Birding in the Rockies

Join in one of the country's top hobbies at these Colorado spots

I am a bird nerd. When I was a child, my mom had a friend who was a birder so I learned early on that birding was a great excuse for a nature walk. As an adult, I became friends with several avid birders and this only propelled me towards the hobby.

Today, I don’t know tons of birds or calls but I know enough. I own a good pair of binoculars and several bird books, but I still see the hobby as a great excuse for a nature walk. Also, knowing a bit about birds makes being outdoors a fuller experience for me.   

Birding from the front window of our San Luis Valley AirBnB. Photo by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer.

Our family cabin, at 9,500 feet above sea level, is awash with bird noises at this time of year. Bluebirds flit between the aspens, owls sit in the Bristlecone Pines and hummingbirds buzz the patio in order to see whether we’ve put out the feeders. 

Colorado is a wonderful state for birders. Hawks soar over the plains and bluebird fly in the mountains. I’ve been buzzed by a Golden Eagle near Tarryall Reservoir in South Park and witnessed grebes performing mating dances on lakes near Denver.

Birding from the front window of our San Luis Valley AirBnB. Photo by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer.

There are dozens of designated birding areas in Colorado but one of my favorite areas, because it has a bevy of birds, is near Monte Vista and Alamosa, in the San Luis Valley. Surrounded by mountains, this is the largest alpine valley on earth.

Yellow-headed blackbird. Photo by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer.

The valley is cherished by birders and for good reason. The area is alive with avian activity and one of the best places to visit is Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. We saw dozens of yellow-headed blackbirds on our visit plus a variety of big shore birds. It’s a dazzling spot for birders and even features a Visitors Center.

In nearby Alamosa, we recently visited the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge which has a wonderful auto-loop and a Visitors Center. We didn’t have much time and it was windy, so the ability to bird from our car was ideal. Even from the comfort of the car we saw lots of colorful ducks, several shorebirds, hundreds of swallow and dozens of birds clinging to tops of swaying reeds.

Sandhill Crane in San Luis Valley. Photo courtesy of Visit Alamosa.

This valley is also home to Russell Lakes, a birding area just 15 minutes south of Saguache and 30 minutes north of Monte Vista. I stop here nearly every time I drive this section of Hwy 285, which is at least three times a year. If there’s standing water, there are lots of shorebirds here. We’ve also seen egrets, a Harrier Hawk and a variety of ducks. It’s one of my favorite birding spots and it’s so easy to access during a road trip.

Categories: The Heidi Guide