as “snowbirds,” are a common winter visitor to Colorado. These small, gray-and-white sparrows can be found in a variety of habitats, including suburban areas, and are easily recognizable by their distinctive plumage. Look for them hopping around in search of seeds at feeders or in wooded areas.
The vast expanses of Colorado’s high country provide a haven for golden eagles during the winter. Keep your eyes on the skies in areas like Rocky Mountain National Park, where these impressive raptors can be seen soaring above the mountainous terrain. They are found most commonly in mountain and canyon habitats.
Best Spots for Winter Bird Watching in Colorado
Check out these areas to get your winter bird-watching adventure started. Additionally, explore the Colorado Birding Trail to discover more bird-watching areas. This trail links private sites with public areas to create a responsible recreation network for birders.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge:
Situated just outside of Denver, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge offers a diverse range of habitats, including lakes, grasslands, and woodlands. During winter, the refuge becomes a haven for bald eagles, waterfowl, and other wintering birds. The Wildlife Drive provides excellent opportunities for observation along its 11 mile route.
Barr Lake State Park:
Known as a wintering ground for bald eagles, Barr Lake State Park, located northeast of Denver, is a premier destination for bird watching. The park’s extensive trail system and bird blind make it easy to observe a variety of winter bird species, including waterfowl and raptors.
Roxborough State Park:
Nestled in the foothills southwest of Denver, Roxborough State Park offers a picturesque setting for winter bird watching. Keep an eye out for mountain bluebirds, raptors, and various songbirds amid the stunning red rock formations. The Fountain Valley Overlook is a great vantage point for bird watchers.
San Luis Valley:
The expansive and diverse landscapes of the San Luis Valley, surrounded by towering mountain ranges, attract a variety of winter bird species. Look for golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and other raptors as they navigate the valley’s open spaces. Bird-watching areas within the valley include the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Complex, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and the San Luis Lakes State Park.
Castlewood Canyon State Park:
Southeast of Denver, Castlewood Canyon State Park is a hidden gem for winter bird watching. Explore the park’s trails, keeping an eye out for mountain bluebirds, red-tailed hawks, and the occasional great horned owl. The unique geological features add to the scenic allure of this birding destination.
Pueblo Reservoir, located in southern Colorado, is a winter haven for waterfowl and bald eagles. The open waters attract a variety of bird species, making it an ideal spot for both novice and experienced bird watchers. The Liberty Point area provides panoramic views of the reservoir.
Tips for a Rewarding Winter Bird Watching Experience
Dress in Layers:
Colorado winters can be chilly, so dress in layers to stay warm and comfortable during your bird watching excursions. A good winter jacket, insulated footwear, and gloves are essential.
Use Binoculars and a Field Guide:
Equip yourself with a pair of quality binoculars to get a closer look at distant birds. A field guide specific to birds in the region can help you identify different species and learn more about their behaviors.
Bring a Camera:
Capture the magic of winter bird watching by bringing along a camera with a telephoto lens. The snowy landscapes and diverse birdlife provide ample opportunities for stunning winter bird photography.
Be Patient and Observant:
Winter bird watching requires a bit of patience. Settle into a quiet spot, listen for bird calls, and observe their behavior. Birds may be more active during the early morning or late afternoon.
Respect Wildlife and Habitat:
Maintain a respectful distance from birds and their habitats to avoid causing unnecessary stress. Follow the Leave No Trace principles, stay on designated trails, and follow ethical bird-watching practices to minimize your impact on the environment.
Check Weather Conditions:
Colorado’s winter weather can be unpredictable. Check weather forecast before heading out, and be prepared for changing conditions. Safety should always be a priority during outdoor activities.
Join a Guided Birding Tour:
Consider joining a guided birding tour led by experienced naturalists. Local experts can enhance your bird watching experience by providing insights into bird behavior, habitat, and the best locations for observation.
Winter bird watching in Colorado is a captivating experience, as a multitude of unique species converge in the snowy landscape. From the majestic flight of bald eagles to the subtle beauty of mountain bluebirds, the winter birdlife of Colorado offers a mesmerizing spectacle. Armed with the right gear, knowledge of prime birding locations, and a touch of patience, you are ready to enjoy this winter activity