Signs of Spring
For birds, the beginning of Spring is the Winter Solstice. From that point on the days are getting longer. As the length of the day increases and the amount of energy from the sun increases, birds begin their breeding activities.
The following list gives dates and descriptions of first observations of Spring activities for 2007. This includes singing, courting and nest building activities.
2007 Signs of Spring:
Arrivals of Summer residents and Spring migrants are shown in white.
To hear the sound, click on the English Name and then follow the Sound link. (From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)
Click on the Latin Name for more information from the USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter .
Apr 19: Arrival of another summer resident, the Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula.
- FEB 5: Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus singing its two-note song: Fee-Bee
- FEB 8: Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis singing its slow, dry, trill song. It is singing here, but will go up in the mountains for breeding.
- FEB 9: House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus adds its up-slurred note to its usual chattery song.
- FEB 18: Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia singing his song at the top of the willows close to the river.
- FEB 21: Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus Spring singing, of course! Follow this link to hear a recording of one singing in Dixon last year!
- MAR 1: The Globe Willows along the Río Grande are starting to turn green. Many small migrants follow the emergence of leaves on their route North. The Yellow Warbler will not arrive until the Cottonwoods have leafed out.
- MAR 3: A pair of Red-tailed Hawks Buteo jamaicensis were observed flying in and then sitting on their nest together in Embudo. Red-tailed Hawks lay eggs as early as the beginning of March, with young hatching 30-35 days later.
- MAR 6: The Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa butterfly, which hibernates during winter in NM, is the first Butterfly to become active in the Spring. I noticed them for the first time this year on a walk on the Río Ojo Sarco.
Say's Phoebe El Bosque July 7, 2006
MAR 7: Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya Along with the Black Phoebe, this is our earliest returning long-distance migrant. I heard this bird at two different locations on a walk in El Bosque (Dixon). It has a gentle, plaintive two-note descending song: Something like: pee-er.
Canyon Towhee La Bolsa 2006.12.17
MAR 8: Canyon Towhee Pipilo fuscus This bird normally hangs out on or near the ground, often on woodpiles or under parked cars. But starting in March, for a month or so, it takes to the top of large shrubs like the New Mexico Privet (Forestiera neomexicana) and sings its breeding and territorial song.
- MAR 8: Nesting material being carried by an American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos along the Río Embudo in El Bosque (Dixon). Watch for nests in crotches of Cottonwoods. They are ususally up high, often 40-60 feet above ground and a little more than a foot in diameter.
- MAR 9: Two different Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonia were observed repairing two different nests along the Río Embudo. Magpie nests are usually 5 - 15 feet above the ground. Look for roughly spherical nests that are entered via an opening on the side. The nests are easy to see now, but will be concealed by leaves later on.
- MAR 10: Three different Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans were seen Saturday along the Río Grande near La Bolsa. Watch for these black and white beauties at the river edge, 1-3 feet above the water. They fly out over the river in small loops to feed on insects. After spending the winter further south, they are here for the summer and breeding.
- MAR 10: Four different Diqueños reported seeing Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis flying north during tha last week. Most of these cranes over-wintered at Bosque del Apache near Socorro. Now they are on their way to their breeding grounds, mostly in Canada and Alaska.
- MAR 18: A Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonia was seen flying across the Río Grande carrying an 18 inch-long twig. The Magpies are repairing their nests now. Look for them to be tending newly laid eggs by the last half of April.
- MAR 18: About 15 Violet-green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina were observed hawking insects over the Río Grande in Rinconada. Having wintered in Mexico and Central America, this species will spread out over much of western North America for the summer. This swallow will help out New Mexico gardeners and farmers since a significant part of its diet is leafhoppers and leafbugs.
- MAR 18: Seen in a grassy field in Rinconada, this Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta was very likely on its way to the grasslands of eastern New Mexico or Colorado. This species prefers native grasslands and pastures, but is also seen in any weedy open areas including desert grasslands.
- MAR 20: On March 21st (The first day of Spring!) two Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
were seen soaring on a thermal right above Dixon. Turkey Vultures depend on the warm rising air of thermals to gain altitude. Since these columns of air rarely form before around nine in the morning, we can safely assume these vultures arrived sometime on the 20th. By the 1st of April, another 20 or 30 vultures will inhabit their Dixon roost, having traveled up from Mexico and Central America where they spent the winter.
