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Paridae (Chickadees and Titmice)
Juniper Titmouse (Baeolophus ridgwayi)
Mostly a small, plain gray bird, but with a signature crest.
Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
Down in the Rio Grande Bosque, looked for black-capped chickadees with their solid black from the eye up. Up in the Sandias, look for the mountain chickadees with their black eye stripe sandwiched between two areas of white.
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
If you start looking at birds, sooner or later you'll discover what a challenge warblers are. Think of it as one of those "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" challenges. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Wilson's Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)
In early September 2022 I encountered a flock of at least ten yellow warblers, some with black caps, in a patch of seepwillow. Perhaps they were there for the seepwillow seeds, but I didn't see any of them eating. Instead they kept flitting about, always moving away from me. With such constant motion, they were tricky birds to photograph. Wilson's warblers spend the summer in Canada or in the far corner of the Pacific Northwest; they spend the winter Mexico and Central America. We get to see them in Albuquerque as they pass through on their way north or south.
MacGillivray's Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei)
Look for the gray head, yellow body (grayer above), and prominent upper and lower partial eye rings.
Orange-Crowned Warbler (Leiothlypis celata)
According to various guides, don't look for the orange crown to ID this one; usually that feature isn't obvious. Instead, in the West, start by looking for a yellow bird with a fairly uniform back and a short, narrow beak. Nonetheless, you can see a slightly more orange cap on this warbler in a couple of my pictures.
Lucy's Warbler (Leiothlypis luciae)
Very gray warblers, these. I know that one is a male because in the photo I can just barely see the rust color on the crown and rump.
Virginia's Warbler (Leiothlypis virginiae)
One of my photos is blurry, but it shows the yellow under the bird's rump. Except for that yellow patch and the one on the chest, this is a gray bird with a very dark eye in a prominent white eye ring.
Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)
The yellow-rumped warblers in the Albuquerque area include two forms. The Audubon's has a yellow chin. The Myrtle has a pale chin. Once you can ID them, they're surprisingly common.
Look for discontinuous patches of yellow, including at each wing. The bright yellow rump is a great clue if you see it—but as the image to the left shows, if the wings are clapped shut over the rump you're out of luck.
Here's an example of the yellow rump peeking through. To see a larger version, on Pinterest, click on the photo. By the way, when using my eyeballs I've never seen yellow on the crowns of females, even though guidebooks show that feature. Instead I've seen it (sometimes) when I look at my photos.
Many birds have crests that are raised only sometimes. Here's a male yellow-rumped warbler raising his.
Grace's Warbler (Setophaga graciae)
Black-Throated Gray Warbler (Setophaga nigrescens)
So far, just one grainy photo of this bird. The clincher on the species is is the tiny yellow spots near the beak.
American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)
Townsend's Warbler (Setophaga townsendi)
Townsend's warblers breed and forage in the Pacific Northwest, preferably high in the canopies of old-growth forests. I caught one pausing in the mountains of New Mexico during its fall migration.
Passerellidae (American Sparrows)
Rufous-Crowned Sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps)
Black-Throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata)
Black-throated sparrows are very common in the open space at the western base of the Sandias.
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)
My initial photos of this species aren't very good, but the bird itself is distinctive, thanks to its crescentic facial patterning. When the bird looked straight at me, as in the thumbnail to the left, I was reminded of a Mexican wrestler's mask.
Dark-eyed Junco, gray-headed form (Junco hyemalis caniceps)
For all dark-eyed juncos, look for white outer tail feathers while the bird is flying. The plumage variations on this species are sometimes used to divide them into subspecies, and I have provided the corresponding Latin names, but I prefer the noncommittal word "form." The gray-headed form of dark-eyed juncos, shown above, includes gray sides and wings and a contrasting rufous back. The form also features a dark mask extending from the beak back to the eyes, and an all-pink bill—but those two features may be difficult to spot if the light isn't right.
Dark-eyed Junco, slate-colored form (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)
Dark-eyed Junco, pink-sided form (Junco hyemalis mearnsi)
The pink-sided form resembles dark-eyed junco female of the Oregon form, but has a prominent dark "mask" extending from the beak past the eyes. To me the sides look rufous rather than pink.
Dark-eyed Junco, Oregon form (Junco hyemalis oreganus)
The Oregon form of the dark-eyed junco is found across much of the western U.S., including in Albuquerque. It has a hood, a brown back, and a buff patch on each side. The male's hood is dark gray while the female/immature's is light gray. I found a pair ground-feeding in the Sandia foothills on New Year's Day 2018.
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
At first I thought this backyard visitor was a Song Sparrow, but note how the streaky sides are buff rather than light gray. Lincoln's Sparrow was named after Thomas Lincoln, a friend of John James Audubon, not after the U.S. president.
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Look for coarse streaks on the breast. If you get a head-on view, look for streaks converging to form a central splotch.
Canyon Towhee (Melozone fusca)
Look for a bird that's a little larger than a sparrow and has reddish areas on top of its head and at its butt.
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Hard to tell from my distant photos, but one marker of this species is the yellow extending from the upper beak back and over the eyes.
Green-Tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus)
My August 2020 photo shows the first green-tailed towhee I ever saw. The mottled juvenile body plumage had given way to an adult's mostly bland body colors, but the adult white throat was present and and the rusty crest was on its way in. Once this bird flew into brush to escape my camera, it issued a characteristic catlike mew.
One of the August 2023 photos shows a juvenile "splooting," I think to dry off more quickly after bathing. The photo shows the yellow-green tail clearly.
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
This bird was formerly classified as a rufous-sided towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), along with the bird now known as the eastern towhee. The second part of the former Latin name means "red-eyed," an attribute that is obvious here. (Maculatus means "spotted.") When learning this bird, be sure to compare it to black-headed grosbeaks.
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)
To me, this bird looks a lot like an immature lark sparrow. It has an obvious white eye ring, though, and when it flies off it shows white edges to the tail (not unlike a junco).
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
To me, this sparrow's call sounds like a single slender branch being fed into a wood chipper. Which makes it easy for me to hear the call and think "chipping sparrow."
American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)
My ID of this sparrow is based on the un-streaked breast, the eyeline being the same rusty color as the cap, and on the two-colored beak. I'd feel better about my ID if I could see a dark spot in the middle of the breast, but apparently not all American Tree Sparrows show that trait.
White-Throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
When I saw this sparrow with its black and white head stripes, I immediately thought "white-crowned sparrow" (the next bird on this page). However, white-crowned sparrows don't have yellow extending from their beaks back over their eyes, or a patterned black and white throat.
White-Crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), Western Taiga variant
Given their black and white head stripes, mature White-Crowned Sparrows are easy to identify. The immature ones are trickier, but my photos of immature birds should help. All of my photos are of birds with pale lores (the spaces between the upper beaks and the eyes), so these are the Western Taiga (Gambel's) variant. In the Albuquerque area, white-crowned sparrows are common in more natural habitats while house sparrows dominate in artificial habitats including residential neighborhoods.
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
House (or English) Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
These are the descendants of immigrants, but so am I. Along with house finches, they're the most common birds in my neighborhood.
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
An elusive little bird, but gregarious and talkative. They fly north, including to New Mexico, during the breeding season. I keep running into them in the La Cueva picnic area at the base of the Sandia Mountains.
To continue to the next set of Passerine birds, click here.