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Birds of El Paso County


Last updated 10/4/2022 at 9:38pm | View PDF

Doug Harling

Blue Jay in the Fall.

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The beginning of Fall means migrating birds and changing of colors.

When you ask people what their favorite time of year is, almost unanimously people say it is fall — especially if you ask people in El Paso County. We still get to enjoy summer-like days and cool, crisp nights. We can start sleeping with the windows open at night and for me, that means I can hear the birds before I even get up. I may even hear some Owls hooting late at night. For most people, fall is about the beauty of the leaves changing colors, but I have a different reason for loving fall. Don’t get me wrong, I love the beauty of Colorado in the fall. However, I now see season changes as the time the birds are changing.

To me, fall in El Paso County is Blue Jay season. Although we have Blue Jays year round here, they become most active in the fall. The Blue Jays will spend most of the summer breeding and raising young deep in the wooded areas. They will start molting and stay out of sight into mid September. Once the chill hits the air at night and the molt is done, the show begins. Blue Jays will start working together to find and collect food for the winter. I go from a bag of peanuts every couple of weeks to a bag a day. This activity will last until mid November, so if you feed Blue Jays or just want to start attracting them for the first time, you better get your peanuts now. I will get up to 30 coming and going all day at my home in Fountain. If you are in an area with a bunch of Blue Jays, take some time to just sit and listen. It seems like I hear new sounds from them every day. Mine have become used to my whistle and the sound of the peanut bag in the morning. If you don’t have the peanuts out by sunrise, they will let you know. My trees become full of their beautiful blue against the red, yellow and oranges of the changing maple leaves.

The migration for birds headed south has already begun. The farther the birds have to migrate, the sooner they will leave. The Swainson’s hawks have already begun to head out because they have a 7,000-mile migration to Argentina. Some of you may be noticing huge numbers of Turkey Vultures starting their migration. If you see large number of big birds riding the thermals in the sky, it is most likely Turkey Vultures starting their migration. You hummingbird lovers may have seen your last hummingbird of the year already. My resident hummingbirds left last week. However, I highly encourage you to leave your feeders out as long as you can. I leave mine out until they start freezing. There are few to no flowers around now, and home feeders may be the only nectar the traveling hummingbirds can get. I know mine have all left, but I was standing on my deck today taking some pictures of blue jays and a traveler stopped by to check out my hanging Lantana flowers on the 30th of September. Some southern migrating birds will not leave until mid or late November.

Some of the birds you have in your yard or see on hikes have a true migration. What I mean by that is they have a specific winter destination like Swainson’s hawks and hummingbirds. Some birds have what I call a “fair weather migration,” which means they only go as far south as they need to get away from the freezing temperatures. Some birds that migrate by instinct just didn’t get the memo or just don’t feel like making the trip. For example, Geese migrate by instinct, however, there are many that just stay. If it gets cold enough and all the water is completely frozen, they will be forced to go south and find water. Buntings, Grosbeaks, Orioles, Gold Finches are some of the birds you see all summer in El Paso County but will fly south for a true migration. Northern Flickers are one of the only woodpeckers that migrate. Robins, Grackles and Starlings are some of the birds that are fair weather migrators or partial migrators. Blue Jays, Sparrows and House Finches are some that will stay all winter. Birds that leave for the winter are not the only migrators. We have many birds that spend their summers north in the cooler tundra and we are their winter migration destination. They will migrate back here and spend the winter. A true favorite of these is the Junco, which is also nicknamed “the snow bird;” when you start seeing them, you can expect snow to be on the way. Also Bushtits and several different raptors spend their winters here. Watch for the Ferruginous hawks, Rough legged hawks, Harlan’s Red Tail hawks and even Merlins to start showing up soon. And nothing says fall like the Great Horned owls hooting in the night from the rooftops.

You really don’t need to do much preparation for fall in your yard. I keep the same bird feeders out and just start putting out more peanuts. Never forget water. If you don’t already have a bird bath heater, I suggest you get one before the freezing temps arrive. Most of your gardens are starting to die off for the winter, but do not rush to clean them up. So much of the dead sunflowers and flowering bushes have seeds and other things the wintering birds need. If you do need to trim dead bushes and such down, try to leave a pile until spring. With all the leaves gone, shrubs and dead grasses are the only protection from the harsh winter weather that small birds have.

If you have any cool stories or questions, I’d love to hear from you! Happy fall and happy birding!

Facebook: Doug Harling

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