A few New Mexico passerine birds: Families A-F

Passeriformes is an order with a variety of birds in many families. In July 2021 I had to split the Passeriformes page into four: Families A-F (this page), Families H-M, Families P, and Families R-T.

 

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


Aegithalidae

 

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)

As LGBs (little gray birds) go, this is 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. In August 2021 I saw a similar small mob working over a bed of red yuccas, and managed one more picture. 

 

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.

 

Bombycillidae

 

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Both images are of the same bird. The reason these two images came out so painterly was because this Cedar Waxwing was in the shade and strongly backlit. Bringing the photos into balance also made them less crisp.

 

Cardinalidae

 

Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)

My first photographic encounter with this species 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.

 

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea)

This has been a tricky one to photograph—but so many of them are. Female and immature blue grosbeaks resemble each other; I'm labeling one bird an adult female because it was hanging out so closely with an adult male.

 

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

When this bird showed up on my back porch slab, scrounging for seeds, it threw me for a loop. It took an intervention by one of the eBird volunteer referees to nail the ID. I've never seen an adult male Painted Bunting but someday I hope to.

 

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)

Not great images, I know, but they show the male's colorful plumage—including the contrast between the front and the back. The females are less colorful, with no red, and can be rather drab. The two western tanagers I photographed in June 2021 were paired off.

 

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, but I haven't managed to photograph one yet.

 

Corvidae (Crows and their allies)

 

Woodhouse's Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)

 

Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

So far, two not-very-good photos of a not-very-cooperative Steller's jay. 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)

 

Common Raven (Corvus corax)

In the Southwest, these birds are referred to simply as ravens. This one bold fellow hangs out in a parking lot and has trained tourists to throw it scraps of food. Ravens' shaggy throats help distinguish them from crows. In one of the pictures a breeze has stirred the throat feathers, making the throat's shagginess more evident. 

 

Canada Jay (formerly Gray Jay) (Perisoreus canadensis)

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

 

Fringillidae (Finches)

 

Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria)

 

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.


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