Date: 2/27/17 2:25 pm From: Doug Ward <dougward...> Subject: RE: [cobirds] Front Range Bushtits-What's Up Wtih That?
Thank you for the welcome back. I too am very much enjoying these little
guys being around - always brighten up the day when they wonder through the
I share your thesis that the changes in distribution and abundance, like we
are seeing with the Bushtits, is due to a climatic shift. Up in North Idaho
where we live (splitting time now), we are seeing a general northward (&
eastward from the coast) march in a number of species (Anna’s Hummingbird,
Lesser Goldfinch, Bewick’s Wren,…) similar to what you mentioned here. The
difference between all of the species you mentioned, along with those we are
seeing in the Northwest, and the Bushtits here, is that all of the for
mentioned are following habitat corridors that are becoming available either
through a shift in habitat health or more favorable wintering conditions;
both points that you mention. The Bushtits on the other hand seemed to have
flipped some sort of adaptation switch such that they have ventured out of
their traditional habitat here in Colorado into new realms and are obviously
finding astonishing success - this is the fascinating facet for me. Several
folks mentioned the feeding of suet may be a factor, and it could well be
(like more feeding of hummingbirds in the Winter in the NW), but we were
feeding suet “back-in-the-day” as well and the only feeders that would get
them were in places like Morrison, so who knows.
End of the day, I’m going to continue to get excited when I bump into a
group of Bushtits as they represent the fact we really don’t know how Nature
works over time. Thanks again for the welcome back.
From: DAVID A LEATHERMAN [mailto:<daleatherman...>]
Sent: Sunday, February 26, 2017 5:09 PM
To: <dougward...>; COBIRDS
Subject: Re: [cobirds] Front Range Bushtits-What's Up Wtih That?
Welcome back Doug "Thick-billed Kingbird" Ward.
I still thick of bushtit as a special bird when I see one, mostly because of
my indoctrination regarding their status when I moved here in the 1970s.
But certainly they are a great example of a species that has changed
Rightly or wrongly, I tend to interpret most "trends" or "changes" we see in
Colorado birding world thru the filter of their food. Every time I've been
able to figure out the food of bushtits, it tends to be small insects:
things like aphids, scales, psyllids, the makers of galls, plus insect
parasites and predators of aphids and scales. I've watched bushtits at the
Denver Botanic Gardens working for long periods of time on soft scales in
some of the oak plantings. Of course, live oaks of several species are
common in the southern heart of the bushtit's historical range. Many oak
species are considered "quality" trees by Colorado Front Range urban
foresters/landscape architects, and they are universally recommended as
replacements for overplanted, "trash" species like silver maple, poplars and
Siberian elm. Thus, I think, similar to what you mentioned for the blue
jay, oak plantings are probably part of local habitat change by humans of
benefit to bushtits. Certainly we have a lot of ornamental junipers and
pinyon pines landscaping our new subdivisions. They occur on every list
I've ever seen of recommended "xeriscaping" (i.e. low water use) plants, AND
they harbor aphids and scales, good for bushtits. Climate change would seem
to be another factor. I'd guess the associated extremes we've been seeing
(especially those that could be described as "warmer/milder") allow for
better survival of insect food items, but also, importantly, stress woody
plants in a way that makes them more vulnerable to colonization by insects
in the first place. Warm and dry, plus a lot more people taking showers and
watering lawns = shortages, restrictions..... and moisture stress in plants.
In short I would say Colorado is fast becoming part of the desert Southwest.
If you research the last 50 species added to the Official State Checklist,
an overwhelming majority of them are southwestern or southern. Black
phoebe, black-chinned sparrow, Lucy's warbler and many others are examples.
Black-chinned hummingbird, formerly only found south of Colorado Springs or
on the West Slope, now breeds in Lamar and all the way up the Front Range to
southern WY. White-winged doves are now part of the scene. I saw 42 in one
Lamar yard this past January. We had 13 roadrunners on the John Martin Res
CBC last December. Steve Mlodinow found one near Fort Morgan a few years
ago, one has been running the roads near Red Rocks in recent years, an
unsubstantiated report came from west of Fort Collins a little over a year
ago. If that was a fig newton of somebody's imagination then, it won't be
in a few years. White-throated swifts overwintered in Pueblo last year. I
think we are close, if it hasn't happened already, to having several species
of shorebirds overwinter on open water in Colorado (least sandpiper, greater
yellowlegs, spotted sandpiper, Baird's sandpiper, not just dunlin, snipe and
It is exciting to see new things, but the reasons for them should be
somewhat sobering. I think we birders have an important role to play in
documenting the changes. If and when we ever have political leadership that
values the environment, who knows, birders might have a lot to contribute
that could make a difference.
Welcome back, and we also welcome your future contributions to COBIRDS.
From: <cobirds...> <cobirds...> on behalf of Doug
Sent: Sunday, February 26, 2017 11:31 AM
Subject: [cobirds] Front Range Bushtits-What's Up Wtih That?
“Long time Colorado birder, first time CoBirds poster”. After being away
for 17 years, I find myself back in the Front Range of Colorado on a regular
basis now. Being born and raised here, I had over 25 years of birding
experience before heading north to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in 2000; actually
splitting time between Colorado & Idaho now. With family down here, we were
back for holidays, but never really got out to do much birding – plus after
25 years, I had a pretty good idea of what, and how many, were where, or so
Ted’s post last night (25 Feb.’17), “magpies, flickers, bushtits, and Bill
Kaempfer”, prompted me to write this note based on one of the significant
avian changes I’ve noticed along the Front Range since being away. Last
summer, my wife and I were working in the yard here in Denver (Denver, Co.)
and I heard the distinctive “twittering”, then “Holy s&#$, BUSHTITS!!!” (she
still thinks the AOU needs to change the common name of these guys; I for
one like it as I’m a perpetual adolescent). I immediately ran to eBird to
check recent occurrences as I was sure this was huge. Turns out, not so
much. Growing up, finding even a couple of Bushtits in the juniper patches
west and south of town (Waterton, Red Rocks, Dinosaur Ridge, …) was a real
nice surprise, and only happened once or twice a year.
So what happened in the interim? As you all know, they are now common in
numerous locations all along the Front Range. What gets me is that these
guys have hopped habitat preferences, as opposed to expanding along with
habitat creep like the Blue Jay following “forestation” across the Great
Plains. Up until that little pack of Bushtits came through the yard, they
were always a “specialty” of the piñon/juniper belts of the southeast and
West Slope in my mind in Colorado. Now I can see a growing population, for
whatever reason, spilling into the urban areas with all of the native and
ornamental conifers, but an outright move into cottonwood riparian areas,
that makes no sense to me – I smell a thesis in there somewhere.
Any thoughts from the “old timers” who have been here throughout this shift
would be welcomed. While stumbling on a rarity every so often is fun, these
little evolutionary mysteries are what I very much enjoy about our hobby
that is so linked to Nature.