A rare and beautiful bird is turning up all over Denver this winter

Birdwatchers walking along the Highline Canal during an annual bird count last Christmas got a surprise gift when one of them spotted a Bohemian waxwing among the juncos and blue jays.

The beautiful bird, so named because of the bright red and yellow waxy secretions that decorate the tips of their wings, was embedded with a flock of its cousins, cedar waxwings, which are much more common in Colorado. It was the first time in 35 years that a Bohemian waxwing had been recorded along the canal during the Christmas count, according to the volunteer birders.

Since then, birdwatchers have looked up in amazement as groups of dozens or even a flock of a hundred or more have been spotted in neighborhoods from east to west and north to south.

“They can be present around Denver in any given winter – and winter only – but they are not guaranteed to be here, and they are very famous for being inconsistent,” said Sam Wilber, the programs coordinator for the nonprofit Highline Canal Conservancy. “You never know where or when, and when they do show up, it’s always a surprise.”

Both kinds of waxwings eat insects during the summer and then switch to berries in the winter, but since there aren’t that many trees or bushes that produce berries in the winter, waxwings have to be selective, Wilber said. When food is short in their normal hunting grounds further north, Bohemian waxwings will go south into Colorado, where they dine on juniper berries, buckthorn and Russian olive, methodically moving from berry patch to berry patch.

The last time a sizable flock of Bohemian Waxwings, which breed in Canada, Alaska and the far north of Europe and Asia, was spotted in Colorado was in 2013, according to birder and conservancy volunteer, Jared Del Rosso, who provided the organization with information.

The best way to figure out where they’ve been seen is to sign up for alerts on the website ebird.com, which send automatically generated emails about unusual sightings.

On Saturday, Feb. 18, the Highline Canal Conservancy will welcome birders for the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual global community science initiative. This free event will start at 9 a.m. from the conservancy headquarters, at 4010 E Orchard Road, in Centennial. Interested birders can learn about bird identification. Get more information at highlinecanal.org.

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