Birding in New Mexico

With about 500 different birds on New Mexico’s state bird list –one of the highest– it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of favorite places!

Birds are magical. They inspire us and have the ability to motivate us into action. Birds are a gateway to engage people in our natural world – through festivals, events, birding trails, volunteer opportunities, classes and bird clubs.

“New Mexico has some wonderful locations for bird watching,” says Susan McGreevy, who spends her volunteer hours protecting birds and their habitat for Audubon New Mexico as a member of the Board of Directors. “Birding is the perfect love affair with feathered friends, with nature, and with conservation. People who visit these sites will not only enjoy the places and the birds, they will probably develop a new or strengthened commitment to conserving them.”

Spring is in the Air and in the Sky

“...Large flocks of American Robins are often conspicuous in March.”

Temperatures are rising and the snow is melting even in the shady spots. American Robins and House Finches have already been singing for weeks and the buds are starting to swell on the shrubs and trees. The Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese are leaving their wintering grounds at the Bosque del Apache and the Red-winged Blackbirds are reclaiming the marshes long before the reeds start to turn green. There can be no doubt that Spring is on its way. By the end of this month the Turkey Vultures will be again soaring over northern New Mexico and Say’s Phoebes will be conspicuous. In another month, there will be birds singing everywhere and some will already be nesting.

The coming of Spring is always a joy with its promise of renewal and new life, but for those of us who follow the birds—figuratively if not literally—it is also a reminder of the wonder of migration. More than any other class of animals, birds have evolved to take full advantage of the planet’s seasonal shift of daylight and temperature by moving with the seasons to optimal habitats for breeding where high-protein foods are available to feed their young. At the extreme are birds like the Peregrine Falcon, some of which complete a 20,000-mile round-trip migration each year from the rich summers and abundant food of the high arctic to a comparable wintering ground in South America. But even some of our resident birds like Mountain Chickadees and Juniper Titmice move up and down in elevation to take full advantage of the changing seasons.

The earliest migrants are the long-distance ones, those that nest in the most northern latitudes that pass through New Mexico as they follow the warming weather. In the eastern plains, shorebirds like Least, Western, and Semipalmated Sandpipers will be heading to the arctic to breed, while others like Violet-green Swallows and Western Grebes move up from the south to the northern United States and central Canada.

Large flocks of American Robins are often conspicuous in March. Although we have some robins in the area all Winter, you may notice that as these flocks come through there are variations in their coloration. Some of this variation is due to birds molting into fresh plumage in the Spring, but many of these robins are birds that spent the winter farther south and will be nesting well to the north of New Mexico. Birds have a high level of site fidelity; they return to the same places—sometimes even the same trees—to nest year after year. This results in geographic isolation of different populations of birds, and the workings of evolution can result in geographic variations in coloration. Although exceptions occur, in general southern and western robins are paler than eastern and northern populations—and have less conspicuous white spots in their tails. Some of the darker robins that we see in March may be headed far to the north and east to breed.

Where Can I See the Birds?

At the Randall Davey Audubon Center, some of our winter guests such as Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrows, and Red-breasted Nuthatch will be starting to head north or moving up in elevation by late March. April will begin to see real change. Birds that nest at the center, including Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Warbling Vireos, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and several kinds of warblers will be among those arriving in Santa Fe to reside here for the summer.

By early May, migration will be in full swing, and the combination of the movement of birds that winter in New Mexico, those passing through, and those arriving for the summer will peak. All across New Mexico, the annual International Migratory Bird Day on May 10th will see bird counts being conducted county by county across the state. These counts, like the more well-known Christmas Bird Counts, are an opportunity for citizens to provide scientific data that is combined by Audubon and Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology to provide a broad-scale view of the status of birds across the continent. Indications of early migration are among the results of these counts. In New Mexico, counts are organized by local chapters of Audubon. Beginners are always teamed with more experienced birders, so don’t be shy about participating in these fun—and important—events.

The wonder of migration reminds the observant of the coming of Spring, the delight of bird song and the renewal of the natural world. It also provides us with a grand view of the subtleties which evolution has constructed in the natural world and a cautionary tale for the changes we are imposing on that world. For many species, this migration is happening earlier, by several weeks in some cases, driven by a warming planet. As warming is not uniform across the globe, some birds may find themselves out of synchrony with the peak of food supplies to fuel their migration or to feed their young on the breeding grounds.

As the birds return in the spring, they remind us of our obligation to the planet that sustains us all. Audubon’s work to protect birds and other wildlife, whether it is getting young people out-of-doors, counting migrating birds, or advocating for sound conservation policy, is working to preserve the ecosystems that support all life on earth.

