My 16 Best Bird Watching Spots in New Mexico You Should Try


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New Mexico is the state found west of Texas. It is known mainly for its arid conditions and desert, but there are more habitats than just deserts. In fact, the state is known for good bird watching opportunities because there are riparian and mountainous habitats, grasslands, and vegetation such as chaparral and juniper-pinyon trees. 

The best bird watching spots in New Mexico are in the Santa Fe basin area, in the wetlands at Rio Fernando and Bitter Lake, and the mountainous parts of the state, such as Mills Canyon and Sandia Crest. Gila National Park and Canyon are also excellent bird watching places.

A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 16 birding spots in New Mexico:

PARKINTERESTING BIRDS YOU CAN SEE
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife RefugeSandhill Crane and Snow Goose
o Fernando WetlandsCassin’s Kingbird and Virginia Rail
Mill’s Canyon ParkBlack-billed Magpie and Williamson’s Sapsucker
Sangre de Cristo MountainsRed Crossbill and Clark’s Nutcracker
Rattlesnake Springs in Carlsbad Cavern National ParkGray Hawk and Blue-headed Vireo
Rio Grande Nature Center State ParkGambel’s Quail and Greater Roadrunner
Maxwell National Wildlife RefugeBurrowing Owl and Ferruginous Hawk
Randall Davey Audubon Center and SanctuaryCordilleran Flycatcher and Red-naped Sapsucker
Hyde Memorial State ParkPlumbeous Vireo and Steller’s Jay
Gila National ParkWestern Scrub Jay and Acorn Woodpecker
Gila Lower Box CanyonBell’s Vireo and Gila Woodpecker
Bitter Lake National Wildlife RefugeCinnamon Teal and Canvasback
Sandia CrestGolden Eagle and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch
Las Vegas National Wildlife RefugeClark’s Grebe and Vesper Sparrow
Percha Dam State ParkPhainopepla and Bullock’s Oriole
Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl AreaAmerican Wigeon and Say’s Phoebe
Best Bird Watching Spots in New Mexico

Read further to learn what I chose as the best bird watching spots in New Mexico. I also discuss the habitats and some of the species of birds you should look for in each of the spots.

Best Places to Bird Watch in New Mexico
Best Places to Bird Watch in New Mexico

TIP: If you are interested in checking out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in New Mexico 

New Mexico is in the southwestern region of the United States. It is located between Texas in the east and Arizona in the west. About 542 species of birds have been recorded in New Mexico, making this one of the best states to bird watch in. 

  1. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Bosque del Apache was established in the late 1930s as a place where migrating waterfowl could stop, rest, and feed during migration. The area, thus, attracts thousands of ducks, geese, and cranes. 

This refuge is 57,331 acres in size and includes a variety of habitats, including the Chihuahuan Desert, riparian forests, and wetlands.

Sandhill Crane and Snow Goose are two species that can be found here. The Snow Geese can be present in the thousands during the winter. 

The refuge is also good at other times of the year, and you can see many shorebirds like the Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet and water birds like the Neotropic Cormorant. 

  1. Río Fernando Wetlands

Although only about 30 acres, this area is rich in bird species. At least 186 bird species have been recorded here. It is located southwest of the town of Taos in New Mexico.

There are also forests and grasslands along with wetlands. This range of habitats supports several species of birds.

Some birds in the area include Cassin’s Kingbird, Ashy Flycatcher, and Mountain Chickadee. You should look in the wetland area for Sora and Virginia Rail. There is a checklist you can use when birding the area.

  1. Mills Canyon Park

The park has a campsite so you can stay overnight. Mill’s Canyon Park is in the Ciboa National Forest but includes grasslands, chaparral, and hills. 

In the forest lining the canyon, birds to look for include the Black-billed Magpie and Williamson’s Sapsucker. You can find Pygmy Nuthatches in the Ponderosa pines.

You should keep an eye out for Zone-tailed Hawks flying overhead. Orchard Orioles can be seen during spring migration. 

  1.  Sangre de Cristo Mountains

These mountains are at the base of the Rockies in the northern part of New Mexico; You can see some unique birds.

You can find Red Crossbill, Clark’s Nutcracker, and Ruffed Grouse. This area is a part of the Southwest New Mexico Birding Trail.

  1. Rattlesnake Springs in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

This is just south of the caves and is an excellent bird watching spot. There are cottonwood trees and scrub surrounding a wetland.

The area is known for birds like the Worm-eating Warbler and Blue-headed Vireo, which you can find during spring migration.

The Gray Hawk breeds in this area and is a specialty you should try to see. Other birds to look for here include Pyrrhuloxia, Vermillion Flycatcher, Lucy’s Warbler, and Say’s Phoebe.

  1. Rio Grande Nature Center State Park

This is one of my favorite bird watching spots. You can find lots of waterfowl, like ducks, in the pond near the visitor center. Green Herons and Wood Ducks are usually located on or near this pond.

Look out for Gambel’s Quail and Greater Roadrunner, which are found on the ground here, but you can also see Black-chinned Hummingbirds and Spotted Towhee.

  1. Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is 3,699 acres in size and is known to have many birds. At least 280 bird species are listed on this site. 

Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge is where you can find Burrowing Owls nest in Prairie Dog holes. You can also find raptors like the Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, and in winter, the Peregrine Falcon.