Bewick’s Wren Dixon, Dec 1, 2006
MAR 24: The Bewick’s Wren Thryomanes bewickii
is generally a reclusive bird; not that easy to see. It is usually in low, dense shrubs. But during the breeding season, the males take to the tops of trees to sing. I have seen them singing from the top of the tallest Poplar trees in El Bosque. On this day, the bird was singing about 60 feet above ground in a Cottonwood Tree.
American Robin Apodaca, September 9, 2006
MAR 26: Probably America's most recognized bird, the American Robin Turdus migratorius is seen in large flocks all winter long. Some of our Robins may be here year-round, but in winter, many more migrate down from points North. Most of the migrant Robins have now left for their more Northern territories. The males that remain are beginning to mark their nesting territories with song.
- MAR 26: A pair of Common Raven Corvus corax have been very active on the cliff face opposite the Cemetary at the beginning of Apodaca. Part of their mating routine involves synchronous flight. I've seen this now over several days. As time progresses, the pair's motions will become more and more tightly synchronized. Eventually, every dip, turn and twist will be identical for both birds. Interestingly, the best synchronous display I have ever seen was by a pair over the parking lot at the Villa Linda Mall in Santa Fe.
- MAR 26:Seven or eight Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
were hanging out on and around a phone line in La Bolsa. These migrants are just passing through on their way to their summer home further North.
- MAR 29: I saw several Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
in some brush on the road to Ojo Sarco about 1 mile East of Cañoncito. On April 2nd, I observed four individuals singing at Las Cachanillas, just downstream from Lyden. Listen for a fast, dry trill on a single pitch, then look for the reddish cap and a thin, black line on the head running right through the eye.
- APR 2: A pair of American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos were together on a nest. This nest has been in a cottonwood in Dixon for at least 5 years. Crows generally mate with the same bird year after year, but they almost always build a new nest each year, often close to the old nest site. It will be interesting to see what happens with this particular nest.
- Apr 3: A pair of Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
together at a freshly made nest cavity on a cottonwood in Dixon.
- Apr 3: Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
This species' historical breeding range covers much of Europe and Asia, from Finland to India, west to Portugal and east to China.  It was introduced to the Americas in the Bahamas in 1970. By 2000 they had moved up the Florida peninsula and were common in the S. Eastern states. Now they are well established in more than half of the United States. I had observed them last year in Velarde and in Peñasco. This sighting on the Cañoncito road was my first in the Dixon area.
- Apr 4: Violet-green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina
which were first seen this year on March 18th are now present daily. Usually in small groups of 5 to 10 individuals, look for the white patches on the sides just above the tail.
- Apr 5: Our first Hummingbird back each year, the Broad-tailed Hummingbird Selasphorus platycercus
male has a fiery red throat. You won't see it unless the light is just right, but you will hear the loud buzzing of the male's wings as it flies by.
- Apr 6: On March 20th, there were two Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
in Dixon. Now there are 26 vultures every night in their roost in El Bosque.
Wood Duck Rinconada, December 18, 2006
Apr 10: Wood Duck Aix sponsa: Seen regularly on the Rio Grande, this beautiful duck is occasionally seen on the Rio Embudo. These ducks breed in large cavities in old Cottonwood trees. A pair was observed in Dixon town in the cottonwoods along the Rio Embudo.
- Apr 17: Look for the long, forked tail of the Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. Known south of the border as Golondrina Ranchera, this swallow often builds its nest of mud and grass under the eaves of houses and barns. The nest is an open cup. The more common mud nests with a small opening belong to the Cliff Swallows.
Yellow-rumped Warbler Apodaca, September 23, 2006
Apr 19: Although a few Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
are seen all winter in Velarde and occasionally in Embudo, their numbers increase dramatically during Spring and Fall migrations. Most of these migrants are coming north from their wintering grounds in Central America. They are transient at lower elevations like Velarde, Embudo and Dixon, but will breed in the conifers above Peñasco. 
- Apr 19: About 10 Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota were seen over the Rio Embudo near the turn-off to Cañoncito. I suspect that they have already been here for a few days, but I was gone for a week so I cannot day for sure.
Apr 21: This Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana flew across the Dixon Co-operative Market parking lot carrying nesting material.
Apr 23: I do regular bird surveys in a part of Cachanillas (South of Lyden). There were three different Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris in the reeds around a small pond.
Apr 24: The Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis psaltria is a Summer resident in our area. During the winter, when it moves further south, it is replaced here by the American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis. Both of the Goldfinches are here for a couple of weeks before the Americans move further North to their summer breeding grounds.
