My 14 Best Bird Watching Spots in Colorado You Should Try


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Over 400 species of birds have been recorded in Colorado. Most people think of mountains when it comes to Colorado, but it has many more habitats that are attractive to birds. Since it can be challenging to know the best bird watching spots, I wrote this article to help you plan a productive bird watching trip to Colorado. 

The best bird watching spots in Colorado are those with wetlands and reservoirs, such as at John Martin and Barr Lake State Parks; sites with many habitats and a range of elevations, like Rocky Mountain National Park, are also a good bet for rich birdlife.

A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 14 birding spots in Colorado:

PARKINTERESTING BIRDS YOU CAN SEE
Rocky Mountain National ParkPine Grosbeak and Red Crossbill
Cherry Creek State ParkBald Eagle and Burrowing Owl
Barr Lake State ParkLark Bunting and American White Pelican
Monte Vista National Wildlife RefugeSandhill Crane and Cinnamon Teal
John Martin Reservoir State ParkLeast Plover and Piping Plover
Chico Basin RanchCurve-billed Thrasher and Cape May Warbler
Pawnee National GrasslandMountain Plover and McCown’s Longspur
Colorado National MonumentGambel’s Quail and Western Scrub Jay
Fountain Creek Regional ParkBullock’s Oriole and Black-crowned Night-Heron 
Cottonwood CanyonChihuahuan Raven and Juniper Titmouse
Carrizo Canyon Picnic AreaTownsend’s Solitaire and Western Screech Owl
Bobolink TrailheadBushtit and Western Wood-Peewee
Browns Park National Wildlife RefugeChukar and Pinyon Jay
La Plata TrailWhite-tailed Ptarmigan and Graces Warbler
Best Places to Bird Watch in Colorado

Read further to learn more about my favorite bird watching spots in Colorado and what birds occur in each spot.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Colorado
Best Bird Watching Spots in Colorado

TIP: If you are interested in checking out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Colorado

Colorado has many suitable habitats for birdlife, including grassland prairies, mountains, wetlands, sagebrush, spruce, fir, pine forests, and foothill shrubs. There is also a range of elevations with different types of birds.

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park

This park is 265,461 acres in size and has a diversity of habitats such as marshland, meadows, pine woods, spruce and fir forests, and at higher elevations, alpine tundra.

You can find birds here, such as Dusky Grouse, Red-naped Sapsucker, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Wilson’s Warbler, and Western Tanager. These are all at the lower elevations of the park. 

High-elevation birds to watch for include Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Townsend’s Solitaire, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, and Pine Grosbeak.

  1. Cherry Creek State Park

Cherry Creek State Park has an 880-acre reservoir and lots of vegetation surrounding the lake, which is suitable for birds. This park is situated in the southeastern part of Denver, and it is best for bird watchers during spring and fall migration.

Migration is also when you can see Osprey, while Bald Eagles are found in the park year-round. Several waterfowl are found on the reservoir as well as Double-crested Cormorants and American White Pelicans.

Ring-necked Pheasants and Burrowing Owls both nest in the park. About 300 bird species have been recorded in this park.

  1. Barr Lake State Park

This park has a 1900-acre reservoir in it. The open water, muddy edges of the reservoir, cottonwood trees, and other vegetation on the shores of the lake are excellent for birds. There are also grasslands, which are suitable for prairie species.

Birds in this park include White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and American White Pelican. You can look along the shores in shallower waters for American Avocets.

On the land, you can look for the following birds: Orchard Oriole, Lark Bunting, Lazuli Bunting, Say’s Phoebe, Blue Jay, and Horned Lark. 

  1. Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge

Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is just south of the town of Monte Vista. The refuge has a reputation for being a great place to see many Sandhill Cranes, and there is even a crane festival that is held each year in nearby Monte Vista.

Several geese, ducks, and other waterfowl occur here in large numbers. Waterfowl known to breed in the refuge include Cinnamon Teal, Eared Grebe, and Pied-billed Grebe. 

Other birds nest in the area include Wilson’s Phalarope, Virginia Rail, Sora, and American Bittern. It would be best if you kept an eye out on the land for Prairie Falcons and Vesper Sparrows.

  1. John Martin Reservoir State Park

This park includes a reservoir that is on the Arkansas River. The park is rich in birdlife because it is surrounded by arid areas, effectively providing an oasis for wildlife.

Waterfowl can be found on the waters and the shores; such species include Pacific Loons, Common Loons, Clark’s Grebe, and Eared Grebe. 

There are important nesting areas for Least Plovers and Piping Plovers. The park does close these areas off from the public at certain times of the year to prevent hindering the nesting of these two species.

Bald Eagles and Lesser Prairie-Chickens can be found here and other birds like Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Scaled Quail, and Northern Bobwhite.

  1. Chico Basin Ranch

This area is rich in birdlife, with over 300 species recorded. It is located southeast of Colorado Springs. This is one of my top spots to see migrating warblers and grassland species.

The ranch is 90,000 acres in size. It is comprised of shortgrass prairie and also ponds and woodland patches. Birds you can find in the drier patches include Greater Roadrunners, Scaled Quails, Curve-billed Thrashers, and Burrowing Owls.

You can see warblers on migration, including the Golden-winged Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler.

  1. Pawnee National Grassland

The Pawnee National Grassland is a terrific place for bird watching. Many species of birds can be seen here. The grassland covers a large area of up to 60 miles in northeastern Colorado. 

Some of the bird species found in this area include the following: Golden Eagle, Mountain Plover Swainson’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Horned Lark, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and McCown’s Longspur.

