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.


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

Hirundinidae (Swallows)


Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

When these swallows are on the fly, start your ID by looking for a dark back and rufuous undersides. When they're sitting, notice the forked tail and lack of white on the front of the head.


Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

I've found hundreds of cliff swallow nests under bridges that cross 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, and a white belly. Also, the tail is only slightly forked and can look squared-off.


Violet-Green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina)

In one of these low-light photos, the green of the head barely shows. In the other, it doesn't show at all. However, you can see the distinctive way the white of the throat and cheek curls up behind the eye and then forward over it.




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, and well camouflaged.


Yellow-Breasted Chat (Icteria virens)


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. They are still recognizable due to their large, expanding tail. The females are brown, so show up better in photos, but have the same large tail.


Meadowlark (Sturnella)

The Sibley guide to western North American birds warns that that Western and Eastern Meadowlarks are "reliably distinguished only by voice." Here I'll show two birds and explain my tentative species assignments based on visual traits. The photos from January 2021 has light-colored cheeks and bold head stripes so I'm guessing it's an Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna. The photos from the previous December show an individual with darker cheeks and less well-defined head stripes, so I'm guessing it's a Western Meadowlark, S. neglecta. I paid less attention to how much bright yellow there is, because that varies by season.


The November 2022 ID was, indeed, by voice.


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.




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 .




American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)

All three photos are of the same individual, a paler nonbreeding adult. My ID of this nondescript bird has a lot to do with its behavior; it was foraging along the edge of the river, using its long legs to high-step through mud and debris.

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