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Eating is for the birds

ASPEN When visitors ascend the Summit Express lift at Buttermilk next winter, Nick Lund hopes that not only will they be greeted not only by views of Pyramid Peak, but also by the brown-capped rosy-finch. This summer the Aspen Skiing Co. will install a bird feeder near the nature kiosk close to the top of the mountain to attract this uncommon bird.Lund works for Mountain Photography at the top of Buttermilk. Spending his days gazing at the view, Lund noticed “lots of people hanging out near the nature kiosk [near the top of the Summit Express lift], but not much wildlife.” So he contacted Auden Schendler, Skico’s executive director of community and environmental responsibility, about installing a bird feeder so that visitors could appreciate more than just the view and experience the area’s wildlife firsthand. Schendler was receptive to the idea. “It’s good for the guests, the birds, and it’s fun. It’s a no-brainer for us,” Schendler said, noting that one of the goals of the skiing company is promoting mountain stewardship.A rare bird, the brown-capped rosy-finch lives only in the Rocky Mountains and is found primarily in Colorado, with its habitat extending into the southern flanks of Wyoming and the northern most reaches of New Mexico. It is not found anywhere else in the world, and its small population is steadily declining. The small numbers make the bird vulnerable, Lund said.”The top of Buttermilk is the perfect place for people to see the bird [brown-capped rosy-finch],” said Lund. “There is no place that is more accessible to non-birding people.” Lund hopes by making wildlife more visible that visitors will become stewards of the environment: “Awareness is half the battle.”There are three kinds of rosy-finches, and they often are found together in the same flock in high alpine areas, said Lund. These non-migratory birds forage on the ground and snow for small seeds and weather the winter months at altitude. The most rare of the rosy-finches, the brown-capped rosy-finch can be identified by its brown head and pink belly.”It is about three-quarters the size of a pigeon” or similar in size to a “fat, chunky robin,” Lund said. Finches have thick beaks that they use to break open seeds.The new feeder on top of Buttermilk will attract a number of birds. In addition to rosy-finches, red crossbills, pine siskins and pine grosbeaks also likely will flock to the feeder.The Skico will begin stocking the feeder with seeds next winter, after the black bears have gone into hibernation. During the spring, summer and fall, bears seek out feeders to feast on their calorie-rich seeds. The new feeder will consist of a pole with a platform and a house on top for the feed. A similar feeder already exists near the top of the Coney Glade lift at Snowmass. This feeder also arose out of community interest and has become a draw for bird watchers, Schendler said.


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