Sandhill cranes have 6-foot wingspans, mate for life and can live as long as 35 years. (photo courtesy Christian Nunes)

100th anniversary of one of the oldest wildlife protection laws

This year has been declared the “Year of the Bird,” since it marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), one of the oldest wildlife protection laws in the United States.

Want to join the celebration? Autumn is a great time to see and hear some of Boulder County’s rare and colorful birds.

These include sandhill cranes, which fly over the county in fall on their way south. Many of them are headed to New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, south of Albuquerque. “Sandhill cranes don’t stop here much; usually it’s just to rest. But huge flocks fly overhead, and you can hear their distinctive bugling. It’s like tiny specks in the sky talking back and forth,” says Dave Sutherland, interpretive naturalist for Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP).

Rough-legged hawks arrive in Boulder County in the fall from the Arctic, along with our biggest raptor, the ferruginous hawk, from its summer home in the northern plains. Bald eagles settle into their winter digs in Boulder County where they and the hawks hunt prairie dogs. Because Boulder County protects prairie dogs—Sutherland says that about 98 percent of the presettlement numbers of prairie dogs are gone—it is one of the few places left with good hunting for birds of prey. This makes our community an attractive winter home for these raptors. Watch for hawks and eagles along Lookout Road. Eagles are often spotted near the Eagle Trail at Boulder Valley Ranch or at Sawhill Ponds.

Want to see more birds during the “Year of the Bird?” Take a guidebook and look for ducks and shorebirds in local wetlands, like Sombrero Marsh, Sawhill Ponds, Walden Ponds and Teller Lakes.

—Kay Turnbaugh