PEEC Amateur Naturalist: Part 2 – What is happening to the birds of northern New Mexico?
By ROBERT DRYJA
We introduced the results of the recent Christmas Bird Count for Los Alamos by itself in a prior column.
Another column considered what is happening in terms of climate temperature for northern New Mexico. Now, how does Los Alamos compare with the rest of the northern mountains of New Mexico?
Five other areas had bird counts as well as Los Alamos. Some of these areas have conducted annual Christmas Bird Counts for years. Santa Fe has conducted counts since 1949 for example.
TABLE I provides a comparison of the 262 species that have been seen in the six observation areas in the mountains of northern New Mexico. There is a general inverse pattern in which the total number species in an area decreases as the elevation increases. The Angel Fire area is at 8,400 feet elevation and has 95 species while the Espanola area at 5,600 feet elevation has 202 species.
Various factors may influence this pattern. Major forest fires have occurred in the Los Alamos area and so have changed or reduced the habitat for various species of birds. The Espanola area in contrast provides more varied habitats as a result of the Rio Grande flowing through it. The Santa Fe area is warmer as a result of being the furthest south. This may offset the cooling effect of it higher elevation when compared to the Dixon and Espanola.
Different species of birds may be influenced more or less by the habitat of an area. TABLE I shows that 44 species are seen all six of the areas of the northern mountains. These species evidently are flexible in their habitat requirements. TABLE I also shows that some species are seen only in one area. These
evidently have more specific habitat requirements.
Angel Fire and Los Alamos for example have six of species unique to their areas. Five of the species live in cooler habitats. Some of them breed in northern Canada in the summer and come to northern New Mexico for the winter. Others are more commonly seen in the mountains of New Mexico rather than lower and warmer elevations.
ANGEL FIRE AREA
Lapland Longspur—It has a distinctive spur on the back of each foot. Photo by Keith Williams
Angel Fire has four bird species that are unique to it based on the Christmas Bird Count. The four species have a common pattern of living in more northern and cooler areas of the North American continent. The Angel Fire area represents the southern limit for where these species live.
The Lapland Longspur breeds in the Arctic tundra in the summer. It migrates southward across Canada to spend its winters in parts of the United States. The limit of its winter range in New Mexico is in the northeastern part of the state where Angel Fire is located.
The Dusky grouse is seen in the mountains of northern New Mexico. It is seen northward in the Rocky Mountains and into western Canada. The Northern Shrike is both a songbird and a raptor. It hunts insects, birds, lizards and even small mammals.
Dusky Grouse. Photo by Anita Strawn de Ojeda
It breeds in northern Canada during the summer. Its winter range extends into the northern half of New Mexico.
The California Gull typically migrates throughout the western United States and breeds in the central/western part of Canada. Although seen in spots throughout New Mexico it is more commonly seen toward the Colorado boarder.
LOS ALAMOS AREA
Los Alamos has two species that are unique to it for the 2015 Christmas Bird Count. The Loggerhead Shrike is like the Northern Shrike—a songbird that hunts for food rather than feed on plants. Its numbers have been decreasing sharply on a nationwide basis. The Los Alamos area may have been unique as a result of the declining numbers.
The Acorn woodpecker is different from the other five species in terms of its habitat. One major area is along the Pacific coast of California northward. A second area is from Mexico and Central America northward to the higher mountains of Arizona and New Mexico. The Acorn woodpecker is a social species. They live in large groups, hoard acorns, and breed cooperatively. A group may be seen nesting in the Pueblo Canyon Branch of Los Alamos as well as the Los Alamos Nature Center.