A few rare bird visitors to New Mexico

Be warned that "rare bird" sightings as defined by apps such as eBird are a bit of a scam: they're birds that are common somewhere else. Still, it's fun to see something different and to realize how far off course a bird has wandered. Because the birds in question are locally rare, on this page I'll post images that might not meet my usual standards of quality. I may never get another chance to photograph them!


 Anseriformes, Anatidae: Mexican duck (Anas diazi)

Mallards hang out in the Albuquerque area by the thousands, but there must not be more than about one or two Mexican ducks here at any given given time. Mexican ducks look a lot like female mallards, only their bodies are darker. It helps to see the Mexican duck with a female mallard, as is the case here, so the difference stands out.  The dark body contrasts with the neck and head, which is like a female mallard's.


Like male mallards, male Mexican ducks have yellow beaks. At their other ends, they have neither the black and white patches nor the upward-curling feathers seen on male mallards. The tails not only look "flat," they lack white edges.

Female Mexican ducks reportedly have mottled orange and black beaks. I say "reportedly" because here in Albuquerque, I've yet to see a female with a Mexican duck's darker body plumage.


In the photos shown above, the male Mexican duck is consorting with a female mallard. Given such behavior, it's not surprising that locally, Mexican duck-mallard hybrids also occur.


Anseriformes, Anatidae: Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

As you might guess from the name, tundra swans summer in extreme northern Canada and in Alaska. Some winter as far south as the lower Colorado River Valley, but usually not along the Rio Grande. My photos show a juvenile whose plumage hasn't yet turned completely white.


Anseriformes, Anatidae: Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope)

Eurasian wigeons are a rare visitor anywhere in North America, let alone New Mexico. The few that get here can interbreed with American wigeons. The hybrid shown here mostly looks like an American wigeon, but its head shows some of the rich brown on a Eurasian wigeon's head.


Charadriiformes, Scolopacidae: Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

After breeding in the Arctic, dunlins take two routes southward: one to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the other to the Pacific coast. This forking path bypasses New Mexico to the east and west. In 2023, one dunlin didn't get the memo.


Charadriiformes, Scolopacidae: White-Rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

As white-rumped sandpipers make their twice-a-year journey between southern South America and the Arctic, usually they pass east of New Mexico. I've seen this species in Albuquerque twice: a southbound bird in September 2020 and a northbound bird in May 2024.


Charadriiformes, Scolopacidae: Red-Necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)

A small shorebird (note the Pepsi can in one picture). I was disappointed to learn that this bird isn't red-necked except when it's breeding—something that happens in northern Canada and Alaska.


Gaviiformes, Gaviidae: Common Loon (Gavia immer)


Passeriformes, Cardinalidae: Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

When this bird showed up on my back porch slab, scrounging for seeds, it threw me for a loop. It took an intervention by one of the eBird volunteer referees to nail the ID. I've never seen an adult male Painted Bunting but someday I hope to. Most of the time, painted buntings spend their summers east of New Mexico and their winters south of there.


Passeriformes, Icteridae: Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

Usually these birds winter in the eastern U.S. and migrate north and northwest from there. The females have rust-colored backs and gray rumps. The non-breeding males are darker overall but their back feathers can be rust-tipped (breeding males are all black). Both sexes have sharp little beaks and light irises. They ground-feed in wetlands (or in this case, along an irrigation drain).


Passeriformes, Mimidae: Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

This would have been a nice photo, if only... said every photographer everywhere. The image does show the brown thrasher's brown back and tail, mostly brown but patterned wings, boldly streaked breast, and yellow eyes. At the moment the photo was snapped, this out-of-state visitor had just launched off its perch. Brown thrashers are Easterners, albeit some winter in southeast New Mexico.


Passeriformes,  Passerellidae: Harris's Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)

This immature (first winter) Harris's Sparrow was flocking and feeding with white-crowned sparrows and a dark-eyed junco or two. The golden brown sides of its head and hound's-tooth pattern on its crown made it stand out. Normally, Harris's sparrows winter in the southern Plains, then fly north to the Artic to breed.



Passeriformes, Tyrannidae: Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)


Passeriformes: Turdidae: 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 only one I've seen—flitted away after two photos. Of the two, only this one is usable, and the bird is partly obscured by brush. Varied thrushes usually range from Alaska and western Canada down to California.


Passeriformes, Tyrannidae: Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

I'm calling this one a "near-adult" male because the adult's bright red plumage isn't fully grown in. Vermilion flycatchers are common in much of Latin America, but a few can be seen in parts of the U.S. Southwest. Some show up in southern New Mexico to breed, but it was a surprise to see one in the Albuquerque area after the breeding season was over.


Pelecaniformes, Ardeidae: Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

As I was looking at the parking lot nature pond at the RGNC, this American bittern flew from the nearby reeds, across the pond. As it flew over a great blue heron, my camera autofocused on that heron, not the bittern—but you can still see the wing color pattern during flight. Once the bittern settled in at the far side of the pond, it blended almost perfectly with the brown reeds.


Pelecaniformes, Ardeidae: Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

In the United States, yellow-crowned night-herons are supposed to keep well east of New Mexico. So this bird is not only a juvenile, but a confused juvenile. No shortage of those in our species either.


Piciformes, Picidae: Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

When people make fun of birders, yellow-bellied sapsuckers are the bird most commonly mentioned. Perhaps because the name sounds so droll. Now that I've seen one, I'm sorry to report that they don't have bright yellow bellies. Instead there's a faint yellow "wash" that can be difficult to see. They do consume sap, by drilling holes in a tree's bark and lapping up the sap that oozes out. (If bugs get stuck in the sap, so much the better.) So they're not terribly unlike humans who "tap" maple trees for the sap, to make into maple syrup.