A few New Mexico birds: Passeriformes

An order with a huge variety of birds. Hover over a series of photos to control the images. If you see an ID error, please contact me!



Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)

As LGBs (little gray birds) go, this is as little and as plain gray as you'll find. On a morning walk 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.


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)

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.




Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)

My first photographic encounter 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.

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

Not great images, I know, but they show the colorful plumage—including the contrast between the front and the back. This was one of a pair hanging out at Rock Tank. 


Corvidae (Crows and their allies)


Woodhouse's Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)


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 (Carpodacus 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.


Hirundidae (Swallows)


Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)


Northern Rough-Winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

If you can pronounce the scientific name for this species, you're a better person than I am.




Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)


Yellow-Breasted Chat (Icteria virens)


Brown-Headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)


Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

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. 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.


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.




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 a bit of habitat in an area dominated by commercial buildings and asphalt.) 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. The red rump is distinctive to this species of thrasher (crissum is a fancy word for "bird butt"). The same bird had the distinctive cheek striping, which you can see slightly more clearly in the grainy thumbnail.


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.




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.


Paridae (Chickadees and Titmice)



Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

My initial photos aren't very good, but they show the characteristic plumage.


Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)

Except for a few grainy photos, so far this chickadee has also eluded my camera lens.


Parulidae (New World Warblers)


Orange-Crowned Warbler (Leiothlypis celata)

Orange-Crowned Warbler, Leiothlypis celata, New Mexico
Albuquerque, August 2020

According to the various guides, don't look for the orange crown to ID this one; usually that feature isn't visible. Instead, in the West, start by looking for a yellow bird with a fairly uniform back and a short, narrow beak.


Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)


Look for discontinuous patches of yellow, including at the throat and under each wing. The bright yellow rump is a great clue if you can 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. By the way none of my photos of females shows yellow on the crown of the head, despite what's shown by some guides. 


American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)


Passerellidae (American Sparrows)


Black-Throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata


Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), Oregon Subspecies

The Oregon variant 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's is light gray. I found a pair ground-feeding in the Sandia foothills on New Year's Day 2018.


Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), Pink-Sided Subspecies

The Pink-Sided subspecies of junco resembles females of the Oregon subspecies, 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 (Junco hyemalis), Gray-Headed Subspecies

The Gray-Headed subspecies of dark-eyed juncos includes gray sides, a rufous back, a mask extending from the beak back to the eyes, and an all-pink bill.


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)


Canyon Towhee (Melozone fusca)


Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)

It's difficult to tell from these photos, but my species ID of this bird is based in part on the pale yellow band extending from the beak over and past the eyes.


Green-Tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus)

All of my photos are of the same bird, a very young adult. The mottled juvenile body plumage has given way to an adult's mostly bland body colors, but the adult white throat is present and and the rusty crest is on its way in. The green-yellow plumage areas that give this bird its name never dominate the plumage scheme. Once this bird flew into brush to escape my camera, it issued a characteristic catlike mew.


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 means "red-eyed," an attribute that is obvious here. (Maculatus means "spotted.") A jumpy hand-held video (recorded in the Sandia Mountains foothills in May 2020) provides this towhee's call; click here to listen.


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 if I could see a dark spot in the middle of the breast, but apparently not all American Tree Sparrows show that trait.


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. 


All three September 2020 photos from the Bosque are of same individual. At first I saw it at a distance and thought it had a solid brown head (as you'd find on the gray adult version of a Field Sparrow). A closer look showed the brown and gray head stripes of an immature White-Crowned Sparrow. In one of the three photos it appears as if the bird might have dark lores, but from other angles (including in images I didn't upload) it's clear that the lores are pale. An argument for taking multiple looks at (or photos of) a bird you're trying to identify.


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.


Regulidae (Kinglets)


Ruby-Crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)

All three images of a male are of the same individual. None is good; I included the blurriest image because it shows one of the characteristic markings of this species. Specifically, the pale eye ring is wide fore and aft and narrow top and bottom. The same image shows just a hint of the red crest sported by males of this species. When the crest is folded down, you may not notice it at all.


In January 2021, I got my first photograph of a female.


Sittidae (Nuthatches)


White-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

You'll probably notice this one on the trunks or large branches of trees, where it looks for insects, often head-down. While the dominant themes of the plumage are black, white, and gray, look for a rufous tinge at the base of the back and a patterned rufous-and-white rump.


Sturnidae (Starlings)


European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Troglodytidae (Wrens)


Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)

You might mistake this sparrow-sized bird for a sparrow, until you notice the long barred tail held at a jaunty angle. The obvious white eyebrow will help with the ID.




Hermit Thrush (Cathartus guttatus)


Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)

Varied Thrush, Ixoreus naevius, Corrales, New Mexico
Rio Grande Bosque, Corrales, January 2021

For me, this photo sums up the vexing part of bird photography. This Varied Thrush—the first I'd ever seen—flitted away after just two photos. Of the two, only this one is usable, and the bird is partly obscured by brush.


Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)


Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana

In October 2020 I found a "bright" female Western Bluebird perched above Burton Park in Albuquerque. A couple of minutes later I found a second, "drab" female on a low branch in the same park, having interrupted her ground-sallying. Note the brownish patch that extends from her breast down the sides.


The males from December of that year shows the blue chins that distinguish Western Bluebirds from their Eastern Bluebird cousins. The pair was part of a larger party that flew to the river's edge to drink.


Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

On these less common bluebirds in the Albuquerque area, the chins as well as the breasts are rust-colored.


American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

I'm calling certain robins in my photographs females because as of April each year, the previous year's chicks should be mature. Earlier in the calendar year, immature robins resemble the females.




Western Wood Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)

This pewee perched on a dead branch overlooking a still inlet along the Rio Grande. As I watched it repeatedly flew out to snag a bug (which was too small for me to see) and returned to the same branch. 


Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)

Look for the characteristic dark back, darker head, and contrasting white belly.


Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

Look for a gray head, a buff belly, and a black tail. (In two photos, what looks like a darker black stripe at the end of the tail is a shadow.) I first found it in my neighborhood. Once I started scouting open areas, I found it there as well. Now I seem to see it everywhere I go in Albuquerque. 


In town a Say's Phoebe perches above head height. In open areas it uses any perch just off the ground; one photo shows a Say's Phoebe on a dead tumbleweed and another shows one on a strand of a barbed-wire fence. To see one perched inches above the surface of the Rio Grande, check out this blog.


Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

My ID is based in part on the pale gray head and breast, the yellow belly, and the narrow white edges to the tail. In June 2020 I encountered one waiting on a utility cable, facing into the breeze, until an insect flew into view. It then flew out, captured the morsel, and returned to the cable to await its next snack. In July 2020 I encountered a pair in a sycamore tree. Once they moved a bit, I caught one flexing its wing.