A few New Mexico birds: Passeriformes


An order with a large variety of birds. Hover over a series of photos to control the images.



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.



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.

Hirundidae (Swallows)


Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)



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)

Given the location (south end of Albuquerque) and time of year (October), these photos are likely of the Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta. The Eastern Meadowlark, S. magna, occurs in the Albuquerque area in the summer. The Sibley guide to western North American birds warns that the two are "reliably distinguished only by voice."

Laniidae (Shrikes)


Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)



Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)

For me a thrasher's call, more than any other, means that I'm living where I ought to live.

Paridae (Chickadees and Titmice)


Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)

Except for a few grainy photos, so far this bird has 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)


Among other things, 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, all of my photos were taken in the fall and show females; none shows any yellow on the crown of the head, despite what's shown by some guides. 


American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)

Passerellidae (American Sparrows)


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.


Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)


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 back 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.


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 three photos of an immature bird 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 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.

Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)



Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila melanura)

Sturnidae (Starlings)


European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)



Hermit Thrush (Cathartus guttatus)


Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)


Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana

In October 2020 I was surprised to find a female Western Bluebird perched above Burton Park in Albuquerque. A couple of minutes later I found a second female (this one quite drab) on a low branch in the same park, having interrupted her ground-sallying. I hadn't seen them in town before, but it was a very dry fall. Note the brownish patch that extends from the breast down the sides.


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. 


Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

This one stands out a bit for its pale gray throat and chest, its buff belly, and its black tail. I first found it in my neighborhood. Once I started scouting open areas, I found it there as well. It's supposed to be uncommon but in the Albuquerque area I see it all the time. 


In town a Say's Phoebe perches fairly high up. In open areas it uses any perch just off the ground; two photos show a Say's Phoebe on a dead tumbleweed and on one of the strands 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.