Westminster's Wild Kingdom
Open spaces throughout city provide haven for wildlife
No, we are not the Serengeti plains of Africa, but for a suburban community, Westminster has a surprising abundance of wildlife. Much of this diversity is no doubt attributable to the 2,500 acres of open space that, when combined with parks, golf courses and private parks, preserves nearly one-third of the city's land area from development.
Some of Westminster's wildlife has been reported in the local media. Twice in the past five years, a mountain lion was spotted along Big Dry Creek and Tanglewood Creek in the vicinity of 128th Avenue and Huron Street. Not long ago, a black bear appeared in city open space along Walnut Creek near the southwest corner of 108th Avenue and Wadsworth Parkway. Several years ago, an elk took up temporary residence on the Pillar of Fire land at 88th Avenue and Federal Boulevard. Mule deer occasionally frequent the Big Dry Creek corridor.
Foxes are a common sight within the city's open space areas and golf courses and are fairly tolerant of human activity. One fox family is currently residing in a north-central Westminster town home complex. Coyotes are also permanent Westminster residents and can be seen (and heard) along the Big Dry Creek Open Space, especially the area north of Front Range Community College.
Prairie dogs are in abundance along the Big Dry Creek trail between U.S. 36 and 128th Avenue, as well as the Hyland Ponds Open Space at 100th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard. The prairie dogs attract numerous raptors, including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and Swainson hawks.
Westminster's most famous raptors are the pair of bald eagles nesting on the northwest side of Standley Lake. These eagles have raised 16 eaglets over an eight-year period from their lofty lake view perch in a large cottonwood tree. A viewing blind is accessible from the Standley Lake Visitor's Center. Another notable Westminster raptor is the albino (white) red-tailed hawk commonly soaring on the winds over the hills at City Park and Legacy Ridge.
Westminster has its very own great blue heron rookery (nesting place) on the Heritage Golf Course. The rookery is located in a huge cottonwood tree west of Westmoor Drive and north of 108th Avenue. The tree is on a peninsula in a pond by Hole No. 7, and can be observed from the Walnut Creek Trail.
Waterfowl are attracted to the city's many lakes, ponds and creek corridors. Cormorants, red-winged blackbirds and great blue herons frequent City Park Lake, Margaret's Pond and Bull Reservoir north of 120th Avenue at Big Dry Creek. Kingfishers and black crowned night herons can be seen along Big Dry Creek. Beautiful snowy egrets are occasionally seen on the shoreline of Westminster lakes. American white pelicans pass through Westminster and fly in distinctive formations. They also can be observed "herding" fish into a small area before feeding at Lower Church Lake.
Westminster's lakes, ponds and creeks also attract beavers and muskrats. Beaver activity is evident along Big Dry Creek, and muskrats can be spotted swimming across Margaret's Pond at 104th Avenue and Legacy Ridge Parkway.
One of Westminster's weirdest wildlife displays occurs at the city's major intersections in May and June (104th Avenue and Sheridan is a good example). Barn swallows perform incredible aerial acrobatics, swooping between vehicles on their quest for mosquitoes and moths. Swallows make nests of mud under bridges such as the Sheridan Boulevard Bridge over Big Dry Creek.
Snakes also find refuge in the city's natural areas. Bull snakes and rattlesnakes have been sighted at Standley Lake Regional Park, Colorado Hills open space west of Simms Street and in the tall grass areas along Big Dry Creek.
Much of Westminster's diversity of wildlife is attributable to the city's open space areas, which are purchased using open space sales tax revenues. To support continued open space acquisitions, be sure to "Shop Westminster."