Bird Watching in Southwest New Mexico

“...Spring migrations begin in late April but birding can be rewarding throughout the year.”

Located northwest of Silver City, the Gila River Bird Habitat Management Unit, a special unit of the Gila National Forest, offers great birding in the cottonwoods and willows along the River. This is a very special place where spring migrations and the combination of riparian habitat and desert hills bring a great variety of birds together. Over 200 documented bird species use this extensive riparian ecosystem. Common Black-hawks patrol the Gila River or perch high in treetops. The flash of Yellow Warblers, Cardinals, and Vermillion Flycatchers draw your eye like magnets. Towhees and thrashers rustle in the thickets, and Black Phoebes and Phainopeplas have their favorite, conspicuous perches. Look for the Gila Woodpecker, Montezuma Quail, Tanagers, Bell's Vireo and Lucy's and Olive Warblers. There are so many species here that you can spend many days birding in the cool shade of the cottonwoods on the banks of the Gila River.

Just a half hour drive north of Silver City, in the Gila National Forest, the fluting melody of the Hermit Thrush mingles with distinctive calls of Painted Redstarts and Red-faced Warblers. The mix of oak and pine are a favorite place for Acorn Woodpeckers and the Bridled Titmouse. You'll also find Tanagers and a variety of Warblers.

Spring migrations begin in late April but birding can be rewarding throughout the year. Over 339 species have been seen in Grant County. You'll find intriguing desert canyons, cool riparian habitat, Pinon/Juniper woodlands, and Ponderosa and Spruce/Fir forests. We invite you come see our special birds.

For more information visit our These Websites

The "Birds of the Gila National Forest Check List" and maps are available at the Silver City Visitor Center, the Gila National Forest Supervisors office, district ranger stations, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

Where is your favorite place to bird?

“...Birding is the perfect love affair with feathered friends, with nature, and with conservation. People who visit these sites will not only enjoy the places and the birds, they will probably develop a new or strengthened commitment to conserving them.”

Favorite birding sites can be somewhat personal choices, but staff at Audubon New Mexico suggests that individuals and families are unlikely to go wrong with these locations:

Orilla Verde Recreation Area is located along the Rio Grande one mile past the turnoff at Pilar and extends up the Rio Grande. A BLM visitor center is located on NM68 across the road from the village of Pilar. Bird habitats include the river, associated willows and tamarisk, mature cottonwood groves (especially at the campgrounds), numerous seeps and springs along the canyon walls, piñon, and rim rock. This is an excellent area for Bullock's Oriole in the spring and summer and for Piñon Jay, Canyon Wren, Rock Wren, and Bushtit all year. The area usually has Dipper all year and has had breeding Golden Eagle and Peregrine Falcon.

The Sangre de Cristo Audubon Society, our chapter based in the Santa Fe and Los Alamos area, points out many great birding hot spots, but Hyde State Park and Road and the Santa Fe Ski Basin capture the interest of many. The extended area near Hyde State Park and along the trails off the road to the ski area includes several hiking options, each of which has birding opportunities. Williamson's Sapsucker's (breeding), Hammond's and Cordilleran Flycatchers, Western Tanagers, Nuthatches (Red and White-breasted, Pygmy), Mountain Chickadees, Steller’s Jays, and Western Warblers are some of the species anticipated within the Black Canyon campground and trails. Further up Hyde Park Road, Blue Grouse are sometimes seen at elevations between the Borrego Trail to the ski basin.

The Santa Fe Ski Basin has a great trailhead for those who want to venture into the high mountain back country. Species expected include Hermit Thrush, House Wren, Junco, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Lincoln's Sparrow, Gray Jay, and Clark's Nutcracker.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Randall Davey Audubon Center east of Santa Fe where a wide variety of birds reside and visit during migration. Nestled at the mouth of the Santa Fe Canyon, our Audubon Center encompasses 135 acres and includes miles of hiking trails, a nature store, our state offices, and the historic home of artist Randall Davey. Favorites on Audubon’s grounds include the Spotted and Canyon Towhee, Hairy Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Typical birds found are hummingbirds, nuthatches, juncos, warblers, woodpeckers, jays, and chickadees. The plant community along the Santa Fe River bottom provides a home to towhees, goldfinches, vireos, robins, and others. We offer free guided bird walks on Saturday mornings at 8:30 am.

Albuquerque-based but with a wide ranging area, the Central New Mexico Audubon Society has participated for over 5 years at the Sandia Crest in efforts to study the Rosy Finches that return there each winter, so it is no surprise to hear many folks mention the Sandias as one of their favorite birding spots.

