Description and Ecology: Lowland riparian forests border streams as they flow out of the
foothills onto the eastern plains, into the San Luis Valley, and into the valleys of the Western
Slope. Narrowleaf and plains cottonwoods generally line these streams in eastern Colorado,
interspersed with thickets of willows and other shrubs such as wild plums, hackberries,
hawthorns, chokecherries, and box elder. The lowland riparian forests in the San Luis Valley and
on the Western Slope generally consist of narrowleaf and Rio Grande cottonwoods with an
understory of willows and other shrubs, including red-osier dogwood, buffaloberry, skunkbrush,
and greasewood (Andrews and Righter 1992, Kingery 1998).
Various sources report that riparian forests comprise less than 3% of the total landscape, but up
to 80% of the resident bird species use them for some part of their life cycle. Birds use this
habitat for nesting, cover, resting, migration stopover areas, and migration corridors. This system
has the richest avian species component of any of Colorado's habitats. The most frequently
detected species in lowland riparian forests in Physiographic Area 62 include American Kestrel,
Great Horned Owl, Mourning Dove, Northern Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Western Kingbird,
Eastern Kingbird, House Wren, Black-billed Magpie, American Robin, Yellow Warbler, Blue
Grosbeak, and Bullock's Oriole (Andrews and Righter 1992, Krueper 1995, Howe 1996, Kingery
Importance and Conservation Status: Lowland riparian systems provide dispersal corridors for
woodland birds across otherwise treeless terrain. Well-defined, unique, and highly productive,
riparian zones areas are sensitive to disturbance (Melton et al. 1984).
Riparian ecosystems are important for both humans and wildlife. During historic times, humans
have used riparian zones intensively and have substantially altered much of this habitat to create
highways, gravel mines, and residential, industrial, and recreational developments. Riparian zones
are convenient locations for those activities. They are also productive areas for domestic
livestock grazing. However, the impacts of domestic livestock are not as dominant as in high
elevation riparian zones (Melton et al. 1984, Wozniak 1995).
Unlike the high elevation riparian habitat in Colorado, much of the lowland riparian ecosystem is
in private ownership. Consequently it is much more susceptible to loss and degradation by urban
and industrial development, mining, road and trail development, and recreational development.
Priority Species Accounts: Two species are identified as high priority in low-elevation riparian habitats
in Physiographic Area 62: Lewis's Woodpecker and Lazuli Bunting.