Lesser Goldfinch at the Nature Center
Lesser Goldfinch

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                     ▪ Great Horned Owl Journal           ▪ Birds Observed at the RGNC January-May 2011

                     ▪ Bird-watching at the RGNC         ▪ Bird Notes from Lefty Arnold

                     ▪ Nesting at or near the RGNC       ▪ Bird Banding at the Nature Center: August-October 2010

                                                    Birder's Corner

For over three months, Nature Center volunteer Scott Jordan has monitored
developments in a great horned owl nest, nearby in the Rio Grande bosque. 

Click on a picture to see an enlargement - then click on the back arrow to return to this page

Click here to read Scott's 2011 journal

Bird-watching at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park

Almost 300 species of birds can be seen at the park. About 40 of these are residents and the rest are seasonal migrants. Our two most popular year-round residents are the roadrunner, New Mexico’s state bird, and the wood duck. You can probably spot them without even trying!

Before heading out into the field, stop by the Visitor Center, open daily from 10-5 (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day). There, you’ll find the following resources of interest to birders:

→ Bird checklist: 25¢ in the Nature Shop.

→ Binoculars and wildlife field guides: These can be borrowed from the front desk by leaving a driver’s license.

→ Bird walks: Guided walks take place year round every Saturday and Sunday morning (times vary throughout the year; please call ahead to check.) Don’t forget your binoculars!

→ The Observation Room: This glass-walled room overlooking the main pond is a great viewing area, especially good for those who don’t want to walk a lot and those interested in winter waterfowl. The room contains a recent sighting list and a laminated key to our most common avian visitors.

→ The front desk can provide you with a trail map and help you locate bird feeding stations and wildlife viewing blinds on the grounds.

Bird Species Nesting at or near RGNC

Compiled by John “Lefty” Arnold (
wanderingtattlerja@yahoo.com; 505-514-9398)

This table shows all 65 species of birds known to nest at RGNC (in some cases, the bird may not nest in the specific RGNC property but does nest nearby, such as Gambel’s quail which nests across the Rio Grande from the Nature Center.) A question mark indicates that the authors (listed below) did not have information for that species and category. Note that the Eurasian collared-dove was not listed in The Birder’s Handbook. Any mistakes in the table are those of Lefty Arnold.

Click here to view Lefty's table

Bird Notes from Lefty Arnold
Ash-throated Flycatcher: What’s in a name?

Let’s take a closer look at one of the birds that nests at RGNC: The ash-throated flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens. Its genus name is from the Greek words, myia meaning “a fly,” and archos, “a ruler.” It’s species name is from Latin and means “ashy.”

The book Birds of the Great Plains Breeding Species and Their Distribution by Paul A. Johnsgard, notes this about the ash-throated flycatcher’s nesting habits: “During nest-building, the female gathers the materials while the male sings and guards the nesting area. Both parents feed the young, mostly on the soft parts of insects, which are regurgitated but later are fed to the birds directly. For some time after the young birds have left the nest they remain close to their parents, and the adults help train them to capture live prey by releasing slightly injured insects directly in front of them.” The book also notes that the eggs are buff to creamy with brownish to lavender spots, lines, and streaks. The nesting location generally is in tree cavities - usually no more than 20 feet above the ground - that is filled and lined with a variety of materials, often including hair and sometimes snakeskins.

Checking with reports of the ash-throated flycatcher on eBird (ebird.org) since the year 2000 indicates that the earliest date this bird has been recorded at RGNC is April 20 (2008) and the latest is September 30 (2009).

I went birding and spotted a red mulberry!

Do you think that Nature has come up with a fine idea in having migrating fruit-eating birds show up in North America about the same time that the Red Mulberry is fruiting? I sure do. And do you know that a fruiting Red Mulberry is growing near the entrance to the Visitor Center?

Heading up to the entrance tube the other day, I saw a female summer tanager fly into a short and slender, green-leafed tree on my right. As I looked up at the bird, I saw it grab and eat a fruit from the tree. It was only then that I noticed that the tree is a fruiting red mulberry. (In the six days since I first found the tree, all the fruits are gone.)

The red mulberry (Morus rubra) is a native to the eastern United States that grows very well in New Mexico. Find a fruiting red mulberry (they are pretty common in Albuquerque) and you should be able to find a variety of birds, from cedar waxwings to tanagers to robins to mockingbirds. In fact, the nifty reference book American Wildlife Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits lists 28 species of birds that are known to eat mulberries.

 An old friend, the Hooded Merganser

Remember that male hooded merganser that spent most of the winter on the Observation Room pond? At the end of the bird walk Saturday, May 28, a couple who had been on the walk mentioned that they had seen a male hooded merganser 100 or so yards north of the bridge that crosses the ditch near the Visitor Center. Sure enough, the male bird was hanging out with a female mallard, the same behavior that had been demonstrated by the male hooded merganser during the winter. Could it be the same bird?

Bird Banding at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park
August-October 2010

Begun in 1979, Rio Grande Bird Research Inc. continues to gather data on sex ratio, age, and overall population trends of avian migrants and winter residents at Nature Center sites. Led by ornithologists Steve and Nancy Cox, twelve to eighteen volunteers band and release birds of over 60 species, working Saturdays from August through October. Data collected is sent to the U.S. Geological Survey’s banding laboratory and also to New Mexico’s Department of Game and Fish.

While 2010 was similar to the past ten years in number of species and birds per hour, reported Nancy, “We had our first-ever tree swallow and cedar waxwing this year,” she said. ”They’re not unusual for our area but we’ve never seen them up close before. With 86 birds, we beat our previous record for orange-crowned warblers in one fall season; we also recaptured a Bewick’s wren and a downy woodpecker, both first banded in 2005.”

Click here to view the banding table

Friends of the Rio Grande Nature Center
(505) 344-7240