(EL PASO COUNTY, Colo.) — Research for bird conservancy has bird watchers and the community flocking to Chico Basin Ranch.
The bird banding station at Chico Basin is only open twice a year– one month in the spring and fall– but the research collected in this short time tells researchers and bird conservationists a lot about migrating birds and their habitats.
“[Birds] need good stopover sites like we have here at Chico Basin in these little olive groves to stop, rest and refuel,” said Bird Bander, Julie Shieldcastle. “Usually, they eat a lot of insects and sometimes they eat nectar… before continuing on north to their breeding grounds.”
Chico Basin Ranch, managed by Ranchlands, is like an oasis for migratory birds who need a certain level of fat before they feel comfortable leaving their temporary home. Eventually, the birds will make the flight up north to Canada and even Alaska, according to Shieldcastle.
To monitor the health of migratory birds and the ecosystems they share, bird banders at the Ranch will catch the birds in thin netting and put them into breathable bags.
“You take it out of the bag and we determine what kind of species it is and what size leg it has so we can determine what band size to put on it…. hold the leg up, put the band on and crimp it,” explained Shieldcastle.
The birds are documented by band number, weight, wingspan, and tail length, among other metrics, which are then sent to the bird banding lab.
“It just demonstrates that different habitats are really important for these birds. And these birds are indicators of the health of the environment,” said Shieldcastle. “So we should be monitoring them as well as the rest of the ecosystem because we all have to live here together.”
Ranchlands manages ranches across the west and partners with agencies like the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Nature Conservancy to bring programming to the ranches.
“We believe that ranching is the best alternative to large-scale conservation,” said Tess Leach, Head of Business Development for RanchLands. “By working with agencies like the Bird Conservancy, we’re able to show how there is a correlation between wildlife and a healthy landscape.”
Leach added education is a cornerstone of Ranchlands, which sees about 1,200 school children throughout the year who visit Chico Basin’s banding station.