It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … wait, it is a bird

From hummingbirds to hawks, Breck is home to many beautiful, feathered creatures.

Now that spring and summer are upon us, mornings in Breckenridge are filled with the lovely melody of chirping birds. While most know Breck as a mountain playground for bipedal featherless creatures, the area is actually home to dozens of bird species. On any given day, you could come across a tiny hummingbird buzzing around a garden or, if you’re very lucky, a rare and regal bald eagle soaring high above the peaks.

Photo by Greg Hume
Photo by Greg Hume

“In the winter, we have about 14 resident species and over 60 species in the summer,” says Dr. Christy Carello, who assists the Town of Breckenridge in monitoring wildlife in  Cucumber Gulch, the forested area under the gondola between town and Peaks 7 and 8 that is teeming with birds, moose, deer and many other forms of exotic wildlife, flora and fauna. June in particular is a sensitive time for these life forms. Birds are in the sensitive period of their early nesting phase and it’s important that they are not disturbed. This is a big reason that Cucumber Gulch is closed through July 6.

“Cucumber Gulch has a multitude of habitats – wetlands, woods, ponds, all of them right there and home to all of these species of birds,” Carello says. “It’s a hot spot for biodiversity in the high country.”

When it comes to birds, Cucumber Gulch is home to osprey, red tailed hawks, ducks, mallards, spotted sandpipers, Canadian geese, great bluebirds and of course, crows and ravens. One rare bird that Carello has never seen but which bird watchers come to Colorado expressly to find is the purple rosy finch.

But as you’ve probably already seen and heard, you don’t have to go to Cucumber Gulch to find birds in Breckenridge. Here are three species you could see in any tree in town or from any trail:

Photo by Jerry Friedman
Photo by Jerry Friedman

Mountain Chickadee
 The most common bird you’re likely to see – and hear – at any point in the year is the Mountain Chickadee, small but plump with a large, black and white-striped head that is constantly chattering (their song sounds like their name … “chick-adee-dee”). Like many birds, Chickadees breed monogamously. Both parents feed the young in the nest. Their main diet is insects when they can find them, as well as seeds … all foraged mostly in bark and tree branches.

CoopersHawkCooper’s Hawk
This medium-sized bird of prey can be spotted sailing gracefully over the treetops, even in winter. They are generally bluish grey on top and lighter underneath with brown necks and tails and yellow hooked beaks. Their breast feathers are tan with white spots and females are larger than males (growing up to 20 inches long). Named after naturalist William Cooper, the bird is also called a chicken hawk, possibly because their primary food source is other birds – usually smaller varieties such as robins and woodpeckers.

Wilson’s Warbler
Carello likens these bright birds to “flying lemons” because they are small and yellow – their top feathers a dark or greenish hue and their heads, throats and underbellies a vibrant yellow. They typically have a black crown on their heads. Although they usually fly to Mexico in the winter, they return in the spring and summer, frequenting Cucumber Gulch but also visiting other areas where there is water – high alpine ponds and Lake Dillon. They are named after ornithologist Alexander Wilson and subsist primarily on insects found on leaves – beetles, caterpillars, etc.

– Shauna Farnell

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