Important Bird Areas

Priority IBAs in New Mexico

Audubon New Mexico’s efforts focus on the importance of protecting key habitats. 

Audubon New Mexico's Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program began in 1999.   Throughout New Mexico, more than 60 Important Bird Areas have been identified. See map on right.

View a summary and map of New Mexico's IBA's.

Audubon’s statewide goal is to protect New Mexico’s best habitats and landscapes that are at risk and essential to birds and wildlife, with a particular focus on Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and riparian areas. Audubon New Mexico worked with the New Mexico Audubon Council to analyze the threats and opportunities facing the 60 + designated IBAs within New Mexico. The following alphabetized list was created through these discussions and was guided by where Audubon is working to make a difference.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge IBA

The “Crown Jewel” of New Mexico’s Important Bird Areas is one of the most spectacular national wildlife refuges in North America and is also a favorite of birders with over 340 species of birds known to live there.  Audubon has nominated this IBA for Global IBA status, and has included Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge as a part of this IBA in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.  Through the annual Festival of the Cranes, the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, the Audubon Council, and Audubon New Mexico continue to share the wonders of birding with the public and support the Refuge’s efforts to continue providing sanctuary to these magnificent birds and other wildlife.  Currently, Audubon New Mexico is concerned about the proposed SunZia Energy Transmission Project and the likely negative effects on the migratory, wintering, and breeding bird populations that use the Socorro Valley.  Audubon is working to ensure water management in the Middle Rio Grande maintains environmental flows in the 40-mile river reach that includes the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Gila River IBAs:  including the Gila-Cliff Area IBA, Gila Bird Area IBA, and Lower Gila Box IBA

New Mexico's last free flowing river is threatened with a large-scale water diversion.  The entire Gila River system in southwestern New Mexico provides one of the highest breeding bird concentrations in North America including rare species such as the Gila Woodpecker and the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.  There are also numerous species of conservation concern such as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Lucy's Warbler and Summer Tanager.  The Gila River encompasses three separate IBAs supporting extensive riparian habitat with over 200 documented bird species.  Audubon’s beginnings in New Mexico are connected to this area, as members organized to fight dams in the 1960s and formed the first New Mexico chapter.  Partnering with this chapter, the Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society, Audubon New Mexico is working to halt the diversion project and use available federal funds to design and construct sustainable regional water projects that meet the long-term needs of Southwestern New Mexico. The proposed diversion project would double current withdrawals from the Gila River, piping the water out of basin across the continental divide to the towns of Silver City and Deming for economic development.  Further research is needed to assess whether existing agricultural and municipal water users could afford to purchase water from the proposed diversion project.

Ladd Gordon Waterfowl Area IBA

Ducks, geese and Sandhill Cranes find food and shelter at the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex located along the middle Rio Grande and composed of the Belen, Casa Colorada, Bernardo, and La Joya Waterfowl Areas managed by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.  Nominated as a Global IBA because of the high numbers of Sandhill Cranes, these Waterfowl Areas totaling approximately 3,500 acres are farmed to provide feed for wintering waterfowl. Crops here include corn and grain sorghum, with winter wheat and alfalfa for green feed.  Bernardo Waterfowl Area contains a wildlife trail complete with viewing and photographic towers and is open to the public. 

Lesser Prairie Chicken Areas IBA

The natural habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chicken in New Mexico has almost disappeared and they have been extirpated from more than 90 percent of their historical range in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.  In our state, they are gone from about 56 percent of their historical range and persist in reasonable abundance across only 16 percent of that range.  The reasons for this situation are many, including livestock grazing, conversion of shinnery oak/grasslands to croplands and suburban development, herbicide use, and oil and gas development.  This IBA encompasses lands owned by the NM Department of Game and Fish, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Nature Conservancy and has also been nominated for Global IBA status.

