Turkey vultures have returned to Front Range

Some people watch for the first robin of spring. In Capistrano, they look for the return of the swallows. I know it’s spring when the turkey vultures return to the Front Range of Colorado. (https://amylaw.blog/2013/04/08/it-must-be-spring/)

Turkey vultures are big birds — the biggest you are likely to see, with the exception of an eagle or an American white pelican.

You’re not going to mistake a vulture for a pelican. The others are a little more problematic.

They are big, dark bird with translucent (almost see-through) trailing wing feathers, and a red head.

I have the most trouble telling a turkey vulture from bald or golden eagles. Although golden eagles may hold their wings in a slight “V”, most often they hold their wings flat.

A turkey vulture soars with it’s wings in a slight “V”, often called a “dihedral”.

Turkey vultures are also “tippy” when they fly — they are so light that air drafts bounce them around. Eagles are not “tippy”. It’s beneath their dignity.

And neither a bald or nor golden eagle have the translucent trailing wing feathers.

Swainson’s hawks, or a broad-winged hawks are both tippy and fly in a V. But both these hawks have shorter, broader wings, and are smaller. They also often brownish-red and have white markings on their wings or bodies.

You might confuse it with a black vulture, but black vultures just seem smaller overall — shorter wings, much shorter tail, with a dark grey head. Plus, black vultures are limited to the southern US down into South America. I have to travel south if I want to see a black vulture.

It’s been a long, hard winter. I hope you enjoy your first signs of spring, whatever they are!

Birds coming back

We’ve been following the Bald Eagles at Fort St. Vrain power plant closely this spring. But other birds are showing up, too.

Male Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhees scratch in the soil for insects. But in the spring, you can hear the males calling “tche-tche-tche-cheee!”as they perch on the tips of trees. (https://amylaw.blog/2014/06/02/spotted-towhee/)

Chickadee gathering hair from an old suet feeder.

A pair of black-capped chickadees spent the winter in the neighborhood. It looks like they might nest here this summer, too. Actually, we’ve had chickadees around for a couple of years. https://amylaw.blog/2018/05/03/a-little-housekeeping/

Red-tailed Hawk sitting on the railing of a fence in the yard of the people behind us. They keep chickens and have cotton-tailed rabbits living under the porch.

Last fall there was a Red-Tailed Hawk cruising through the neighborhood. https://amylaw.blog/2018/12/13/red-tailed-hawk/

I don’t know for sure that this is the same bird, but as I pointed out last fall, it is a little unusual for them to be hunting in the semi-wooded suburbs.

And this bird is hunting. Another neighbor said that he came out to get the morning paper, and it was ripping up a rabbit it had caught in his front yard. He said it didn’t fly off as he approached, so he decided to get the paper later.

Today I heard a Crow burbling as it flew fast overhead. It joined another to harass the Red-tail, at times almost driving it into the ground.

With all that drama going on overhead, I almost missed the ringing zipping sound of a Broadtailed Hummingbird heading west into the mountains. https://amylaw.blog/2018/05/09/summer-cant-be-far-away/

I always wonder what they eat this early in the spring. https://amylaw.blog/2017/05/18/hummers-in-snowstorm/And then I go make up some sugar water to put in the feeders for them.

Ten days of growth…

April 4, 2019

Mama eagle shades the chicks. At this point, they are 9 days old.

April 4, 2019

Up until this day, I hadn’t seen them out of the central depression, where the failed egg remains. But once they started exploring, they rambled all over.

April 5, 2019

I’m a little annoyed, because Mama eagle is in the way of a nice shot of the little ones. There were two cameras on the nest, but the bomb cyclone took out one of them, so I can’t switch for a better view.

April 6, 2019

Oh! I get it now! Mom providing shade for the chicks while they sleep. Now that I understand what she’s doing, I see that she actually shades them a lot.

You can see the remains of a fish at her feet. The failed egg is still in the nest, too.

April 9, 2019

She spends a lot of time feeding them.

April 11, 2019

The last couple of days, the male has been covering the chicks up with nest material. I have no idea why.

April 11, 2019

The male has covered the chicks up. The female finally took nesting material out of his beak and put it back where he had picked it up. Hah! I could practically hear her saying “Will you just stop?”

April 11, 2019

Not only have the chicks grown, they are beginning to lose their downy feathers, and their beaks and talons are turning from black to grey.

April 11, 2019

Above: The female has already fed the right hand chick the first half of the fish in her beak. A previous fish is in the left foreground.

I always thought that it was kinda a free-for-all at feeding time for birds — the chicks opened their beaks as wide as they could and the adult dropped food into the biggest mouth. That hasn’t been the case with the eagles — one chick is fed until it is full, then the other is fed. This could be a problem in lean years, but the male has kept the nest full of fish this year.

April 11, 2019

It took her 8 minutes to feed the second half of the fish to the left chick. By the time she finished, all that remains of the fish are under her talons — not much. She feeds them several times a day, not always as much, but a lot.

As of April 12, 2019, the chicks are 17 days old.

Two out of Three

It’s been ten days or so since the first two eagle chicks have hatched. They have grown and become much more active.

The two eagle chicks are much more active than when they hatched ten days ago. They have moved away from the central part of the nest.

The third egg, though, is probably not going to hatch. Today, the mother eagle stopped brooding the egg entirely.

Like babies everywhere, after eating, it’s nap time.

Even if the last egg did hatch, the chicks get fed on the basis of who has their mouth open the biggest. The two chicks in the nest now would out compete the late comer, and it would starve.


