A few New Mexico passerine birds: Families H-M

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,  Families H-M (this page), Families P, and Families R-V.

 

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Hirundinidae (Swallows)

 

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

When these swallows are on the fly, start your ID by looking for a dark back and buff to rufuous undersides. (My memory aid is "buff belly, barn.") When they're sitting, notice the forked tail and lack of white on the front of the head (but juveniles can have pale foreheads). Barn swallow nests are cup-shaped, making them easy to distinguish from cliff swallow nests (below).

 

Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Once completed, cliff swallow nests are gourd-shaped. I've found hundreds of the nests under bridges across or near the Rio Grande. In making the ID for cliff swallows on the fly, look for the dark back, the pale undersides, and (if they get close enough) the pale "forehead."

 

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

A plain-looking swallow with a brown head, a brown back, a slightly dirty-looking chin and breast, and a white belly. Also, the tail is only slightly forked and can look squared-off.

 

Violet-Green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina)

Even in good light, it's hard to see the colors that gave this swallow its name. Instead, look for the contrast between the dark back and the white undersides. In particular, notice how the white continues onto the chin and curls behind and then over the eye. For that reason, it's possible to ID the bird in my April 2021 picture, taken in low light, as a violet-green swallow.

 

Icteriidae

 

Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

The males' red shoulder patches are distinctive, but those don't always show. The yellow fringe to the red feathers is even more difficult to spot. The males will sometimes sit on an exposed branch to sing their distinctive buzzing song, squaring their shoulders (and making the red feathers stand out) as they sing. More often I just hear them. The females are more reclusive, quieter (making a sort of click), and well camouflaged.

 

Yellow-Breasted Chat (Icteria virens)

 

Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii)

I included the blurry picture because it shows the sharply pointed beak more clearly.

 

Brown-Headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

 

Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Without RAW images and post-processing, It's difficult to get a picture of a male great-tailed grackle that looks like anything besides a black outline. It's a shame; in the right light, they have a bluish sheen that reminds me of labradorite. Even as seemingly all-black birds, they're still recognizable due to their large, expanding tail. The females are brown, so show up better in photos; they have the same large tail.

 

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

The Sibley guide to western North American birds warns that that Western meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) and Eastern meadowlarks (S. magna) are "reliably distinguished only by voice." That's a problem where their ranges overlap but according to All About Birds, Eastern Meadowlarks usually don't extend into New Mexico.

 

Yellow-Headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

 

Laniidae (Shrikes)

 

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)

This deadly little bird prefers to hunt in open spaces. I've found it in a large undeveloped industrial park near the Sunport, and in Burton Park's large grassy areas.

 

Mimidae

 

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

 

Crissal Thrasher (Toxostoma crissale)

I was stretching my legs in a parking lot when I heard a sweet three-note call from a line of evergreen shrubs. (Just beyond the shrubs is a channelized but unlined arroyo, which provides better habitat.) As I approached the source of the song, a Crissal Thrasher jumped out and moved on to the next shrub. We played this cat-and-mouse game for several shrubs. Then the thrasher flew up into a small tree, providing me with my one good photo. You can see the distinctive cheek striping in the thumbnail. 

 

The reddish rump is distinctive to this species of thrasher (crissum is a fancy word for "bird butt"). You can see that more clearly in the photo I took in April 2021.

 

Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)

For me a thrasher's call, more than any other bird call, means I'm living where I ought to live. The June 2021 photos shows a curve-billed thrasher with a juvenile's gray eyes, as opposed to adults' orange eyes .

 

Motacillidae

 

American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)

One of my photos shows the American pipit's long hind toe (hallux) and nail. These birds forage in open fields but also along shorelines. My January 21 photo shows a pipit foraging along the edge of the Rio Grande. In September 2023, I saw three pipits exploring a freshly exposed mud flat in a flood control outflow channel.


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