Birds and More | All Blogs


By Nic.Korte

I couldn't decide which segue I liked better. My wife and I recently watched the biopic about James Brown ("Get on Up!"), the genius rhythm and blues singer who was such an enormous musical influence. On the other hand, Colorado’s newest big-time cash crop also lends itself to a convenient double entendre. Neither James Brown nor marijuana have much to do with birds, although I suppose the silly rock song “The Bird is the Word” may owe something to James Brown. On the other hand, many folks (myself included) get high on amazing birding experiences.

My title double entendres can also refer to climbing and hiking in Colorado’s high country. Are you into climbing fourteeners? Or, maybe you prefer my favorites, high thirteeners, where you can have the fourteener experience without as much company? If you have climbed more than one or two, or if you have hiked or backpacked above timberline, you have seen two special Colorado birds. Maybe you didn’t identify them, but if you saw birds up high, you probably saw these two.

One is the American Pipit. It is the only common representative of the family Motacillidae found in the US outside of Alaska.

(photo by Jackson Trappett)

Most often, American Pipits are seen as one walks across the tundra. A slender brown bird with white tail feathers flutters up from the ground, and with an easy undulating flight soon settles back into the grass or on a boulder. If the pipit is in your path, it may do this a few times before finally doubling back to where you initially flushed it. American Pipits breed throughout the tundra in North America which includes the high Rocky Mountains, much of Alaska and the boreal regions of Canada. They winter, often in small flocks, throughout the Southern US, but also in Mexico and Central America. The Central Valley of California, east and south Texas and Louisiana are all important wintering areas. Right now they are nesting. Often eggs are laid under a small rock practically in the open. On one occasion, researchers studying some nests observed that most of the young survived their nest being snow-covered for 24 hours.

American Pipits are widely distributed, but there is one bird that almost has to be seen in Colorado. These are Brown-Capped Rosy-Finches. When hiking or climbing, look for small flocks of mostly brown birds whirling about remnant snowfields. These guys can often be tame. Once on top of La Plata Peak, a few of them foraged literally within inches of my boot. 

(photo by Jackson Trappett)

Brown-capped Rosy-Finches are a special bird in Colorado because they are a near endemic of our state. They nest in the high-country throughout the length of Colorado but only as far south as Sandia Peak in New Mexico and as far north as Wyoming’s Snowy Range. More than the American Pipits, Rosy-Finches are a true denizen of the highest mountains, only showing up in the valley during and after heavy mountain storms.

So take this opportunity to impress your hiking companions. There simply aren't that many choices in the high country. When you see a bird with white tail feathers take off from the tundra, tell them, “There goes an American Pipit.” When climbing that last thousand feet to the peak, if you see a small brown bird with some pink on the belly, rump and wings, that would be the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch.

This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to [To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!]


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