Western bluebirds are a common sight in backyards across New Mexico. Photograph by Benoit Gauzere/Unsplash.
I WAS MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS on a sunny November afternoon when a commotion arose in the backyard. Outside the large window of my Santa Fe work-from-home setup, a bluish bird was perched in a nearby bush, squawking in my direction.
“Is that a blue jay?” my wife asked, followed quickly by a rather accusatory “What did you do?”
While I was fairly sure I had done nothing to ruffle its feathers, I couldn’t say whether this disgruntled fellow was a blue jay or not. It resembled the domineering birds that occupied our former Ohio yard, but it seemed paler, with less striping on its wings and tail. I wanted to know more about my antagonist.
A search of common New Mexico backyard birds revealed that it was probably a Woodhouse’s scrub jay. By the time he grew bored with me, I had started a list of what to look for out our window. Over the course of the next few weeks, we saw house finches bathing in puddled rainwater, a northern flicker searching for lunch, and a host of goldfinches, spotted towhees, and sparrows. We even tried to identify the serenading evening call of some far-off feathered friend we could never spot.
Given this past year’s limits on travel and the increased number of folks working remotely, I’m not the only one taking more interest in the winged inhabitants of our nearby bushes, trees, and yards.
With more than 500 species living in or passing through the state each year, birding opportunities in New Mexico are as varied as our landscapes. Those experiences—from backyard birds to must-visit hot spots—are featured in this month’s cover story. But writer and longtime birder Jim O’Donnell sounds a warning cry as well.
Threats abound: urbanization, oil and gas development, and climate change are the most imperiling. “Our birds are facing an uphill battle,” says Jon Hayes, executive director of Audubon Southwest. Last September’s massive bird die-off raised many people’s awareness of just how fragile nature can be. Whether it catalyzes changes that can help threatened bird populations, however, is yet to be seen.
Some believe seeing a blue jay symbolizes that you are about to experience spiritual growth. I’d like to believe that’s the case, but I’m also happy knowing I’m a little closer to the living things all around me.