  1. Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary

The Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary is found in the Santa Fe ski basin area and is an excellent place to visit to see birds like the Cordilleran Flycatcher and the Red-naped Sapsucker. 

About 190 species of birds have been seen and heard in the sanctuary. Keep an eye out for the Juniper Titmouse, Northern Flicker, and Townsend’s Solitaire.

You will also likely spot White-breasted Nuthatches and Mountain Chickadees in the trees. The center has a useful interactive bird tool where you can learn about each bird species and listen to the calls they make.

  1. Hyde Memorial State Park

Birds in the Santa Fe basin area, specifically at Hyde Memorial State Park, include Plumbeous Vireo and Steller’s Jay. There are many good trails for bird watching at this state park. 

You can find Broad-tailed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds here. These are hummingbirds found in the western part of the United States, unlike the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, an eastern species. 

  1. Gila National Park

This park is found in the Gila National Forest. There are two campgrounds in the Gila National Park that you should visit because they are both perfect for bird watching. The first is the McMillan campground, and the second is the Cherry Creek campground.

The higher elevation of this park makes this a good spot for birds in the coniferous forest growing at these more significant elevations.

You can find Acorn Woodpeckers, Steller’s Jay, Western Scrub Jay, Hutton’s Vireo, Mountain Chickadee, and Bridled Titmouse. At Lake Roberts, you can see water birds like Cormorants and Osprey.

  1. Gila Lower Box Canyon 

The canyon features lots of vegetation, like cottonwood and willow trees. There are many birds to see here; at least 200 species have been recorded.

It would be best if you looked out for Bell’s Vireo, Abert’s Towhee, and Gila Woodpeckers. You must remember to also search the skies for raptors like Zone-tailed Hawks, Black Hawks, and Golden Eagles. 

  1. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is located on the Pecos River, and the oxbow lakes that occur are an excellent habitat for water birds. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is incredibly rich in birds, with 350 species recorded here. 

A couple of the species you can see on the lake include Canvasback, Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, and Pintail.

Sandhill Cranes also commonly use the refuge and can be seen in large numbers in winter. Summer, particularly May, is the prime time to see the most songbirds in the area.

  1. Sandia Crest

This is the top of the Sandia Mountains at 10,679 feet high. Having birdwatched here before myself and adding a Golden Eagle to my life list, I can tell you it is worth a trip. Besides the Golden Eagle, you can see Brown-capped Rosy-Finches, Pine Siskin, and Red Crossbill. 

Keep an eye out for Steller’s Jay, another lifer for me up the mountain. The habitat ranges from pinyon-juniper to coniferous forest.

A road takes you up to the crest; you can drive along and birdwatch along the way and see many bird species.

  1. Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is 8,672 acres in size and southeast of Las Vegas. It offers a range of bird habitats, including; wooded canyons, grasslands, pinyon-juniper brush, and wetland areas. 

Migrants to watch for here are the Black Tern and Franklin’s Gull. Ross’s and Snow Geese are also common, and the occasional Tundra Swan can be seen. Clark’s Grebe, Prairie Falcon, and Vesper Sparrow are just a few of the many birds residing and breeding in the refuge. 

  1. Percha Dam State Park

This park is found along the Rio Grande River and is a great place to see southwestern birds like the Phainopepla. The Phainopepla is limited to the southernmost regions of New Mexico. Vermillion Flycatchers, Western Tanagers, Bullock’s Orioles, and Sandhill Cranes can also be seen. 

There are also campsites at the park so you can spend a couple of days camping and birdwatching here.

  1. Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Area

The Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Area includes a few places to see waterfowl. Of particular note in this area is the Bernardo Waterfowl Area. Bird watchers enjoy this area because there are viewing towers you can use.

The area includes crops, tamarisk, ponds, and marshes. Birds to watch out for include Ross’s Goose, Snow Goose, Mallards, American Wigeon, and Virginia Rail. Birds like Say’s Phoebe and Townsend’s Warbler are also seen here.

Best Time to Bird Watch in New Mexico

New Mexico is always a good bet for finding exciting birds, no matter what time of year. At certain times of the year, you are more likely to see certain types of birds.

TYPES OF BIRDSSEASON
ShorebirdsSpring to the end of Summer
Geese and ducksWinter
Best Time to Bird Watch in New Mexico

The New Mexico State Bird

Greater Roadrunner: The State Bird of New Mexico
Greater Roadrunner: The State Bird of New Mexico

The Greater Roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico. The Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus, is a large bird found in arid regions of the country. 

It is a bird with a distinctive body shape, black and brown colors, and stripes. They have a crest on the head and a pale blue patch directly behind the eye. The bird is easy to recognize and is commonly seen running along on the ground, although it can fly. 

Bird Watching Laws in New Mexico

Songbirds are protected in New Mexico, so you cannot possess or harm any of these birds. For instance, a permit is required for scientific study when birds are temporarily caught and used for study purposes. Vultures, owls, and raptors are similarly protected.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

Bird Watching Ethics

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.

Conclusion

New Mexico is an excellent state for bird watching in. You have the birds found in deserts, chaparral, mountains, and lakes.

You can see unique birds here only found in the western United States and unique habitats like higher elevation coniferous forests or desert basins. New Mexico is a must-visit state for bird watchers who want to add to their life list.

TIP: If you are interested in checking out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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