A favorite on everyone’s list is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro. No secret here – Bosque del Apache is the quintessential birding spot for residents and visitors to New Mexico. Most people know about the cranes, geese, ducks and eagles who winter at the Bosque, but the refuge offers excellent birding year-round. Visit www.friendsofthebosque.org for a list of birds by season.

The Mesilla Valley Audubon Society, our chapter located in Las Cruces, boasts that at Dripping Springs Recreation Area, owned by the Bureau of Land Management, trails are excellent year-round and show off many species of birds, including White-throated Swift, Black-chinned Sparrow and Scott’s Oriole. Additionally, at Leasburg Dam State Park, located on the Rio Grande about 20 miles north of Las Cruces, there are several different kinds of habitat in the area, which means many different kinds of birds can be found at and near the park. During migration different warbler and vireo species, along with towhees, grosbeaks, and orioles may be found in the brush along the sides of the irrigation canal (adjacent to the river) as well as in the trees and brush along the river. Also many ducks, cormorants, swallows, sparrows and birds of prey visit the park.

The Southwest NM Audubon Society highlights the Big Ditch Park in Silver City, state parks along the Rio Grande like Elephant Butte Lake for the thousands of Western and Clark’s Grebe and other water birds, and the middle Gila River valley for Gila Woodpecker and Hooded Oriole. This southwestern quadrant of the state is well-known for its high diversity of birds, its scenic value and because it houses many of the Mexican specialty bird species that other U.S. birders want to see.

Rattlesnake Springs is an oasis in southern New Mexico located 5 miles south from the turn off to Carlsbad Caverns. At Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center, there is usually a list of recently seen birds on the bulletin board at the parking area. The natural spring is a popular nesting area for many birds.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a gem located about 12 miles east of Roswell. Watch for quail, roadrunners, sparrows, ravens, pheasants, blackbirds, hawks, and falcons and check out the new visitor’s center for a list of recent sightings.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive and every part of New Mexico has incredible birding hot spots. These 4 chapters and many bird clubs around the state offer field trips throughout the year. Our website, nm.audubon.org, has links to birding groups in Farmington, Ruidoso, Roswell, Carlsbad, Las Cruces, Silver City, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and El Paso, Texas.

Fall migration is an incredible time of year to get your family connected to birds, nature and to conservation. Get out and start watching. Let yourself be inspired by the magic of birds. You’ll have a great time and maybe discover a special birding spot of your own.

Thank you to the Audubon of New Mexico for sharing this guide.

Big Annual Events

Annually In March
The Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show returns to the Sandia Resort every March
Early April
Cowboy Cooking at its Best
April
Gathering on Nations Pow Wow
Albuquerque
Memorial Day Weekend
Santa Fe’s only museum-quality Indian art show and sale.
Fourth of July Weekend
Roswell UFO Festival
Roswell
July 4th Weekend
Come out and enjoy this terrific family friendly event with plenty of award winning BBQ.
July
The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market
Santa Fe
July
62nd Annual Traditional Spanish Market
Santa Fe
Late July Early August
Get down to Earth at the Silver City Clay Festival
4th weekend in August
The Great American Duck Race
Deming
August
Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial
Gallup
Annually In August
The Antique Indian & Ethnographic Art Show
August
SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market
Santa Fe
August
Hot Chili Days & Cool Mountain Nights
Red River
August
Hatch Chile Festival
Hatch, NM
September
Hot Air Balloon Invitational
White Sands National Monument
September
Santa Fe Wine & Chile Festival
Santa Fe
Mid September
Globalquerque! is New Mexico's Annual Celebration of World Music and Culture.
September
The Whole Enchilada Festival
Las Cruces
Late September
We welcome you to come, explore, and help sustain the rural economy
October
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Albuquerque
October
Lincoln County
Cowboy Symposium
November
Festival of the Cranes
Bosque Del Apache
December
Red Rock Balloon Rally
Gallup
Taos Ski Valley
Every Summer, get out and dance
July - August in Santa Fe
The world renowned performance venue
Annually in Santa Fe
World class performers every year
Al fresco in Angel Fire
Come enjoy some of the best performances in the Southwest
World Class Taos
Recognized for creative programming and first-class artistry
Annually in the Fall
Midway, Livestock, Art, & everything New Mexican!
Annually in the Fall
Come celebrate the Tradition
Taking Place all year long
Visit the calendar of event for Native American here!
One of the Duke City's Bigest Sporting Events
Come on out and bring your dog
New Mexico Senior Olympics
You don't stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing
Annually in the Fall
Experience a course across ancient land
World renowned Race in the Spring
New Mexico's premier road cycling race
Memorial Day Weekend
Celebrating 20 years of flag football
Every October
Visit the cool pines.
November
Weems Artfest has become a nationally recognized juried art event ...
September
The Ruidoso Century Race