19 Types Of LARGE BIRDS In Colorado (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you recently come across a large bird in the state of Colorado, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying big birds in Colorado is not as easy as it might seem, since there are more than 20 bird species in the Centennial State that are on the large side.
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common large birds of Colorado in this article.
What are the types of large birds in Colorado?
The 19 types of large birds that can be seen in Colorado are:
- Great Egret
- Great Blue Heron
- Sandhill Crane
- Double-crested Cormorant
- American White Pelican
- Snowy Egret
- Common Loon
- Bald Eagle
- Golden Eagle
- Turkey Vulture
- Great Horned Owl
- Snowy Owl
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Swainson’s Hawk
- Rough-legged Hawk
- Common Raven
- Canada Goose
While many of these birds are year round residents of Colorado, others only occur in the state during the winter, as migratory birds that spend the cold months in Colorado.
Yet other birds are summer visitors during the breeding season, and some are scarce vagrants that are rarely seen in the state (more on that below).
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these species in order to get the full scoop:
Scientific name: Ardea alba
The Great Egret has a range that spans nearly the whole planet, and can be found on almost all continents.
In Colorado, this heron is a very rare breeding bird, but can be seen more commonly on migration as it makes a stopover in the state.
One of Colorado’s biggest birds, this heron is entirely white, and has long black legs and feet as well as a thick, yellow bill.
During the spring and summer breeding seasons, the Great Egret grows a plume on its back that extends all the way to the tip of its tail.
It lives in both saltwater and freshwater habitats in Colorado, and often nests in large colonies on the banks of marshes, lakes, and rivers.
Great Egrets forage in any type of shallow water in Colorado, including ponds, lakes, rivers, estuaries, as well as rice fields and other flooded areas.
It is especially prevalent in the eastern and central regions of the state throughout the summer.
Outside of the breeding season it is less common, but where it occurs it can be seen in large flocks.
Great Blue Heron
Scientific name: Ardea herodias
The Great Blue Heron is one of the most common herons in Colorado, where it can be seen year round.
With a wingspan of up to 6 feet, this heron is one of Colorado’s biggest birds. It is almost entirely blue gray, except for a white throat and eye stripe, as well as dark gray wing feathers.
This enormous blue bird in Colorado likes to hunt for small fish by wading in the shallows of estuaries, mud flats and marshes, as well as lake shores and small ponds.
It waits patiently for a suitably sized fish to come close enough to be grabbed with its long, yellow bill.
Scientific name: Antigone canadensis
Adult Sandhill Cranes have pale gray body plumage, as well as a red crown and forehead, which contrasts with a buff white cheek.
Depending on their diet and location, some Sandhill Cranes can have a rusty color instead of the normal gray coloration.
These birds are up to 4.5 feet tall, and are well known for their complex courtship dancing rituals and long distance migrations.
These cranes are found in open landscapes with wetlands, prairies, and meadows in Canada and the northern United States.
These large birds are rare breeding birds in northwestern Colorado, and can also be encountered wintering in small parts of southern Colorado.
Sandhill Cranes form large flocks outside of the breeding season, and migrate to southern parts of the USA and Mexico to spend the winter.
Scientific name: Phalacrocorax auritus
The Double-crested Cormorant is a large, dark waterbird with a long neck and blue eyes. It is a year-round resident in northeastern Colorado, and is commonly found on lakes and rivers.
This cormorant likes to gather in large flocks that roost on trees close to water. It is a skilled diver and hunts fish with its large, hooked bill.
When a group of cormorants flies together, they like to form up in a V shaped formation.
Often these V-shaped formations can be seen in the evening, when the birds fly to their roosting spots in Colorado.
American White Pelican
Scientific name: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
The American White Pelican is the biggest bird that can be seen in Colorado, and is a lot larger than the Bald Eagle.
These large water birds have nesting sites at several lakes and reservoirs of Colorado, and on rare occasions they are also observed wintering in the state.
Their preferred habitat in Colorado are reservoirs and large rivers, as well as some smaller lakes and ponds.
This huge bird is almost entirely white, except for black primary and secondary feathers on its wings.
Its huge beak is bright orange, and has a flat plate protruding from the upper part of the beak during the summer breeding season.
Outside of the breeding season, the bill changes its color from orange to pale yellowish.
