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Rare bird breeding in northern Colorado for 1st time

Baird's Sparrows are actively breeding at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, the first-ever record of the species reproducing in Colorado.
Credit: Andy Bankhert
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.

FORT COLLINS — A rare bird is reproducing for the first time on record in northern Colorado according to a release from the city of Fort Collins.

The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department confirmed that Baird's Sparrows are actively breeding at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. It's the 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 release said.

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.

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 sparrow 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.