Where the Wild Things Are: Wildlife Viewing Experiences Abound in Colorado
Denver, Colorado (Jan. 30, 2020) – Colorado is home to more than 750 wildlife species. While some call Colorado home year-round, others only stop by for a season. With eight National Wildlife Refuges, hundreds of State Wildlife Areas, 12 National Parks and National Monuments, 41 State Parks and millions of acres of public lands, visitors are never more than a short drive into the wild. Below is a look at seasonal migrations, notable viewing opportunities, wild animal sanctuaries and events to celebrate the wildlife that call Colorado home.
Keep wildlife wild and always view creatures from a safe and respectful distance. To learn more, please visit Colorado.com
Seasonal Migrations and Hatches
Brazilian Free-tail Bats, Moffat: Every summer, a colony of about 250,000 Brazilian Free-tail Bats roost in the historic Orient Mine in the Mystic San Luis Valley region of Colorado. To view the bats, visitors can take a two-mile hike from the Orient Mine Welcome Center and observe bats entering and exiting the mine’s opening. The bat outflight occurs around dusk. Also known as Mexican Free-tail, these bats are small and gray-brown with long and narrow wings.
Caddis Hatch, Arkansas River: The Caddis Hatch occurs each April on the Arkansas River and is one of the largest (if not the largest) aquatic invertebrate hatches in North America. This hatch drives one of the most productive fly-fishing months of the year on the Arkansas River, the most visited river basin in Colorado for fly-fishing recreation.
Hummingbirds, Statewide: Colorado is home to several hummingbird species that migrate to the Centennial State for the summer. These speedy travelers usually arrive in Colorado in mid-April and leave in early September. Communities across the state plant pollinator-friendly flowers and hang bright feeders to entice these colorful birds in for a meal.
Monarch Butterflies, Canyons and Plains: Every year, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate from Colorado to Mexico in a 3,000-mile journey, and in late September/early October, they descend on southeastern Colorado, most notably Lamar. In 2019, Lamar earned a Monarch City USA designation due the dedication of its residents to encourage and provide nutrition for the Monarch Butterflies as they migrate.
Sandhill Cranes, Mystic San Luis Valley: During spring and fall, more than 20,000 sandhill cranes call the Mystic San Luis Valley home. The cranes typically arrive in early February and build up energy to migrate further north as temperatures warm. Cranes mate for life and each spring, renew their bond through a courtship ritual that includes dancing, bowing, and even tossing tufts of grass in the air. It’s a sight not to be missed. Sandhill cranes also make a summer/fall pit stop in Colorado’s Yampa Valley.
Tarantulas, La Junta: Every autumn, tarantulas appear en masse in La Junta and Southeast Colorado including the Comanche National Grassland. While females stick to their burrows in undisturbed prairie rangeland, males of eight years or older group up and set out to find mates. Tarantulas are especially active in the late afternoon and before sunset.
Noteworthy Wildlife Viewing Experiences
Bird Banding with Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, Various Locations: Bird Conservancy of the Rockies conducts spring and fall bird banding programs and visitors are welcome to participate. Bird banding has been used to study wild birds since the late 1800s, and the program is an outdoor classroom to enhance the public’s appreciation of wild birds and their habitats. Data collected at banding stations have greatly increased the understanding of migratory routes and timings, species’ range limits, average lifespans and more. Banding stations in Colorado include locations in Barr Lake, Chatfield, Grand Junction, Ridgway and more.
Colorado Birding Trail, Statewide: The Colorado Birding Trail is a scenic driving route that connects 54 trails, more than 500 bird types and 800 bird watching sites across western Colorado, the Rocky Mountains and Eastern Plains. Favorite Colorado birds to seek out are the mountain bluebird, sandhill crane, hooded merganser, bald eagle, cinnamon teal, calliope hummingbird, western tanager and the white-tailed ptarmigan. The Colorado Birding Trail website has a free downloadable birding guide for the southeast and southwest trails.
Moose Visitor Center at State Forest State Park, Walden: With more than 600 moose residing around Walden and North Park year-round, it’s no surprise that State Forest State Park is known as the “moose viewing capital of Colorado.” The Moose Visitor Center is a great place to get oriented as it features informative educational videos, geocaching activities and more.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Commerce City - Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, 15,000 acres of land just 10 miles outside of Denver in Commerce City, is a bit of an urban miracle. The area has gone from Plains Indians hunting grounds to homesteader farmland to WWII weapons arsenal to agricultural-chemical plant to peaceful sanctuary for more than 280 native plants and 330 animal species, including mule deer, coyotes, bison, songbirds, burrowing owls and bald eagles. Visitors can take the 11-mile wildlife drive to see bison, deer, hawks, waterfowl and more. Free nature programming is offered year-round.
Desert Bighorn Sheep at Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction: The steep sandstone cliffs, winding canyons, and juniper bush shrubbery throughout Colorado National Monument make it the perfect home for bighorn sheep. Desert Bighorn Sheep were once at risk of extinction, but have made a comeback in western Colorado thanks to protective efforts. In 1979, a small population was reintroduced into Colorado National Monument. While more than 230 bighorn sheep live across the Grand Valley, a group of about 40 thrives in the Monument.
Wild Horses in Sand Wash Basin, Maybell: Maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, the Sand Wash Basin is home to a federally protected herd of wild horses. Horses within the basin exhibit many different colors, although the most common are gray and sorrel. Other wildlife that reside in Sand Wash Basin include elk, mule deer, the greater sage grouse and pronghorn. The basin is expansive, so be patient when seeking a sighting of the wild horse herd.