Lower Rio Grande Bosques IBA - including Selden Canyon/Swan Pond IBA (nominated) and Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park IBA (nominated)

Operated as State Parks, the waters of Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs are a significant concentration point for waterfowl, shorebirds, and waders as both stopovers and wintering habitat. The bosque and marsh habitats at Percha Dam State Park, Palomas Marsh, Selden Canyon, Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, and scattered locations along the reservoir edges represent very rare habitats in southern New Mexico comprising a string of pearls along the Southern Rio Grande as the river moves through the Chihuahuan Desert.  These state, federal, and private lands thus attract high concentrations of many landbird and neotropical songbirds as they migrate and provide breeding habitat for priority species. Over 300 species of birds have been seen along the lower Rio Grande corridor including breeding Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Lucy’s Warbler, Bell’s Vireo and Painted Bunting.  As with all sites along the Rio Grande, battles over invasive plants, water rights, regulated reservoir releases and channelization, and flood control threaten the function and health of the river and sustainability of these significant riparian wetland habitats.  Audubon and partners, including the local chapter called Mesilla Valley Audubon Society, are actively restoring native riparian habitats along Selden Canyon and at Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park including facilitation of voluntary water transfers to support riparian and wetland habitat.

Melrose Woods IBA

This premier migrant trap and IBA is located approximately 10 miles west of Melrose.  The area has remnant large cottonwoods and an exotic poplar-type tree, but had a fire in the past year.  Leased to a private owner and sub-lessee from the State Land Office, access to birdwatchers is a current issue that both the Central New Mexico Audubon Society and the state office will work on in the coming year.  A very large variety of migrants pass through each spring and fall.  There is a small cattle tank which provides water and the area is surrounded by grasslands as far as the eye can see.  In addition to normal migrants up the eastern plains of New Mexico this spot has a long list of migrating vagrants.  Of particular interest are the species of warblers that have been seen at this site including: Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Virginia's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, MacGillivray's Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Golden-crowned Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat.

Otero Mesa IBA

Otero Mesa IBA encompasses the largest and wildest grassland left on public lands in America.  This incredibly unique resource consists of 1.2 million acres and over 1,000 native plant and animal species. This expansive landscape is home to mule deer, black-tailed prairie dogs, mountain lions, coyote, golden and bald eagles, 200 species of migratory songbirds, the Aplomado falcon, and the state’s healthiest herd of native pronghorn antelope.  Primarily managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this area of grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert are at risk of mining and drilling, potentially putting at risk a freshwater aquifer below the Mesa.  Audubon is part of the coalition to protect Otero Mesa.    

Percha State Park/Caballo Reservoir/Las Palomas IBA

The waters of Caballo Reservoir are a significant concentration point for waterfowl, shorebirds, and waders.  The bosque and marsh habitats at Percha State Park, Palomas Marsh and scattered locations along the reservoir edge represent very rare habitats in southern New Mexico, and thus attract concentrations of many migrants and priority breeding species.  Over 300 species of birds have been seen in the Caballo/Percha/Palomas area.  Percha Dam State Park is a relatively manicured, open bosque of cottonwoods with picnic tables and campsites.  Flanking the east side of the park along the river is a thick growth of willow and cottonwood.  Caballo Lake is 18 miles long with a surface area of over 11,000 acres amid the Chihuahuan Desert. The reservoir was created in 1938 and is New Mexico's second-largest lake.  The dam was built for water retention, flood control, irrigation, and 1906 treaty obligations with the Republic of Mexico.  The lake is the winter home of many species of waterfowl and a migratory stop for wading and shore birds.  The Palomas Marsh is located at the northern most point of Caballo Lake.  The exclosure includes two vastly different habitats. One is the typical mesquite shrub zone (dry) with the other being the marshy area.  As with all sites along the Rio Grande, battles over water rights, seasonal flows, and flood control could impact riparian wetland habitats in the area.

Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary IBA

This IBA along the Santa Fe River encompasses both the 135 acres of piñon/juniper, ponderosa pine and mixed spruce-fir owned by the Audubon Society and the 525 acres of the Nature Conservancy’s Santa Fe Canyon Preserve with a thriving bosque of cottonwood and willow trees and several beaver ponds.  This IBA is adjacent to the Santa Fe National Forest and thousands of protected mountainous acres.  Home to more than 140 species of birds, the Randall Davey IBA also provides public education and outreach with over 10,000 annual visitors, another key goal of the IBA program.  Through a seasonal feeder watch program in partnership with the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, Audubon is collecting data on hummingbird numbers with a focus on Rufous Hummingbirds.  Audubon is advocating for healthy river flows and riparian habitat in partnership with TNC, the Santa Fe Watershed Association, and the City of Santa Fe.  

Rio Grande Nature Center IBA

Located in the bosque, or cottonwood forest, and by the wetland bordering the Rio Grande, the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park in Albuquerque is an IBA that both Audubon New Mexico and the Central New Mexico Audubon Society value.  The park offers opportunities to experience 270 acres of woods, meadows and farmland flourishing with native grasses, wildflowers, willows and cottonwoods.  The Riverwalk Trail is an easy one-mile loop through the bosque and along the river, passing through open meadows and heavily wooded areas. The Bosque Loop Trail, about 0.8 mile, is an easy walk through the bosque with a spur to the river.  The Candelaria Wetland is located east of the Nature Center, includes two ponds offering five surface acres of water and four more acres of meadow for visiting waterfowl and shorebirds.  Planted with 98 species of native aquatic and riparian vegetation, Candelaria Wetland restores habitat once common in the Albuquerque part of the Rio Grande.  Numerous birds make their homes in the park.  Birds to be seen in winter are Ring-necked Duck and American Wigeon, Northern Harrier, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Western Meadowlark, Sandhill Crane and Bald Eagle.  Summer migrants include warblers, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Black Phoebe and Western Kingbird.  Seasonal and year-round residents include Cooper's Hawk, Great-horned Owl, Canada Goose, Ring-necked Pheasant, Wood Duck, Black-capped Chickadee, Great Blue Heron, and Downy and Hairy Woodpecker.

Upper Rio Grande Gorge IBA

The Rio Grande Gorge in Taos County supports a great diversity of passerine birds, including the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.  The Upper Rio Grande Gorge starts at the Colorado border, extends along the river to below Taos and includes approximately 25 miles of the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River. Canyon walls provide habitat and essential nesting areas for hawks and eagles.  The bird life reflects the mixed habitats.  Depending on whether you are closer to the river or up on the mesa, you may find American Dipper year-round, Bullock's Oriole in the spring and summer, Canyon and Rock Wrens, Rufous-crowned, Black-chinned, Black-throated, and Brewer's Sparrows, Piñon Jay and Bushtit all year, and breeding Golden Eagle and Peregrine Falcon.  Breeding pairs of Virginia's Warbler are found here — a neotropical migrant whose breeding range is restricted to the Intermountain West and southern Rocky Mountains and whose population size make it a species of concern.  Partners in Flight estimates there may only be about 410,000 Virginia's Warblers in existence today, and during breeding season, about a third of them make their home in New Mexico.  Audubon New Mexico is working with a coalition of other organizations, including the Sangre de Cristo Audubon Society, to protect this public land and Upper Rio Grande Gorge IBA as the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area under legislation introduced by Senator Bingaman and Congressman Lujan.

Valles Caldera National Preserve IBA

The Valles Caldera National Preserve contains a stunning and unique mix of grasslands, forested mountains, and geologic features found nowhere else in the American Southwest.  The land sustains one of the country's largest wild elk herds and provides habitat for a wide range of other wildlife, including 17 threatened or endangered species, and such animals as the black bear, mountain lion, goshawk, peregrine falcon and Rio Grande cutthroat trout.  Audubon New Mexico joined Caldera Action and a host of other organizations in a campaign for the National Park Service to take over management of the Preserve from the current Valles Caldera Trust managers in the face of ongoing management problems and threats of inappropriate development spurred by the legislation requiring financial self sufficiency.  Breeding and resident bird populations at Valles Caldera National Preserve IBA include birds on Audubon’s WatchList such as Lewis’s Woodpecker, Flammulated Owl, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Virginia’s Warbler, and Grace’s Warbler.

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