Before you venture out on this year’s Christmas Bird Count, please review these frequently confused birds.
Know Your Christmas Bird Count Birds – A few species confusions to watch
It is important, and often very helpful for ID, to be aware of the bird species that you are likely to find during the Christmas Bird Count season in Colorado. Many species that you would find in high numbers in the summer are, at best, extremely rare in the winter. While you should not completely disregard the possibility of these rare winter species being present, you are generally safe ignoring them. Below, pairs or trios of birds are briefly described to highlight differences. Please make a point to familiarize yourself with these and the temporal ranges of other common Front Range species. Have a great CBC season!
American Tree Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow vs. Chipping Sparrow
Fairly common in brushy habitat in winter in CO, often solitary or in small groups.
Primary field marks: Bicolored bill; gray head with orange crown and eyeline; orange wash on wings with two distinct wing bars; dark central spot on gray, unstreaked breast.
Very common in brushy habitat in winter in CO; almost always in flocks.
Primary field marks: Pink to yellow/orange bill; adult has black eyeline, white supercilium (eyebrow), and black and white crown stripes; Juvenile (shown) has light brown eyeline, gray supercilium, and light brown-striped crown; unmarked gray breast.
Chipping Sparrow does not winter in Colorado Springs.
Primary field marks (in winter): Black eyeline through eye to bill; dirty white supercillium; brown crown; unmarked gray breast; two weak white wingbars.
Spotted Towhee vs. Black-headed Grosbeak (male)
Fairly common in scrubby habitat; solitary, though sometimes several forage in close quarters.
Primary field marks: Solid black “hood”; fairly thin, pointed black bill; red iris; white breast and belly; orange sides; black wings with fine spots. Often found on ground.
Black-headed Grosbeak (male)
Black-headed Grosbeak does not winter in Colorado Springs.
Primary field marks: Black hood with orange “collar”; huge, faintly bicolored bill (color difference not always obvious); black iris; orange breast, belly, and sides; black wings with large white areas.
House Finch vs. Purple Finch
Common; often in flocks.
Primary field marks: (Adult male) Orange-red wash on head, breast, and rump with thick, brown streaks on flanks; brownish wings and back; curved bill gives it rounded look. (Female) Gray-brown head with no distinct patterning; heavy, blurry streaks on breast, belly, and flanks; also has rounded-looking bill; weak white wingbars.
Purple Finch does not winter in Colorado Springs.
Primary field marks: (Adult male) Pink-red wash over nearly entire body; white belly and undertail coverts, and unstreaked flanks; straighter bill appears pointy. (Female) Gray-brown head with white eyebrow and malar; heavy, “clean” streaks on breast and belly; pointed bill; faint brown wingbars. (Photos: Wikipedia)
Northern Shoveler (female) vs. Blue-winged Teal (female)
Somewhat uncommon on water bodies during CBC season.
Primary field marks: (Female) Very long, wide bill that may be somewhat orange ; bright orange legs; gray wing coverts; larger bird than Blue-winged Teal.
Blue-winged Teal does not winter in Colorado Springs.
Primary field marks: (Female) Dark bill about same length as head width; yellow legs; blue wing coverts; slightly smaller than Northern Shoveler. Any teal other than Green-winged Teal must be documented with either a photograph or extensive field notes. (Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
(Text by Tyler Stuart. Photos not otherwise attributed are by Leslie Holzmann.)