A few New Mexico passerine birds: Families A-F

Passeriformes is an order with a huge variety of birds in many families. I had to split the Passeriformes page into four: Families A-F (this page), Families H-M, Families P, and Families R-V.


Hover over a series of photos with your mouse to control the images. If you find an ID or link error, please contact me!



Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)

As LGBs (little gray birds) go, these are as little and as plain gray as you'll find. In July 2020 I saw a tight flock of them, constantly moving and chatting as they worked over a patch of fourwing saltbush. As they searched and fed on tiny insects they hung at odd angles, even upside down. My subsequent photos show single birds, but they also were parts of mobs.


The local bushtits are part of the interior population, characterized by gray caps. Females have pale eyes; males and juveniles have dark eyes.


Alaudidae (Larks)


Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

I was disappointed to learn that Horned Larks don't always show an obvious horn. On the other hand, I'm impressed by how well they disappear in a patch of winter grass. If you flush out a cluster, which can number in the dozens, they don't leave explosively like quail, but quickly and gracefully, often flying low to the ground. They're sparrow-sized but even at a distance, the facial markings tell you you're dealing with something else.




Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Cedar waxwing photos always look painterly to me, but that's because they have so many smooth gradations in their plumage. I'll toss in a somewhat-out-of-focus image because it shows the bright red pips found on some birds. Those are actually waxy secretions.





Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)

My first photographic encounter with this species, in 2020, included what I think are an adult female (brown) and an immature male (gray). If you look carefully, you can see a couple of traces of blue on the immature male. Reasons for classifying this pair as Lazuli Buntings instead of Indigo buntings include the consistent coloration and distinct wing bars on the female. But perhaps I shouldn't try so hard with the species assignment. Lazuli and Indigo Buntings often hybridize where there territories overlap, which includes the Albuquerque area.


It was almost two years later when I saw my first male, which mostly hid from me. The mottled tan and blue back and head indicate that it was nonbreeding.


Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea)


Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)

If you only get a glimpse of this bird, with its orange body and white-spotted black wings, you might think it's a spotted towhee. A closer look shows the short, large bill, the lack of red eyes, and the lack of a large white patch on the belly.

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

The breeding male's colorful plumage includes a contrast between the bright yellow front and dark back. The females are less colorful, and can be rather drab (translation: they're much better camouflaged than the males). Females can have a slight reddish blush to the plumage on the fronts of their heads. 


Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava)

There seems to be an art to distinguishing hepatic tanagers from summer tanagers, and I'm not sure I've mastered it. I'm calling the male bird a hepatic because of its "less red" back and hint of a gray cheek. I'm calling the female birds hepatics because of how dull they are, and because they have gray bills, gray cheeks, and obvious eyelines.


Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

One thing that distinguishes the males of this species from those of the hepatic tanager (P. flava) is their red backs (the hepatics have brownish backs). Female summer tanagers are yellow. So far I haven't capture an image of a female. I thought that summer tanagers' heavy beaks might be for dealing with difficult seeds, but they feed by catching bees and wasps on the wing.



Certhiidae (Treecreepers)


Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)

Masters of camouflage, brown creepers blend in with the rugged bark they love to explore. Once they find a bug in a crevice, their thin, curving beaks are ideal extraction tools. In Albuquerque, find these birds (if you can) on the trunks and branches of large cottonwoods.


Corvidae (Crows and their allies)


Woodhouse's Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)


Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

If you're in the mountains near Albuquerque and see a blue jay with a black head and an obvious crest, that's a Steller's. Blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata), so familiar to Easterners, do wander into New Mexico but their crests are blue.


American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

For much of the country, American crows are year-round birds. Not so in Albuquerque; here they show up in large numbers in the cool months, and disappear as it warms up.


Common Raven (Corvus corax)

In the Southwest, these birds are referred to simply as ravens. In March 2019, I found a bold fellow who hung out in a Chaco Canyon parking lot and had trained tourists to throw it scraps of food.


When seen up close, ravens' shaggy throats help distinguish them from crows. In one of the March 2019 pictures a breeze has stirred the throat feathers, making the shagginess more evident. You can see that again in my picture from October 2023. When ravens are flying, the tips of their tails often form a blunt point,  and are sometimes described as "wedge-shaped", while crows have classic fan-shaped tails.


Chihuahuan Raven (Corvus cryptoleucus)

I know that this particular bird is a Chihuahuan raven because the white bases of the neck feathers are visible. Otherwise, I can't tell these ravens from common ravens.


Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana)


So far, just distant images, under poor light, of one of these denizens of the high mountains. To distinguish a Clark's nutcracker from a Canada Jay, note how the Clark's doesn't have white on its head while the Canada Jay does. Also, note the white on the Clark's outer tail feathers, and on the tips of of the secondaries (trailing feathers next to the body). Canada Jays don't have those patches of white.


Canada Jay (formerly Gray Jay) (Perisoreus canadensis)

To see a YouTube video featuring these Canada Jays, click here.


Fringillidae (Finches)


Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria)

These little birds are all over Albuquerque. You can attract them to your yard by hanging out a thistle sock.


Cassin's Finch (Haemorhous cassinii)

All About Birds describes the Cassin's finch as "the characteristic rosy-tinged finch of the mountains of western North America." In most of New Mexico, though, any Cassin's finch you see is wintering there.


House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

House Finches are an extremely common, year-round bird in Albuquerque. Look for sparrow-sized birds with dark stubby beaks, dark feet, and streaked breasts and sides. The amount of red on males waxes and wanes with the seasons.


Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)

Red crossbill males are dull red to orange-red and the females have some yellow. The amount and intensity of colors vary a lot. The bills are specialized for prying open unripe cones, allowing red crossbills to enjoy the nuts in those cones before other species can eat them.


Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus)

Itty-bitty and streaky, especially from the front, but looks for yellow on the wings and tail. Other characteristics are the very pointy beak and the short tail with a slightly forked end.

To continue to the next set of Passerine birds, click here.