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Rare Bird Discovered Breeding in Northern Colorado

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image for press release Rare Bird Discovered Breeding in Northern Colorado Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department have confirmed that Baird's Sparrows are actively breeding at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, a first-ever record of the species reproducing in Colorado.

After several weeks of intensive nest searching and observation, adult Baird’s Sparrow were discovered carrying food to at least three fledglings in an off-limits area of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. The fairly young fledglings and singing males were observed in a shortgrass prairie ecosystem.

This finding is remarkable because the Baird's Sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii) has never been confirmed breeding in Colorado. The heart of their breeding range is hundreds of miles away in northeastern Montana, western North Dakota, and southern Canada. This discovery is heartening news because it indicates that this grassland specialist species, which has been declining for decades, has the ability to successfully colonize and nest in habitat very far away from its typical range. That ability is important as grassland areas across North America change due to conversion to agriculture, changes in grazing practices and climate change.

The discovery is a tribute to the ecological management of Soapstone Prairie by City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department and local grazing associations. The Baird’s Sparrows’ nest is evidence that the goal of maintaining healthy, intact grassland areas is being achieved. Baird’s and other grassland birds prefer taller vegetation, which also fosters a productive landscape for cattle and other wildlife. Bird Conservancy and City of Fort Collins are both committed to grassland conservation.

Birders wishing to see or hear Baird's Sparrows can try looking for them by parking at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area’s South Parking Lot then taking the southern portion of the Pronghorn Trail. At the Pronghorn/Plover junction, head south to an area of taller grass.

Soapstone Prairie Natural Area is an on-trail only site. The Baird's parrow nests and juveniles are in a conservation area that is not accessible to the public. Visitors are reminded that trails are regularly patrolled and visitors must observe all natural area regulations.

Natural Areas are naturally yours! You are welcome to explore and help care for the 49 natural areas managed by the City's Natural Areas Department. Thank you voters! Your citizen-initiated city and county sales taxes fund land conservation, trails, and educational programs. The City of Fort Collins Natural Areas mission is to conserve and enhance lands with natural resource, agricultural and scenic values, while providing meaningful education and appropriate recreation opportunities.

Founded in 1988, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies is a Colorado-based nonprofit that works to conserve birds and their habitats across the Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, Mexico and beyond. Our mission is advanced through sound science, achieved through empowering people, realized through stewardship and sustained through partnerships. Together, we are improving native bird populations, the land and the lives of people.

Photo by Andy Bankhert, caption: "An adult Baird's Sparrow carries food to its young on Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. This migratory grassland bird species has been exhibiting steep population declines for many years."