Pueblo Birding

Traveling south from Colorado Springs and El Paso County to the city of Pueblo in neighboring Pueblo County, I never fail to be impressed by the sudden alteration in landscape and vegetation. Both counties are located east of the Rocky Mountains and share a high desert climate, but Pueblo’s altitude of 4,692 feet (1430 meters) is significantly lower than Colorado Springs’ 6,035 feet (1839 meters), and the town is farther away from the mountains, which makes it look and feel very different.

This substantial difference in altitude is nearly imperceptible when driving, especially since the two cities are only some 44 miles (70 km) apart. Pueblo tends to be warmer both in summer and winter, and with 12-13 inches annual precipitation is even more arid than Colorado Springs, where we receive 16-17 inches on average (the lowest precipitation ever recorded was a mere 6 inches in 1939).

Despite the aridity of the overall climate, Pueblo and environs are rich in water, thanks to the existence of several rivers. The city was founded near the confluence of Fountain Creek, which originates in the mountains west of Colorado Springs, and the Arkansas River. This vital waterway, with a length of 1,469 miles (2,364 km) the sixth-longest in the US, makes its way from its headwaters near Leadville in Colorado to its eventual meeting with the Mississippi River, after crossing the states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas (click here for a map).

The Arkansas, like the vast majority of western rivers, has been dammed (mind your spelling!). Pueblo Dam, built in the 1970s, was responsible for the creation of Lake Pueblo, aka Pueblo Reservoir, as well as for several smaller lakes called Valco Ponds. All these bodies of water are major magnets for fisherpeople and watersports enthusiasts. Plus for birds and, consequently, for birders, including me.

Living in a landlocked state, away from oceans, I relish the presence of water in any form, a preference shared by many birds, which is reflected by the fact that five of the top ten birding hotspots in Pueblo County are linked to Pueblo Reservoir, Valco Ponds, and the river itself. The county is the second-birdiest among Colorado’s 64 counties, with 423 observed species thus far. Because far fewer people live and bird in Pueblo County than in the state’s birdiest county, Larimer (429 species), which is located south of the Wyoming border, it stands to reason that exciting new avian discoveries await in the future.

This long-winded introduction explains why I like to journey to Pueblo with binoculars, spotting scope, and camera in tow. I try to make the trip at least once a month, and the following photos were taken during my last three visits.

My December trek happened in the wake of a light snowfall and unrolled along part of the Arkansas Riverwalk (which is extensive), as well as the Pueblo Nature and Raptor Center. The latter is a refuge for injured birds of prey and deserves its own post.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Waxing December moon

January found me birding at Lake Pueblo, now part of a State Park. It is a great location to find gulls and waterfowl, grebes and loons among many others. It is best to bring a scope as many birds will be far from the shore and difficult to see with field glasses alone.

Great Black-backed Gull (Mantelmöwe) in the foreground, surrounded by dozing Ring-billed Gulls (Ringschnabelmöwen)

February has been up and down, weather-wise. We have had some snow, interspersed with unusually warm days. The weather fronts are frequently ushered in by strong winds, the bane of living at the western edge of the Great Plains. If you have ever read reports written by early explorers or settlers, all complain about the blustery conditions, which can range from simply annoying to life-threatening (think Dust Bowl).

I almost didn’t bird on February 20 because of the wind, but I was detouring through Pueblo on a return trip from Cañon City and decided to stop at Valco Ponds, one of my favorite birding destinations in the county. A string of five lakes that are nestled next to the Arkansas River, they offer habitat to water- and landbirds alike. Despite the breezes and blowing dust, avian activity was livelier than expected and I was thrilled to see Barrow’s Goldeneyes, very handsome ducks I had only encountered three previous times in my life, and never in Pueblo County. Having missed them earlier in the year, I couldn’t have been happier.

February’s still dormant vegetation at Valco Ponds

Barrow’s Goldeneye pair, female on the left, male on the right (Spatelenten)

Late afternoon turned into early evening, and as the sun disappeared, so did the wind, giving me a few precious moments of calm. Even the river seemed to stand still, reflecting the adjoining trees on its glassy surface. Reluctantly I made my way back to the car, accompanied by the hooting of an owl, ready to start her night life. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I was already dreaming of my next excursion to Pueblo.