This large bird feeds almost exclusively on fish, but unlike other pelican species it doesn’t dive in order to catch them. Instead it submerges its head into the water, and grabs fish with its big beak.
American White Pelicans are most often seen in pairs or small groups that like to cooperate with each other while foraging for fish.
Scientific name: Egretta thula
The Snowy Egret has become an increasingly common breeding bird in Colorado.
This is due to aggressive conservation efforts that were necessary because this Egret species was systematically hunted in previous centuries.
This white heron stands out due to its slim black bill and bright area between the eyes and nostrils. It has long legs and yellow feet, which distinguish it from other herons.
In adult birds, the feet are a brilliant golden yellow, while the legs are totally black. It is thought that the brightly colored feet help to attract small fish and other prey.
The legs of juvenile birds have a predominant greenish yellow color, with some black areas on the front of the leg.
It is found in practically all types of wetland environments, from small ponds to saltwater and everything in between.
During the summer, the Snowy Egret is a rare to relatively common breeding bird in the state.
It is much more common during the winter months, when large numbers can be observed in coastal Colorado.
Scientific name: Gavia immer
If you spotted a black waterbird with white dots, it is most likely the Common Loon (also known as the Great Northern Diver).
These water birds breed in northern areas of North America and can be seen in Colorado during migration in fall and spring.
They have big rounded heads with sharp beaks that resemble a dagger.
In the summer months, the birds have black heads, white chests, and lots of white spots on their black-colored plumage. In the winter or autumn months, their color dulls and turns into a pale gray.
The common loon is a fantastic diver and is super stealthy when it hunts underwater, allowing it to sneak up on fish without even a splash. It can dive to depths of up to two-hundred fifty feet.
To top that off, these birds can stay submerged for up to five minutes and even swallow their prey while they are still underwater.
They have a wingspan of between forty and fifty inches and can live for up to thirty years of age.
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
The Osprey is one of the largest Colorado birds of prey, and with a wingspan of up to 69 inches (5 1/2 feet) it resembles an eagle in size.
It is usually easy to identify the Osprey due white belly and chest, which contrast with its blackish gray upperparts and black wrist patches on its lower wings.
This Colorado bird is the only raptor species that plunges into the water in order to catch fish, often becoming entirely submerged in water as it attempts to grab a fish with its feet.
Ospreys are almost always found close to water, except during migration, when they will cross areas without water.
The Osprey is a rare breeding bird and summer visitor in Colorado, where it can be found close to large river systems and reservoirs in Colorado.
Outside of the breeding season, Ospreys can be observed on migration throughout Colorado.
Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
With a wingspan of up to 8 feet, the Bald Eagle is the largest bird of prey in Colorado.
In Colorado this large eagle nests at large lakes and reservoirs, and is also becoming a regular breeding bird in urban habitats of Colorado, such as the Front Range.
Apart from its size, it is also one of the most easily recognizable birds in Colorado, due to its white head and tail, which contrast sharply with the uniformly dark brown body.
Juvenile birds are dark brown all over, with light irregular streaks all over the body, as well as a buff white belly.
Bald Eagles spend a lot of their time soaring on thermal currents with their wings held flat. They feed on fish, birds, and small mammals, although a big part of their diet consists of carrion.
Scientific name: Aquila chrysaetos
The Golden Eagle is one the most impressive eagle species in North America, and is a breeding bird in the western parts of the United States.
In the Centennial State, the Golden Eagle is a regular breeding species that nests in montane habitats throughout Colorado.
Golden Eagles can be distinguished from Bald Eagles by their lack of white coloration on their heads.
The Golden Eagle is one of few circumglobal raptor species, and can be found in both the New World and the Old World.
Scientific name: Cathartes aura
The Turkey Vulture is the largest vulture species in Colorado, and can reach a wingspan of up to 6 feet.
It is a big black raptor with a red head, and dark gray rear margins on their wings, which can be seen in flight.
A soaring Turkey Vulture is easily identifiable due to the fact that it holds its wings in an upright V shape.
This bird is a year-round resident throughout the Colorado peninsula, where it favors open country interspersed with woodland.
Similar to other vulture species in Colorado, this bird is specialized in feeding on carrion, and will often congregate in flocks around roadkill.
Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl species in Colorado, with a wingspan up to 4 feet. It is a large rufous brown bird with two horns and big bright yellow eyes.
In Colorado, this owl starts its nesting very early in the year, laying its eggs in January or February.
