Description and Ecology: Cliff/rock habitats are ecologically typical and exceptionally scenic
features of the mountainous West. Across Colorado this habitat appears as high cliffs, rocky
ledges, small rocky out thrusts, talus, stream cut-banks, bluffs, rim rock, and a few cliff buttes.
Cliff/rock habitat occurs throughout the Southern Rocky Mountains in Colorado. On the east
slope of the Southern Rockies, cliff/rock habitats start in the plains at an elevation of 1650 m
(5,400 ft) and extend up to the Continental Divide generally up to 3650 m (12,000 ft) but on
some higher mountains up to 4270 m (14,000 plus ft). Steep cliffs on either side of the
Continental Divide are primarily unglaciated with glaciated U-shaped valleys below. The rough
granite, crystalline cracks and rounded structures make many cliffs popular for technical rock
climbing. The activities of rock climbers sometimes come into conflict with birds that nest on
Importance and Conservation Status: Although the avifauna of cliff/rock habitat is small
compared to other habitats, these species are highly specialized. Birds that use cliffs for nesting
may be more susceptible to loss of nesting habitat than many other species because they rely
completely on cliffs as nest sites. Thus, the number of suitable nest sites is finite and essentially
non-renewable. All suitable nest sites in some areas may be used, making every usurpation of a
nest site by humans result in a direct reduction in the population.
Conflicts related to nesting birds that use cliffs, rocky ledges, and small rocky out thrusts include
rock climbing, mining, road construction, hiking, bicycle and horseback trails, and housing
development. All these activities can have a negative impact whether they are conducted at the
base or the top of a cliff, rocky ledge, or small rocky out thrust. Probably the greatest disturbance
factor in cliff/rock habitat is rock climbing.
Habitat protection can be enhanced by making land managers and the general public more aware
of the importance of protecting this habitat and by controlling use and development wherever
necessary and possible. Cliff/rock habitat can be protected by various means including
establishing buffer zones, temporary closures, and designation of special areas (Research Natural
Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Special Management areas, or sanctuaries).
It is important to protect not only nesting habitat, but also foraging habitat and a prey base. Many
birds that nest on cliff/rock habitat forage in or above other habitat types. Prey abundance and
appropriate nesting sites are both key factors in determining the success of any nesting birds on
Disturbance to birds can be caused by the presence of humans, noise, or erosion. Any one of
these components, or a combination, may be sufficient to discourage many birds from using an
area or causing an active nest to fail. Such disturbance may gradually reduce the number of total
Priority Species Accounts: Two species are identified as high priority in cliff/rock habitats
in Physiographic Area 62: Peregrine Falcon and White-throated Swift.