Winter Finches in Colorado’s Northern Rockies

“Timing is everything,” my friend Sue called out to the two men standing near the tree where the White-winged Crossbills had been nesting. We were delighted when park staff had told us that “the professor” was there, referring to Dave Leatherman who has been monitoring the crossbills.

“It depends on how you look at it,” Dave replied. “I am pretty sure a Fox Squirrel ate the fledglings a few minutes ago when the parents were away from the nest hunting for breakfast.”

We were in the Grandview Cemetery in Fort Collins hoping to get good looks at the nesting pair. We decided to wait around to see if they returned.

“This is the lowest elevation nesting for White-winged Crossbills in Colorado,” Dave told us. “I have been watching them since November and could see that the male was really taken with the female. It was no surprise when they decided to build a nest.”

Pretty soon, Dave heard them call. “Here they come,” he signaled. They flew into the top of another spruce near the nest tree. As they jockeyed themselves in the top of the tree, both the male and female were clearly visible. They flew over to the nest tree, but didn’t go into the nest, and then they were off again.

While we waited to see if they would return, Dave told us about the nest building. “I think this would the female’s first nest,” he speculated. “It was fascinating watching her gather different types of nesting materials. When she was lining the cup, she gathered some pigeon feathers from the ground that were wet from the sprinklers. I watched her pull the strands of the feather apart to dry them before she took them to the nest.”

The pair returned one more time before we left, this time accompanied by a Red Crossbill. They flew over to the nest briefly and then they were off.

We were off also, to head over the mountains.

After winding through Poudre Canyon, we climbed over Cameron Pass, known for its Boreal Owls. Snow was several feet deep, so we didn’t even think about getting out of the car.

We pulled into the Moose Visitor Center, not realizing what a gem it was. Birds were flying back and forth. As we got out of the car, we noticed that there was a feeder behind the Visitor Center, and we walked over to the side of the building to watch the birds. A cold wind was blowing. “I’m going to go inside and watch through the windows,” I announced. Sue soon followed.

Pine Grosbeak

pair of Pine Grosbeaks were scarfing up seed at the feeders. After awhile, they flew back into the trees. Sue wandered over to peruse the books.

Cassin's Finch - Photo by Sue Clasen

Then it was the Cassin’s Finches turn at the feeder. “Sue, come here,” I beckoned. “You wanted to see a Cassin’s Finch. Notice how rosy they seem, compared with the other red finches, and its breast lacks streaking,” I pointed out. “And the females are more finely streaked than the other female finches.”

Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) Juncos were busy at another feeder, and both a Black-capped and Mountain Chickadee popped in. Stellar’s Jays also visited the tray feeder.

The prior day it had snowed and rosy-finches visited the feeder. As the season waned, the person at the Visitor Center said that they only came in when the weather was bad. They sun was shining that day, so no rosies.

Behind the feeders, a few Red-winged Blackbirds perched and called from some reeds. Then, all of a sudden, masses of them rose out of the dried grasses and swirled in the air before settling back down again.

Before we left, were graced by another visit from the Pine Grosbeaks!

One thought on “Winter Finches in Colorado’s Northern Rockies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s