Birdwatchers, or "birders" as they prefer to be called these days, are heading outdoors in droves to celebrate spring and the return of migratory birds to the Centennial State.
Each year, Colorado birders join thousands of others on the second Saturday in May to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day. This year's date is May 11. Wildlife enthusiasts see the date as a way to recognize the winged wonders that travel the globe each spring and fall, migrating thousands of miles from their wintering grounds to nesting grounds and back again.
"Just about every bird that comes through Colorado is here in May," says John Koshak, a watchable wildlife expert with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "Some birds will remain for the summer and some are just looking for places to hang out briefly to rest and refuel before continuing their journey."
Data from the Association of Colorado Field Ornithologists shows that more than 480 species of birds have been documented in Colorado. That puts the state seventh on the list of states with the most bird species. California and Texas, with more than 630 bird species each, are the top two. What makes Colorado unique is that it does not have an ocean coastline that harbors shore birds.
International Migratory Bird Day was created specifically to highlight birds that move between nesting grounds in North America and non-breeding areas in South and Central America, and the Caribbean.
Because birds tend to stop where they can find water, Koshak recommends wet areas as good places to look for migratory birds. He said water features could vary from small urban ponds, streams, marshes and ditches to rivers or large reservoirs.
"Wet spots are good, but you don't have to go to elaborate lengths to get started bird watching," said Koshak. "Simple places that are easy to organize a family bird-watching project include a nearby state park, open space or even your own back yard."
Migratory birds are defined as those that spend part of their time in one location then move to another during a different season. Some birds don't move very far. For example, some species in Colorado "migrate in elevation" by moving between the plains and the mountains. On the other extreme, the White-rumped Sandpiper is a world traveler. It spends the winter on beaches in Argentina, hop scotches from wetland to wetland across the Americas, and nests on the tundra of the high Arctic.
One of the longest non-stop flights ever recorded was reported by National Geographic. According to a New Zealand researcher, a female bar-tailed godwit flew 7,145 miles non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand. The bird flew for nine days straight without stopping for food or water.
UPCOMING BIRDING FESTIVALS:
The 20th Annual Hummingbird Festival is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., May 11 at the Starsmore Discovery Center in Cheyenne Canyon, Colorado Springs. Programs include children's activities, craft projects, a native plant sale and hummingbird viewing. Call 719-385-6086 for more information.
The Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival in Cortez is May 8-13. The festival includes tours, lectures, a silent auction, art show, and a banquet with the keynote speaker Mark Obmascik, author of "The Big Year." For more information, visit: http://www.birds.com/blog/ute-mountain-mesa-verde-birding-festival-2013.
For more information about upcoming bird watching festivals and field trips in Colorado, visit the Colorado Birding trail website at http://www.coloradobirdingtrail.com.