It is almost entirely nocturnal, and can hunt in complete darkness by relying on its keen sense of hearing.
The Great Horned Owl doesn’t build its own nest, but instead occupies the nests of other large birds, such as herons or raptors.
It is found year-round throughout Colorado, and can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Colorado, from woodlands to urban areas.
This owl is a fierce hunter, catching birds up to the size of ducks, and mammals up to the size of foxes.
Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
The Snowy Owl is the largest owl species in North America, and weighs more than the Great Horned Owl.
Snowy Owls are rare winter visitors in Colorado, where they can be seen in wide open areas, such as fields and grassland.
These owls breed in the high arctic well north of the arctic circle, where they hunt ptarmigans and lemmings.
Snowy Owls are easily recognizable by their large size, rounded head white coloration with varying amounts of black markings.
These big birds favor open ground, and can often be observed perching on the ground. In cultivated landscapes they also perch on hay bales, fence posts and telephone poles.
Snowy Owls follow the population changes of small rodents, and are most common in winters with high rodent populations.
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
With a wingspan of up to 52 inches (4 1/2 feet), the Red-tailed Hawk is the largest hawk species in Colorado.
It has variable coloration, ranging from dark brown to almost entirely white, but can be readily recognized by its rusty red tail.
This large hawk is common in open areas and even in cities. It is most often seen perched on roadside posts or fences, waiting for prey.
The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most common hawk species in Colorado, and can be seen in the Centennial State year-round.
It feeds on rodents and other small animals that it catches by swooping down from its perch when they venture out into the open.
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
The Swainson’s Hawk is a large buteo that frequents dry prairies and open areas throughout Colorado during the summer months.
These hawks have long, narrow wings, and are best identified by their brown chest, which contrasts with the white underwings and chin.
Swainson’s Hawks are long distance migratory birds of prey that spend the winter in Argentina.
In fall they gather in flocks numbering in the tens of thousands that migrate south together, often together with other species, such as Broad-winged Hawks.
These common Colorado hawks can be seen in the Centennial State from April through September.
Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
The Rough-legged Hawk is also known as the Rough-legged Buzzard, and is a breeding bird of the arctic tundra in northern Canada and Alaska.
While it is not a breeding bird in Colorado, it is a regular winter visitor in the Centennial State.
It can be seen in Colorado from October through March, and favors open habitats such as farmland, pastures and marshland.
Its preferred foraging tactic is to hunt from a perch, such as a fence post or telephone pole, though it also hovers on occasion, similar to a kestrel.
This is a large buteo hawk that is best identified by its dark brown belly, which contrasts with the white underside of its wings and tail.
Scientific name: Corvus corax
The Common Raven is a very large corvid, with a wingspan of up to 4.9 feet. In fact, it’s the largest songbird in North America.
Ravens mate for life, and an established pair will defend its territory all year round. As a result of this behavior, they are very rarely observed in flocks, which distinguishes them from other corvids.
The Common Raven is primarily found in the mountainous regions of Colorado in northern and western Colorado. Their preferred habitat is oak forest and mesquite shrubland.
Scientific name: Branta canadensis
The Canada Goose is one of the most easily recognizable aquatic birds, due to its white cheeks that contrast with its jet black neck and head.
They are breeding birds in Canada and northern States, and fly south every fall in large V formations that herald the start of the cold season.
Canada Geese are winter visitors in northern Colorado that can be observed from October through April.
These Geese like to forage on grain fields after they have been harvested, and are sometimes seen together with Snow Geese.
What are the large black birds in Colorado?
The large black birds found in Colorado are Turkey Vultures, which have a wingspan up to 6 feet.
These black-colored vultures are commonly seen in Colorado soaring on thermal currents, or gathering in small groups at roadkill sites.
Another Colorado bird that’s large and black is the Common Raven, which is a rare breeding bird in the mountainous areas of west and central Colorado.
What is the largest bird in Colorado?
The largest bird in Colorado is the American White Pelican, which has a wingspan of up to 10 feet (120 inches) and a weight of up to 30 lb. It also has a huge beak, measuring up to 15 inches in length.
In spite of its large body weight, the American White Pelican is able to soar effortlessly on thermal currents, due to the enormous length of its wings.
These birds can be seen as regular winter visitors at lakes and ponds throughout Colorado, where they can be observed foraging for fish in pairs or small groups.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the yellow birds in Colorado.