Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s resident bird expert Garth Spellman has a theory.
It stems from a question I posed to him recently during an interview: What’s going on with Denver’s wildlife as the city shuts down during a pandemic? He believes most people in the city are seeing more wildlife out and about. But it’s not necessarily because animals are suddenly taking up spaces people once dominated.
“First of all, (people are) more aware of it because they have the time, especially in the city,” Spellman said. “People are out. I have a dog, I have kids. We are always out in our neighborhood. We’re always walking or biking to City Park.”
Spellman, an ornithology curator at the museum, does fieldwork and observation as part of his job, which basically means he’s required to look at birds as much as possible. He lives in North Park Hill, close to the museum and City Park, where he said he regularly sees more people out and about — and the occasional Cooper’s Hawk.
“My kids and I actually saw one hunt a squirrel the other day,” Spellman said. “It was pretty amazing.”
Denver is less noisy as the constant hum of city life quiets down to a whimper with less traffic and things flying in the sky. So you might have heard more animals, too. Spellman said studies have shown birds in cities “sing at higher frequencies” to lift their songs over that background noise. With less background noise, Spellman said birds might be singing more often — and more people are likely hearing it.
Last week, I half-jokingly asked people on Twitter to send me their stories and photos of cool birds around the city after someone sent me a photo of a hawk in Stapleton.
And as you so often do, y’all really came through, over emails and tweets with photos of bald eagles, blue jays, owls, Cooper’s hawks and ducks (nobody sent me a carrier pigeon, much to my disappointment).
Bald eagle, Overland Park
Amy Razzaque said she and her husband saw a bald eagle sitting in one of their “huge cottonwood trees” near their home in Overland Park.
“Eagles have been spotted on the course, but never in our yard,” Razzaque said. “Our eagle friend (who we’ve named Benny) stayed up there for at least 5-6 hours… we spotted her before sunset, she was still there when we went to bed, but was off on some other adventure when we woke up around 6 a.m. and checked to see if she was still hanging out with us.”
Blue heron, Hampden South
“This Great Blue Heron visits our condo complex every few days,” said Karen Lozow.
Finch, Virginia Village
Florence Sebern said they haven’t seen any unusual birds, just “wonderful blue jays, robins, sparrows, finches, crows, pigeons and hawks.”
Hawk, Cheesman Park
Michael Corrigan Lavallee and his spouse live in a high-rise directly north of the Denver Botanic Gardens. “From time to time we see what we’ve identified as red-tailed hawks — a while back, one even perched on the balcony rail below us long enough to pose for pictures! BIG bird! I’m attaching a picture of ‘him,’” Lavallee said.
“Here is what I spotted all the way out here in Lowry. Not sure where they are coming from, but definitely not normal!” said Paul Vranas.
Owls, Old Crestmoor (Hilltop)
“The baby owl has now fledged but still in the neighborhood,” Carolyn Miller said. “Last year there were three owls born on 6th Avenue Parkway. Those three came to Crestmoor community and entertained us very well.”
Spotted towhee, Holly Hills
Holly Endres sent us a photo of what she thinks is a spotted towhee. Endres lives in Holly Hills, a neighborhood that’s part of Arapahoe County but exists inside the city limits (similar to Glendale).
Wild turkey, West Highland
Kathryn White said wild turkeys visit her house every day. “A neighbor has a penned male turkey that maybe the Real Attraction. She does like the birdseed under our bird feeder.” They’ve even been spotted by White’s cat, Lovey (who you can see at the beginning of this story).