Bald Eagle Egg #3, Day 1

The Fort St. Vrain Bald Eagles have been busy. They’ve added more sticks to their nest…

Male brings another stick to the nest — this seems to be an ongoing remodeling project, kinda like our bathroom renovation.

… they are eating well…

… and as of this morning, they’ve laid a third egg.

If I’ve counted correctly, we should start seeing eaglets around March 20.

Bald Eagle Egg #2 Day 1

The Fort St. Vrain Bald Eagles fussed about their nest again today. Those sticks just aren’t quite right!

The eagle in the foreground stood up when the smaller eagle in the background flew in. The smaller eagle is fussing with the sticks that make up the nest. Photo courtesy Excel Bird Cam.
Moving the stick. Photo courtesy Excel Bird Cam.

The larger eagle, in the foreground, flew off, and left us with a view of the smaller eagle — and two eggs.

Eagle with two eggs, as of sometime today. Photo courtesy Excel Bird Cam.

Of concern: snow and single digit night time temperatures for the next few days…

Bald Eagle Egg #1, Day 1

The Bald Eagles at the St. Vrain Power Plant in Platteville, Colorado laid their first egg of the season sometime last night or early this morning.

When I checked in on them around 10:00 this morning, one of the eagles was sitting in the depression they had carefully created in the nest.https://amylaw.blog/2019/02/10/eagle-cam/

This eagle is exhibiting typical brooding behavior — sitting in one spot for long periods of time.

I wasn’t sure she had an egg there, but she didn’t move for a very long time.

Just as I was getting ready actually get to my work, the eagle stood up. I was able see the egg just to the side of her tail.

Newly laid bald eagle egg to the left of eagle’s tail.

Moments after she stood up, the other eagle returned, with a branch in it’s beak.

The stick needed to be placed in just the right place.

I was surprised at how much they dragged that stick around, and that they didn’t hit the egg.

Excel has two cameras on the eagle nest at St. Vrain. The rest of these images are from a different perspective, because I switched to the other camera.

The stick was repositioned several times, and some of the branches trimmed with a quick snip of the beak. Finally, it was in a good spot.

Stick is in the right place

The eagles touched beaks, and one, presumably the male took off. I have no idea if the beak-touching is a frequent thing, or was just for Valentines Day. Sorry. A little anthropomorphizing.

Eagles touch beaks before one flies off.

The remaining eagle fluffed the nest a little, rolled the egg, and settled in

Parent eagle fluffing the nest.
She rolled the egg…
… and settled in.

Most of the egg-brooding is done by the female. She has 35 days to go before this chick hatches out. Bald Eagles lay between one and three eggs, so we’ll have to keep watching to see if more eggs appear.

Eagle Cam

Many years ago, the local power company, Public Service of Colorado, placed a nest box on the smokestack of one of their power plants. They put a camera inside, and watched what happened.

What happened was that a pair of Great Horned Owls moved in and raised a family. The public got to watch. Very cool.

Fast forward several decades. PSC merged with two other power companies in 1995 to form Excel. One of the other companies also had bird cams (which is the story you read in their “Information” page.) Excel now has at least five raptor cams, three in Colorado and two in Minnesota. https://birdcam.xcelenergy.com/cams

Both Bald Eagles and Great Horned Owls begin nesting in January, if you can believe it. Right now, I’ve only seen activity in the Bald Eagle nest. https://birdcam.xcelenergy.com/cams/xcel_energy_eagle_cams/eagle_cam_two

The male, in the foreground, has a bloody beak, after eating a rabbit, the remains of which are just to the left of his head. The female is rearranging the sticks to her liking. Courtesy Excel Energy Bird Cam

I saw them mating earlier, and interestingly, in this pair, the male seems to be the larger. In raptors, usually, it is the female who is bigger.

The female continues to rearrange sticks. Courtesy Excel Energy Bird Cam.

I have two monitors on my computer and have one on the bird cam permanently. I look forward to watching the nest cams through the spring and summer. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Sharp-shinned hawk misses flicker for lunch

The gregarious band of little bushtits took off in a burst of feathers and cheeping alarm calls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I looked up just in time to see a Northern flicker shoot out of the top of a tree, with a sharp-shinned hawk in hot pursuit. Luckily for the flicker, the hawk had made its move too soon, and given the flicker a head start the predator couldn’t overcome.

Northern flickers spend all year in the wooded areas of the Front Range of Colorado. They are in the woodpecker family, but they spend as much time on the ground as they do in trees, stabbing their big sharp beaks into the soil in search of insects.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sharp-shinned hawks are woodland predators. They, too, live year-round in Colorado woodlands, and in fact they cover most of North America.¬† Most of their diet comes from birds that they surprise and chase through the trees — exactly what I saw today, except that the flicker got away.notice the long notched tail and dark cap on head

A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road Is Now Out

I am delighted to announce that my book, A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Highway to the Sky, is now in bookstores.

I’d love to see you at a book signing. Please check this blog frequently for times and places of signings, because they do change.

2:00 May 16, 2015 Tattered Cover Aspen Grove
7301 South Santa Fe Blvd, Littleton, Colorado  http://www.tatteredcover.com/map-aspen-grove

7:30 June 17, 2015 Boulder Bookstore
1107 Pearl Street, Boulder, Colorado http://boulderbookstore.indiebound.com/directionsandparking

4:00 June 20, 2015 Macdonald Bookshop
152 E. Elkhorn, Estes Park, Colorado http://www.macdonaldbookshop.com/home/

3:00 July 11, 2015 Estes Park History Museum
200 Fourth Street, Estes Park, Colorado https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/townofestespark/museumevents

Map http://estesparkmuseumfriends.org/contact-us/