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By Nic.Korte
Tuesday, May 7, 2013

One thousand rodents per year is the estimated diet of a pair of barn owls and their young.  Reportedly, barn owls do not dine on chickens or any other domestic or wild birds except on very rare occasions.  Barn owls are nocturnal rodent specialists.  They are also not big enough to eat the family dog or cat—having existed with both of the latter on farms for generations.
  Barn owls are one of the most widely distributed birds in the world—found on every continent except Antarctica.  Sadly, this very good friend of humans is having difficulty over much of its North American range.  These owls habitually nested in large hollow trees, but now they use old buildings and holes in steep ditch banks or arroyos.  Unfortunately, modern construction and farming practices have eliminated most of the old buildings.  They may roost temporarily in modern pole barns but these structures lack the dark recesses and wide rafters necessary for a family of large owls.  Previously-identified former arroyo-cavity nesting areas in the Grand Valley have also been abandoned.  In one case, it appeared that the hole, if not the owls, had been used for target practice. Another location was overrun with dirt bike usage.  Thus, Grand Valley   

Audubon Society (GVAS) has embarked on a project to create nesting habitat for barn owls.  The photo shows a GVAS volunteer installing a nestbox in a steel barn. Various types of installations are being tried.  A couple of boxes have been hung in old silos, some have been installed in old buildings and a few have been mounted high up in trees—a mode apparently successful in the United Kingdom but unproven here.  
  Barn owls, while relatively large (16 inches long with a 42 inch wing span), are little more than feathers, bone and sinew, weighing in at a pound or less.  Hence, they are poorly insulated and probably are semi-migratory in the Grand Valley. At present, for the first time in many years, GVAS members are unaware of an active barn owl nest.  Is this a product of last winter’s excessive cold?  Has the lack of nest structures caused the local population to wink out? Maybe we just haven’t been able to find any. There have been a couple of reports of sightings this winter.  If you have a high barn with a quiet, dark corner or an abandoned silo and would like to host a barn owl structure, please contact Grand Valley Audubon. And, be on the lookout and report any sightings of a large, mostly white owl that lacks ear tufts.  {This post was written by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society.  Send questions/comments to]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, such as weekly bird walks (continuing through May), please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!]  



By Nic.Korte
Monday, April 29, 2013

   Many bird lovers know immediately what this essay is about: hummingbirds.  The recipe of one part white sugar to four parts water is what you need to fill your hummingbird feeders. They’re back!  A few have already been reported in the Grand Valley and more are on the way.  Hummingbirds are unique in many ways, such as being found only in the Americas.  Of some 300 species, Colorado commonly has only four with two known to nest.  In contrast, tiny Costa Rica, not even the size of half of Colorado, has more than sixty nesting species. So, if you want to experience the full variety of hummingbirds and those with names such as coquette, mountain-gem, sunangel and others; head for the tropics. 
    The most common hummingbird in the lower regions of the Grand Valley is the black-chinned.  The black-chinned, as with many male hummers, can be identified by its gorget—if seen well.  The original definition of a gorget was for armor or an ornamental scarf worn around the neck.  Thus, the gorget, or throat, of the black-chinned is black with an iridescent purple stripe at the bottom—if seen well. The light has to be just right. In the foothills and the mountains, the most common hummingbird is the broad-tailed. It has a rose-colored gorget which can appear black—if not seen well.  

   Unfortunately for identification purposes, the females, as shown by the black-chinned in the photo, lack brightly-colored gorgets. Instead, shape, behavior and location clues are often necessary for identification.  For many people, however, it is enough just to enjoy their feeding and fighting.  Possibly you have watched them fly high into the sky and descend in a power dive.  Those are the males showing off their colors and spirit—trying to convince females to mate with them.  That’s their job, mating, because they don’t help with nest building or rearing of offspring.  As for the fighting, hummingbirds are intensely territorial and seemingly spend more time fighting than feeding—even when there is abundant food.  
    Males showing off and strutting their stuff. Both sexes fighting all comers even when there is plenty of food.  No wonder so many people enjoy them, they act like humans.  (A particularly good overview of all things about hummingbirds can be found at this website:  Finally, don’t forget to bring your feeders in every few days and clean them to limit bacterial growth.)  {This post was written by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society.  Send questions/comments to]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, such as weekly bird walks, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!]  


Drink Good Coffee, See More Birds

By Nic.Korte
Sunday, April 21, 2013

As I sat down to write, visiting in Illinois, my dad just offered me a cup of coffee--Folger's "Mountain Grown." Oh really!  I might drink a cup, but this is not my brand. 
I have stopped here to visit family on the way home from Costa Rica where I've just spent ten days in the jungle seeing a variety of exotic birds, snakes and being fodder for too many varieties of insects. 
If I'm passionate about birds, I can be tiresome about coffee.  What's the link?  Last week in Costa Rica, I saw several yellow warblers.

