Snow-doffed mountain peaks drop away to reveal dramatic river canyons and solitary mesas in sparsely populated New Mexico, a state known for its arid landscapes but for that, endowed with plenty of forested wilderness and long meandering rivers. New Mexico’s topography and southerly location makes it an important birding destination, drawing in species more common to Central and South America that find the north end of their range in the southern part of the state.
Between the New Mexico Birding Trail, which takes in 40 birding sites in southwestern New Mexico, and protected federal lands like White Sands Monument or Carlsbad Caverns National Park, there is a very long list of accessible bird watching destinations worth considering. With a little bit more effort, penetrate Guadalupe Canyon or Upper Rio Grande Gorge for a more solitary glimpse of New Mexico’s birds, with spectacular scenery to match.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park:
This national park might be best known for its caves, but it also plays host to an astounding number of bird species, including many neotropical migrants. Year-round expect to see woodpeckers, wrens, mockingbirds and sparrows but look during breeding season for Bell’s Vireo and the Varied Bunting as well as Cave Swallows, which nest in the Carlsbad Cavern entrance.
Upper Rio Grande Gorge:
Running from the Colorado border down past Taos, this river gorge, including 25 miles of Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, supports great bird variety, from the eagles and hawks that nest in canyon walls to passerine species like the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Keep an eye out for the neotropical Virginia’s Warbler as well as several different types of sparrow, American Dippers, Bullock’s Orioles and Peregrine Falcons.
White Sands National Monument:
While few birds are suited to life in a gypsum dune field like the one at White Sands National Monument, there are more than 200 recorded species spotted in nearby playa lakes, desert and foothills including many migrants and seasonal residents. Look for the Cactus Wren and Gambel’s Quail year-round, as well as the occasional Golden Eagle but watch also for shorebirds, warblers, buntings and the Great Horned Owl within the monument’s expanse.
New Mexico Birding Trail:
This bird watching trail takes in 40 good bird watching sites in southwestern New Mexico and includes destinations like City of Rocks State Park, where quail, kingbirds, meadowlarks and circling hawks might be seen and Springtime Campground in Cibola National Forest, host to Acorn Woodpeckers. Keep an eye out for raptors on the drive between Hatch and Deming, frequented in winter by Red-tailed Hawks, Golden Eagles and the American Kestrel.
Burford (Stinking) Lake:
For wetlands birds in a state that is often arid, try Burford Lake, in northern New Mexico. This Important Bird Area is also the state’s largest natural lake, and plays host to breeding grebes, White-faced Ibis, the American Avocet, Sora, even Mountain Bluebirds.
This may be a New Mexican birding hot spot but you’ll have to reach it from Arizona; Guadalupe Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains is well off the beaten path, and inaccessible from the New Mexico side. Though there have been a mere 160 species recorded in this remote canyon, a number of these are uncommon enough- here at the north end of their range - to attract attention. Watch for birds like the Elegant Trogon, Fan-tailed Warbler, Buff-collared Nightjar and Thick-billed Kingbird on a peaceful sojourn into the canyon.