When considering birding locales during the winter, Costa Rica, Arizona or southern Texas come to mind. But right here in Denver some unique and beautiful birds are easy to spot. Sure, there are more …
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When considering birding locales during the winter, Costa Rica, Arizona or southern Texas come to mind. But right here in Denver some unique and beautiful birds are easy to spot. Sure, there are more than enough Canada geese hanging out in our parks but a walk along the Platte or Cherry Creek, or a park with a large lake, will provide plenty of interesting birds during the winter months. To emphasize the variety of birds that grace us during the winter, the Audubon Denver Christmas bird count tallied 95 species.
Doris Cruze has been leading the Audubon Society of Greater Denver’s Christmas bird count along the Platte for several years. Her bird count route is from just south of West Evans Avenue all the way to Confluence Park. She considers the ducks the highlight of the count as they can be seen up close. Some of the stars include Buffleheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Redheads, Ruddy Ducks and Green-winged Teal. Doris’ favorites are the Mergansers.
“The Common Mergansers are very beautiful, with the sleek male's snowy white body with a dark head and back and a long red beak, while the female, grey with a rust-colored head and a swept-back "hair-do" has the same long, graceful body as the male. But the most spectacular of all is the hooded merganser. Discovering the small but brilliantly colored male swimming along with the sun on his back has hooked many beginners to become enthusiastic birders. This duck, with his white "hood" and chest outlined in black, contrasts sharply with his dark back and rusty sides,” said Cruze.
The northern shoveler is easy to identify. This duck sports an exceedingly long bill and bright orange legs. The breeding male has a white breast, rufous flanks, a dark green head and yellow eyes. They often swim in circles in groups, like a rugby scrum. This stirs up sediment on the river or lake bottom and allows them to strain out aquatic insects and plants with their comb-like, edged bill. Unlike most ducks, shovelers have long lasting relationships with their mates.
A common favorite winter visitor is the bufflehead. They are one of our smallest ducks and a contrast of black and white plumage. The males have a round, black head with a semi-circle of white in the back. The female is mostly gray-brown with an oval white patch on the cheek. This time of year, the male displays for the female by swimming around her, throwing back his head and issuing a little squeak. Buffleheads dive for food, which includes fish and aquatic insects. Like wood ducks, they nest in tree cavities.
There are many more beauties to be seen in the metro area during the winter and early spring, such as green-winged teals, American Wigeons, wood ducks and common golden eyes. Many of these ducks head north in the spring to breed, often going as far as northern Canada and Alaska. So before they head out, grab your binoculars and bird guide and head to a park or river near you. If you’d like to go with a group, consider joining Walk the Wetlands, a bird walk the first Sunday of every month. This is a great way for beginning birders to spend the morning with experienced birders and see some great birds. For more information, visit ASGD’s website: denveraudubon.org/programs.
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