February sunset along the Arkansas River

46 thoughts on “Pueblo Birding

    • Dankeschön, lieber Jürgen. Der Frühling hier kommt erst im April und Mai, und bis dahin wird es noch öfter schneien, wie z.B. heute. Aber das soll so sein, und wir brauchen den Niederschlag.
      Genieße die Frühlingstage bei Dir.


  1. I would not have expected to see Gulls in Pueblo! Even though we are about 50 miles from the coast we never see Gulls. Beautiful shots, especially the moon. Your blue jay looks a little different to ours – perhaps it was a juvenile with paler colors. Now you have persuaded everyone to move to Pueblo… 😉😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are actually 6 species of gulls that could occur in Pueblo County at this time of year, and additional species of gulls and terns are expected during other seasons. I also had to learn that many gulls are not “seagulls.” Some actually breed on prairie ponds.
      When you are ready to move to Pueblo, let me know. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t realize that you average only 16-17 inches of precipitation in Colorado Springs. It may be a wonder that the springs keep springing.

    “Mantelmöwe” has a lovely alliterative lilt to it. I followed the trail of Häher (jay) and found there’s a dialectal English “heighaw” (woodpecker) that’s presumably a cognate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we don’t get a lot of rain. The average during the current megadrought has even been lower during some years. Luckily, most of the springs (which are in Manitou Springs, not in Colorado Springs) are drawing their water from deep limestone caverns, which still seem to harbor sufficient stores of water.

      I’m glad the German bird names took you on a exploratory etymological journey (one of your Lieblingstätigkeiten). If Häher and heighhaw are indeed cognates, it makes me wonder if jays and woodpeckers were at some point considered close relatives.


      • It’s not unusual, given enough time, for meanings to shift around. For example, the Indo-European root that is believed to have originally designated the crane has survived in native English crane and crow as well as the Latin-derived diminutive grackle.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Eliza.
      When we first moved here, I learned that many gulls are not “seagulls.” 6 species of gulls could occur in Pueblo County at this time of year, and additional species of gulls and terns are expected during other seasons. Some actually breed on prairie ponds. It’s quite amazing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Always amazed at how big those Great-Black Backed Gulls. They also make me laugh as I always refer to them as Greater because their counterparts are called Lesser – just another one of my beefs with the naming orgs ha. Sounds like a wonderful places to bird, now on my list for the next time we go through those parts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It would help to have it called “Greater,” wouldn’t it? Some names are definitely unhelpful, but when one considers that the naming took place by many individuals over many centuries, it’s not surprising.
      It’s definitely worth your time to check out some of these hotspots when you are next in the vicinity.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great photos. It’s always amazing that any animal chooses to live in such an arid climate. But I’m glad they do because it turns into photography gold.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Brad, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. Every time I see a Curve-biilled Thrasher fly to its nest in the middle of a very prickly cholla cactus, I’m amazed at the incredible adaptability of these birds. And the adaptability of all other animals and plants who thrive in a wide range of conditions. We humans are far less adaptable.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. What a place of beauty! Water has a way of doing that, especially to a dry area. And as Eliza pointed out, it was a bit surprising to see gulls so far inland. Must have been a treat to hear that owl. Bard owls live in the woods around our house, and we often hear them calling to each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s easy (for me) to see why you make that trip!

    The difference a little distance can make in environment is amazing. You have shared some really lovely photographs! Thank you.

    A Barrow’s Goldeneye would definitely make a detour worthwhile! Nice.

    Hope your new week is filled with adventure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Wally. It’s very nice to have access to different habitats from the plains to the mountains, and I look forward to the arrival of our migratory birds.
      Wishing you and Gini a pleasant week as well.


  7. What a wonderful spot; no wonder you’re looking forward to your next visit. I saw the conversation about the Moorhen. Taxonomists have been at work again. What most people here call the Moorhen now is formally the Common Gallinule — not to be confused with the Purple Gallinule. Both do differ from the European Moorhen. Both Gallinules are quite common here, and they’re wonderfully fun to find walking across lotus pads!

    The Barrow’s Goldeneye pair you found would have made the trip for me. I’ve never heard of them, let alone seen them, but they certainly are attractive.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for the clarification, Linda. I suspected as much. It takes a long time for new names to take hold, especially when one isn’t inside the ornithology loop. We actually had a surprise Common Gallinule in the county last year, which made local birders very happy.
    And I have no doubt in my mind that I will be giddy with delight one I make get to bird in Texas. But meanwhile, I enjoy finding treasures such as the Barrow’s Goldeneyes.


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