Apr 24: The Virginia’s Warbler Vermivora virginiae is usually associated with Scrub Oak trees. They can usually be found in the upper reaches of arroyos in the Dixon area. Find the oak and you will find the warbler.
Apr 24: This very noisy and conspicuous bird, the Bullock's Oriole Icterus bullockii is the species that makes those long hanging nests.
Apr 24: I usually see the Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia only once or twice a year. It passes through here in migration to its breeding grounds in the northern US and Canada. This beauty was up in the 1st Arroyo in Dixon.
Apr 24: I have seen six different empidonax genus flycatchers in three different locations so far. The most famous of these flycatchers is the endangered species the Willow Flycatcher Empidonax traillii. I suspect that a couple of these were indeed Willows, but without hearing its characteristic "fits-bew" I can't be sure. Three of them, seen up on the Rio Ojo Sarco, were probably Gray Flycatcher Empidonax wrightii because of the kind of rough sounding two-part "kee-lip" they were making. There are experts on the empidonax "complex" that could probably have firmly identified each of these birds, but my experience with the "empids" is fairly limited. If you look at both birds' pictures, you will see why it is so hard to tell them apart.
Apr 25: The N. Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis is usually seen in small groups of 5 to 10 birds flying low over streams. Unlike all the other Swallows in our area, it has a plain brown back.
Apr 25: I stepped out of my front door and was greeted by the loud, cheerful, clear Chi-BEER Chi-BEER of the Cassin's Kingbird Tyrannus vociferans. Keep a watch out on power poles in the area. This bird loves to build its nest near power transformers. Sometimes the nest is built right in between the transformer's terminals. It must provide some protection from larger predator birds who would come in contact with the terminals trying to get at the Kingbird eggs.
Apr 28: I was out of town from April 27th to May 5th. While I was away, Nancy & Cathy and Dan & Barbara Pollock reported by email, the arrival of the Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus.
Apr 28: The Pollocks also reported seeing the Black-chinned Hummingbird Archilochus alexandri.
The morning after I returned to Dixon, I got up early and saw the following new arrivals on the El Bosque road:
Western Tanager Dixon, May 8, 2007
May 6: Western Tanager Piranga ludoviciana (See photo at right.)
May 6: Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens
May 6: Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata
May 6: Lazuli Bunting Passerina amoena
May 6: Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
May 6: Bullock's Oriole Icterus bullockii
May 6: Ash-throated Flycatcher Myiarchus cinerascens
On May 9th, I did a bird count on the Rio Ojo Sarco below the waterfall. I recorded these new arrivals:
May 9: Western Wood-Pewee Contopus sordidulus
May 9: White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis
On May 12th, Dan & Barbara Pollock, Linda Rigsby and I did an all day bird count, the North American Migration Count. We counted birds on the Rio Grande, Rio Embudo, Rio Ojo Sarco and on the Las Trampas Trail above El Valle. We observed these new arrivals:
May 12: Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea , Osprey Pandion haliaetus , Blue-winged Teal Anas discors , Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius , Band-tailed Pigeon Patagioenas fasciata , Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus , Gray Flycatcher Empidonax wrightii , Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis , Plumbeous Vireo Vireo plumbeus , Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia , MacGillivray’s Warbler Oporornis tolmiei , Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus , Black-throated Sparrow Amphispiza bilineata , Brewer’s Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus
On May 14th I did a bird count in Cachanillas, just down river from Lyden. I recorded these new arrivals:
May 14: Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis , Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea , Killdeer Charadrius vociferus , Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
May 16: During a count on the Rio Ojo Sarco, I observed four Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus in the bosque below the waterfall.
If you see other bird signs of Spring, let me know.
1. Brown, C. R., Knott, A. M., and E. J. Damrose. 1992. Violet-green Swallow. In The Birds of North America, No. 14 (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union.
2. Lanyon, W. E. 1994. Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta). In The Birds of North America, No. 104 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists’ Union.
3. Verbeek, N. A. M., and C. Caffrey. 2002. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). In The Birds of North America, No. 647 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
4. Romagosa, C. M. 2002. Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto). In The Birds of North America, No. 630 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
5. Brown, C. R., and M. B. Brown. 1999. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica). In The Birds of North America, No. 452 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
6. Hunt, P. D., and D. J. Flaspohler. 1998. Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata). In The Birds of North America, No. 376 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.