I also saw olive-sided flycatchers perched on the top of jungle trees just as they perch on top of spruce on Grand Mesa.  Yesterday, near a lake here in my home town, I saw an Eastern Kingbird (an occasional visitor/resident in the Grand Valley) as I'd seen one last week in a jungle clearing in Costa Rica.    Here's the point, approximately 250 species of birds in North America spend most of their lives in the tropics.  These species account for 1/3 to 1/4 of all species in North America but an even larger percentage of what we tend to think of as "our" songbirds.
  Yellow warblers are very common around GJ in the summer.  They nest in cottonwoods and willows in the lower valley and in aspen in the higher mountains.  You can hear their call ("sweet-sweet-a little bit sweet") on the golf course, in a walk through a park, and floating the river.  Yellow warblers are a species we consider our own, but are arguably tropical species that travel here for a few months to breed. (Maybe we do the same thing in reverse--anyone reading this ever take a romantic vacation to the tropics?) The yellow warbler typically lives here for about four months (mid-May to mid-Sept.) although there are stragglers and early-birds that extend the official sighting period.
  What does this have to do with coffee? A lot! A prominent ornithologist has said, "If you want to do one thing for migratory birds, drink shade-grown coffee."  Coffee is grown in the tropics and it is done in two ways: sun or shade.  Think of a sun coffee field as the biological equivalent of a soybean field or a cotton field.  How many birds’ nests and types of birds will you see amidst a monoculture of soybeans or cotton?
  Shade-grown (and organic) coffee is grown as an understory plant.  That is, it needs tall trees overhead.  Yields are less.  Connoisseurs, however, claim it tastes better. It certainly tastes better to me because, as a consumer, I am helping a market that is definitely doing the right thing.  My favorite source for organic coffee, from a farm I've visited a couple of times, is Cafe Cristina (, Costa Rica.  You can order the coffee on-line.  They will tell you the light roast has the most flavor although the medium roast is their biggest seller.  Oh, and the bird list for their farm has more than 300 species which includes many migrants we in the US anticipate arriving each spring.  According to an article posted by the Smithsonian, sun-grown coffee plantations may harbor as few as 4 migratory species ( {This post was written by Nic Korte, photo by Jackson Trappett, Grand Valley Audubon Society.  Send questions/comments to]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, such as weekly bird walks, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!] 



Rage in the Sage

By Nic.Korte
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I could write about Greater Sage Grouse and Gunnison Sage Grouse, two species imperiled by development and climate change.  The potential listing of these species under the Endangered Species Act, while controversial (, is not the subject of this blog.  Instead, I want to discuss two other sage inhabitants that can be seen near Grand Junction.  When visiting birders come to our area; these two species are often on their must-find list because they are only common in the appropriate habitat.  First, is the sage thrasher.

These are in the same family as the mockingbird and a near relative of the lowly starling.  They nest principally in sagebrush, but will use other desert shrubs on occasion.  A great way to see them is to drive out old 6&50 past Mack toward the Stateline.  Sage thrashers, such as this one from a couple of weeks ago, often hop up on the wires and fence posts.  

Another sage specialist, but much less adaptable, is the sage sparrow.  Before you roll your eyes (Ugh sparrows—more on that topic in an upcoming blog.), consider that this sparrow has a silvery grey head with a bright white eye ring.  Viewed from the front, the white cheeks of sage sparrows almost have the appearance of a white handlebar moustache.  If not beautiful, they are at least handsome, especially as they sing each spring from the top of sage brush.  Once mating season is over, these birds can be tough to find as they may run rather than fly if you go looking for them.   Sage sparrows require large, continuous patches of low (~3ft) sage—a habitat less common than formerly.  Good places to find them are fields of thick, low sage on BS road several miles west of the Glade Park Store and on the slopes of Brewster Ridge just off of 2.8 road.  An early-returning migrant (there is suspicion they no longer migrate in our area because of changing climate), sage sparrows can be found singing to attract mates and defend territories for the next few weeks.  {This post was written by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society.  Send questions/comments to]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, such as weekly bird walks, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!] 


When the Red-red robin…NOT!

By Nic.Korte
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Its springtime!  Someone let me know the other day they had seen a robin in their yard so spring migration must be occurring.  Well, yes and no.  I’ve seen robins in my yard every day this winter.  On the Grand Junction Christmas Count last December, we counted more than 1,400 robins.  What gives?  Actually, robins are showing up in our yards now because the ground isn’t so cold and they can find worms and insects in the grass.  They are also pairing up and looking for locations to build nests.  Those are signs of spring, but is the simple presence of robins in the Grand Valley a sign of spring? Not so much.

Robins are omnivores, that is, they can eat more than insects and worms. If that were not the case, they would indeed head further south in the winter.  The reason I see robins on a daily basis in the winter is that they feast on the berries of my Hawthorne tree.  There are many native and exotic berry-laden bushes and trees and these keep our robins fat and happy all winter.  We do have song birds that spend the winter in the Neotropics.  Perhaps, the most common is the yellow warbler…I saw several in Costa Rica this winter—along with Hermit and Swainson’s thrushes and a few others that will be returning to nest in our forests. Look for them in late April and early May. [To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon Society, such as weekly bird walks, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!] 

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