If you weren’t born in New Mexico, you might be forgiven for thinking the only birds we had here were roadrunners.
But roadrunners, interesting as they may be, don’t scratch the surface of what the state has to offer, and local bird-watching experts say it’s easy and rewarding to connect with the feathery side of nature.
New Mexico bird-watchers have a wide variety of birds to spy, says Kevin Holladay, conservation education coordinator of the state Game and Fish Department.
“There have been over 525 birds ever seen in New Mexico,” he says, adding that in his Santa Fe backyard alone he has seen 65 species.
You’ll see plenty of bird species around Santa Fe, he says, even close to downtown and in city parks.
“You don’t have to go out to ‘nature,’” says Jeremy Philipp, summer camp director and interim education manager of Audubon New Mexico in Santa Fe. “Nature might be out an apartment window even.”
Summer is an especially active time for many birds, says Anne Schmauss, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe.
“There are all sorts of nesting things that are going on,” she says, “courtship things that are going on.”
A lot of really exciting wild bird behavior happens outside the city, Schmauss says, though you don’t have to go far for that, either.
“There are just an endless number of hikes you can go on in northern New Mexico, just endless,” she says. “Just endless. And any of those hikes would have good bird-watching on them.”
For example, Philipp points to trail systems in the Jemez Mountains, near Bandelier National Monument, the Dale Ball trails in Santa Fe, and the ski basins around Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Taos.
If you can make it to Jemez Falls, Holladay says you may encounter a breeding site for black swifts, sleek and dark birds that can be difficult to find elsewhere.
“They look almost like a fighter jet the way they fly,” he says. “They’re just amazing birds.”
For something close to home, Schmauss recommends the Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe. She says she regularly heads there on lunch breaks to wander for a few minutes before heading back to her store.
If you really want to start a career as a bird-watcher — after making sure you have what you’ll need to go hiking — you might want to invest in binoculars, Philipp says. You won’t need them, necessarily, but they will help.
Holladay strongly recommends binoculars, mainly because they are so much cheaper now than they were in the past. Seeing a bird through binoculars, he says, with all the intensity in its eyes and sometimes brilliant coloring in its feathers, is worth the investment.
The Davey center has some available for rent if you don’t want to buy your own.
You can find inexpensive binoculars, though Holladay says some with really impressive abilities cost $80 to $100 a pair. “It’s worth spending a little extra money.”
You also should invest in a guidebook that will help you spot and identify common New Mexico birds. Several are available, including one from the local Audubon group and Game and Fish.
According to a listing on its Web site, the Davey center in summer is most frequented by several varieties of hummingbirds, northern flickers, white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees and towhees.
Even with a book and a guidebook, it can be difficult to identify the birds you encounter. If you don’t have a friend who can teach you, the Audubon center offers bird walks every Saturday at 8:30 a.m., free and requiring no registration.
The center also offers a series of classes through the end of summer called “The Birds of Santa Fe,” consisting of a two-hour evening session the third Thursday of every month and an outing the following Saturday. There is a fee, and reservations are required. Contact Audubon New Mexico at 983-4609 or nm.audubon.org for information.
When you do go for a birdwatching expedition, Holladay says you’re most likely to see a lot of activity in the early morning or just before the sun goes down.
If you can, find a log or a spot on which to sit and be still, Schmauss says. Birds, unlike most wildlife, have a good chance of being comfortable enough to come close to you.
That isn’t to say you should plop down right under a nest, Holladay says. Ethical bird-watchers stay clear of nests, he says, because you may “flush the bird out” into danger.
If you find a grounded hatchling that has no real feathers and obviously can’t fly, he says you should try to return it to its nest. Birds don’t recognize their young by smell, so you are safe in handling it.
A larger young bird that has feathers and is hopping around is called a fledgling and may need to be put on top of a bush or a lower tree branch so it has a better chance of avoiding predators, he says.
If you find a hatchling that is injured or you can’t return it to the nest, put it in a small cardboard box. Seal the box with tape and don’t poke air holes — enough air comes through the cracks, Holladay says. Don’t attempt to feed the bird, and call a wild animal rescue organization like Wildlife Rescue Inc. of New Mexico at 505-344-2500.