Baird’s sparrows (Ammodramus bairdii) are rare and elusive, yet biologists from Bird Conservancy of the Rockies have confirmed their presence at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. No eggs or nests have been spotted, but both males and females have been observed singing and interacting — typical mating behavior. In the event that nests are located, it will be the first record of this species breeding in Colorado. Those wanting to catch a glimpse of this special bird should try the Pronghorn Loop Trail, especially the easternmost two miles. Visitors are reminded that Soapstone Prairie is an on-trail only site, open during daylight hours.
The presence of Baird’s sparrows indicates a healthy prairie ecosystem and land stewardship. The tall grass that the birds prefer is attributed to careful livestock grazing by the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department and Folsom Grazing Association, as well as recent wet weather trends. Grassland birds, including the Baird’s, are experiencing dramatic population decline and are highly vulnerable to climate change and habitat loss. Baird’s sparrow populations have decreased roughly 77 percent since 1966. The species is rated 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and is on the 2016 State of the Birds Watch List, which highlights bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action.
Baird’s sparrows seen in Colorado are usually just passing-through, typically breeding on the Great Plains of Montana, the Dakotas, and Canada. The birds spend their winters in the desert grasslands of southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico. Baird’s sparrow nests are hard to spot grass-lined depressions in tall vegetation. Nests usually contain 2-6 grayish-white eggs, measuring about .75” (19mm).
Founded in 1988, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (formerly Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory) is a Colorado-based nonprofit, that works to conserve birds and their habitats across the Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, Mexico and beyond. Their mission is advanced through sound science, achieved through empowering people, realized through stewardship and sustained through partnerships.
The City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department’s mission is to conserve and enhance lands with natural resource, agricultural and scenic values, while providing meaningful education and appropriate recreation opportunities.