  1. Colorado National Monument

This area is suitable for southwestern birds that are unlikely to be seen elsewhere in the state. This birding spot is located south of Grand Junction and has a range of habitats, including sandstone cliffs, sagebrush, pinyon pines, cottonwoods, and junipers. 

It also has creeks that attract many birds. Birding along the creeks is always a good idea because this is an arid region. As a result, many birds are attracted to the water and are found in the trees and bushes along the creeks.

The types of birds you can see at the Colorado National Monument include the following species: Gambel’s Quail, Rock Wren, Gray Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo, Golden Eagle, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Scrub Jay, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Black-throated Sparrow.

  1. Fountain Creek Regional Park

This is a 460-acre area that follows Fountain Creek. It is near the town of Fountain and not too far from Colorado Springs. The riparian vegetation along the creek is perfect for birdlife.

Fountain Creek Regional Park is an Audubon-designated important bird area. You can see birds like Broad-tailed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Bullock’s Oriole, Lazuli Bunting, Yellow Warbler, and Warbling Vireo in the vegetation lining the creek. The park has records of at least 30 species of warblers, including the stunning Blackburnian Warbler. 

Check the water out for waterfowl like American Wigeon, Common Merganser, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, and wading birds like the Black-crowned Night-Heron. Swainson’s Hawks and Great Horned Owls also inhabit the park.

  1. Cottonwood Canyon

This area is in the far southeastern part of Colorado, which means that vagrants and species on the edge of their range can occur in this canyon.

The area is remote and is situated near Campo. A range of habitats is present for birds, including pinyon pine trees, scrub oak trees, cottonwoods, and juniper trees.

Birds that can be found in Cottonwood Canyon include these species: Chihuahuan Raven, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Juniper Titmouse, and Cassin’s Kingbird.

  1. Carrizo Canyon Picnic Area

Carrizo Canyon is one small part of the Comanche National Grassland. The picnic area is only a few miles east of Cottonwood Canyon and is definitely worth a visit if you are in the general area.

Carrizo Canyon Picnic Area has many cottonwood and juniper trees, attracting many birds and providing good foraging and nesting sites.

A picnic area is a scenically-beautiful place. There is a trail you can walk along that follows Carrizo Creek. Walking this trail is an excellent way to see a variety of birds.

The bird species you can see here include Townsend’s Solitaire, Western Screech Owl, Mississippi Kite, Bewick’s and Rock Wrens, and Greater Roadrunner. You should also keep an eye out for the two woodpeckers found here, Lewis’s Woodpecker and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. 

  1. Bobolink Trailhead

This is a 2.5-mile trail that is handicap accessible and is a good spot for finding Bobolinks, which breed in the region. At least 182 species can be found along the trail.

Species recorded here include Black-billed Magpie, Northern Flicker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bushtit, Western Wood-Peewee, and Western and Eastern Kingbirds.

The habitats along this trail include wetlands, forests, and the shortgrass prairie. You should check for birds in all these habitats to get the maximum number of species. During migration, you may find more warblers, orioles, and vireos present along the trail.

  1. Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge

This wildlife refuge was designated a sanctuary in the 1950s to conserve migratory birds and other wildlife. The refuge is in the northwestern section of Colorado, 12,150 acres in size. It is situated along the Green River and includes riparian vegetation, providing suitable bird habitat.

Birds found in this refuge include Pinyon Jays, Sage Sparrows, and Chukars. You can also find Black-billed Magpies and Ash-throated Flycatchers. You can check open water to see an assortment of waterfowl.

Tree Swallows are often seen flying around in the refuge, and you should also scan the trees for Yellow-rumped Warblers and Common Yellowthroats.

  1. La Plata Trail

This trail is suitable for bird watchers because it has a range of elevations, extending from the Mesa Verde desert to the top of La Plata Mountain.

The vegetation changes as you walk along the trail and climb to higher elevations. The change is from desert scrub, spiny cactus, and saltbush to pine trees, spruce and fir forests, and finally to alpine tundra.

This diversity of vegetation and altitudes means that many bird species are found here, with some species only occurring at specific elevations. Birds you can look out for along the trail include Pinyon Jay, Graces Warbler, and White-tailed Ptarmigan.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Colorado

Any time of year is good for bird watching in Colorado, but keep in mind that there could be snow at higher elevations making access more difficult.

TYPES OF BIRDSSEASON
Warblers and VireosApril to May
Sandhill CranesMarch
Best Time to Bird Watch in Colorado

The Colorado State Bird

Lark Bunting: The State Bird of Colorado
Lark Bunting: The State Bird of Colorado

The Lark Bunting, Calamospiza melanocorys, is the state bird of Colorado. The bunting is a small songbird with a short, thick bill and white-tipped tail feathers. Males are black with a white patch in the wings, while females are brown with white stripes.

The bunting migrates to Colorado in the summer, where it spends its time on the plains and also up to heights of 8000 feet. These are birds of the grassland and sagebrush steppe.

Bird Watching Laws in Colorado

The migratory bird treaty act states that it is illegal to capture, possess, or harm any indigenous migratory bird species. This protection also extends to bird eggs and nests.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

Bird Watching Ethics

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.

Conclusion

Colorado is scenically beautiful, with topography ranging from deserts to high plains and mountains. The state is on the Central flyway for bird migration, with many species passing through the state in the fall and spring each year. You will not regret making a bird watching trip to Colorado.

TIP: If you are interested in checking out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Amy Connelly

As a little girl, I was fascinated by birds and liked to watch them in nature. This interest of mine has lasted until today, so I decided to create this website. This should be a place where all birdwatchers find anything and everything that they need for birdwatching.

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