Wild Animal Sanctuaries
Colorado Gators Reptile Park, Mosca: Colorado Gators has become a sanctuary for unwanted exotic pets available for public viewing and educational programs at schools. Two of their most popular exhibits are the albino alligators, including Morris the Hollywood alligator from “Happy Gilmore.” Other reptiles include Nile crocodiles, Burmese pythons, a 17′ reticulated python, anacondas, red tail boas, 3 species of rattlesnakes, monitor lizards, tegus, geckos, iguanas, box turtles, snapping turtles, and more.
Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, Divide: The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center is one of very few sanctuaries in the United States that has been certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). With this title they are able to go beyond education and into application. CWWC actively participates in the Species Survival Program by providing a home to Mexican Grey Wolves and Swift Foxes. They offer full moon tours, kids tours and more.
Mission: Wolf, Westcliffe: Mission: Wolf is a peaceful sanctuary for captive wolves and wolf-dog crosses in the Mystic San Luis Valley region of Colorado. At Mission: Wolf, wolves and wolf-dog crosses born in captivity are given a second chance at a happy life while also acting as ambassadors for the quarter of a million wolves currently in captivity. The sanctuary’s many volunteers teach visitors why wolves don’t make great pets and why wild wolves are vital to a healthy ecosystem. Its main goal, however, is to educate the public about resolving conflicts between humans and wolves with the hope of ensuring a better future for wolves.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary, Keenesburg: The Wild Animal Sanctuary operates two facilities within Colorado totaling more than ten thousand acres. The organization rescues animals—particularly predators--from captivity and rehabilitates them so they can live and roam freely within large natural habitats with their own kind. The sanctuary currently cares for more than 520 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other rescued animals. The sanctuary is open to the public and features a 1.5-mile-long elevated walkway spanning numerous animal habitats for a unique viewing experience in a serene, natural setting.
8th Annual Eagle Festival, Barr Lake State Park, Brighton – Feb. 1, 2020: Bald eagle pairs have been consistently observed in Barr Lake annually for the past 35 years. As of 2019, the park has had 61 eaglets fledge from the nest at Barr Lake. The park recognizes the bald eagle nesting season at an annual festival every February, featuring live raptor presentations, guided hikes and tours and crafts for kids.
The High Plains Snow Goose Festival, Lamar – Feb. 6-9, 2020: Surrounded by grasslands and plains, the riparian habitats of Lamar draw thousands upon thousands of birds in need of rest during their seasonal migrations. This natural phenomenon is celebrated during the Annual High Plains Snow Goose Festival, one of Colorado's largest birding festivals. The festival offers a variety of programs, field trips and seminars that celebrate birding and the heritage of southeastern Colorado.
37th Annual Monte Vista Crane Festival – March 6-8, 2020: In late February, nearly 20,000 sandhill cranes begin their migration north and spend a month feasting in the agricultural fields and grasslands of the San Luis Valley. Monte Vista hosts a crane festival each spring to mark the return of these large avians as they fly north for the season. The festival includes viewing tours, children’s activities, keynote speakers and more.
Mountain Plover Festival, Karval – April 24-26, 2020: The town of Karval, located in the Pioneering Plains region, is home to one of North America’s largest breeding grounds for the elusive Mountain Plover. More than a decade ago, local ranchers partnered with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies to identify and study the nesting grounds of the bird and modify the way ranchers tend their land to accommodate the species's breeding habits. This festival is dedicated to “bring the bird lovers to the bird” and includes homestyle meals, guided tours, educational programs and authentic western entertainment.
Bear Day in the Armory, Lake City – July 1, 2020: Each year, on July 1st, Lake City Friends of the Bears hosts "Bear Day in the Armory," in honor of the many bears that live in the most remote county in the lower 48. This event is free, educational and fun for adults and kids alike. It offers free goodies and materials, plus a bear skull, skeleton paw, and a bear rug so people can touch the claws, paw pads, ears, and more. Bears are shy and solitary animals with a home range of many miles and the less contact they experience with humans, the better.
22nd Annual Elk Fest, Estes Park - Oct. 3-4, 2020: The beautifully haunting bugle of a bull elk is unmistakable, and every autumn spectators head to Estes Park to experience the phenomenon. The elk gather there, at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, to show off for their ladies during the start of the rutting (breeding) season. Elk Fest is free, family-friendly festival with arts and crafts and elk-themed activities for kids, as well as Native American music, dancing and storytelling. Guests can learn about elk behavior at ranger presentations, observe the creatures in their natural habitat, participate in a bugling contest and more.
Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Festival – Nov. 14, 2020: Clear Creek County is home to a large herd of the Colorado state mammal, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. The community of Georgetown pays tribute to this animal during the annual Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Festival each November. The festival includes children’s activities, crafts, live music, ranger programs and more. Visitors can often spot the iconic bighorn sheep at the Wildlife Viewing Area right off of I-70. Bighorn sheep, native to Colorado, thrive on steep cliffs and rocky terrain and especially prefer south- and west-facing slopes where the sun and wind keep snow clear from grasses.
ABOUT COLORADO: Colorado is a four-season destination offering unparalleled adventure and recreational pursuits, a thriving arts scene, a rich cultural heritage, flavorful cuisine and 28 renowned ski areas and resorts. The state's breathtaking scenic landscape boasts natural hot springs, the headwaters of seven major rivers, many peaceful lakes and reservoirs, 12 national parks and monuments, 26 scenic and historic byways and 58 mountain peaks that top 14,000 feet. For more information or a copy of the 2020 Colorado Official State Vacation Guide, visit www.COLORADO.com or call 1-800 COLORADO.
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