Priority Birds in New Mexico

Lewis's Woodpecker. Audubon's climate model portrays a difficult future for this bird: a 100 percent loss of current summer range and a 61 percent loss of current winter range. Photo: Kevin Cole

The Central Flyway extends from the grasslands of the Great Plains, the heartland's wetlands and rivers, and the majestic Rocky Mountains to the western Gulf Coast.  Many of its migratory bird species winter in Central and South America; some migrate across the Western Hemisphere as far north as the Arctic Circle and others south to Patagonia, in southern South America.  To survive these arduous journeys, they rely on stopover habitat all along the flyway.

A priority species is one that is particularly threatened in terms of the species' long-term survival. All priority species have been selected through rigorous scientific analysis, and most represent a broad array of other birds and wildlife that use the same habitat type. Conservation focused on priority species is almost always focused on priority habitats as well. Audubon New Mexico focuses our conservation work in four areas to address the needs of priority-bird species: Freshwater, Grasslands, Forests and Climate.

Freshwater: Freshwater in the form of rivers and playas comprise a mere 1% of New Mexico’s land base but support 80% of New Mexico’s sensitive vertebrate species at some time in their life cycle.  Riparian habitats in the Southwest are home to North American continent’s highest density of breeding birds and more than 100 state and federally listed threatened and endangered birds including the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Two-thirds of New Mexico’s Important Bird Areas are located on rivers or other freshwater habitat and three of the four Globally Important Bird Areas in New Mexico are adjacent to big river habitat like the Rio Grande and the Pecos River. The Rio Grande Corridor in New Mexico (RGCNM) is an important migratory, wintering and nesting corridor within the arid intermountain west that supports over 200,000 waterfowl, 18,000 greater sandhill cranes and tens of thousands of other waterbirds and shorebirds. The Rio Grande delta above Elephant Butte Reservoir is home to the largest number of breeding territories for both the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and Yellow-billed Cuckoo in their entire range (with the Gila River in New Mexico a close second). Yet over 80% of the historic wetland and riparian habitats of the RGCNM have been lost and more than one-third of the Rio Grande’s 465 mile length in New Mexico is subject to river drying annually.

Grasslands: Grasslands are among the most altered and imperiled ecosystem globally and yet are the least protected. Grassland birds have experienced a steep, consistent, and widespread population decline over the last 40 years. New Mexico has some of the largest, intact shortgrass prairie and Chihuahuan Desert grasslands in North America. New Mexico’s largest Global Important Bird Area, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Complex, is located in shinnery oak-sand dune-grassland habitats in eastern New Mexico, and encompasses over 2 million acres, including a number of properties managed specifically for prairie-chickens. The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Complex is also home to other declining grassland species such as Burrowing Owl, Scaled Quail, and both Cassin’s and Grasshopper Sparrows. Over half of the historical and occupied range of prairie-chickens in eastern NM is privately owned.

Forests: New Mexico is home to 5 National Forests covering more than 7% of New Mexico’s land base.  Currently, all five of New Mexico’s National Forests are revising their management plans under the 2012 Forest Planning Rule. Region 3 National Forests that span Arizona and New Mexico manage the highest relative proportions of potential vegetation types across all major landowners in Arizona and New Mexico including 63% of mixed-conifer forest, 63% of ponderosa pine forest, 59% of Madrean pine-oak woodland and 58% of spruce-fir forest. Seven of New Mexico’s top 12 priority birds utilize these forest habitats for breeding including Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Virginia’s Warbler, Spotted Owl, Grace’s Warbler, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Gray Vireo. New Mexico holds almost a third of the global population for the first three of these species.

Climate: Forests, rivers, and grasslands within New Mexico are ground zero for climate change impacts. Models are predicting widespread forest loss including pinyon-juniper and mixed-conifer by the end of the century. Models are predicting water supplies in the upper Rio Grande will decline by an average of one-third. While New Mexico ranks just 35 out of 50 states in emissions, New Mexico provides a significant supply of the nation’s energy. Excluding federal offshore areas, New Mexico is the sixth-largest net supplier of energy to the nation, primarily because of its petroleum and natural gas production. New Mexico is second only to Wyoming in the number of producing oil and natural gas leases on federal lands. New Mexico is also a significant player in renewable energy, ranking sixth in the nation in 2014 for utility-scale electricity generation from solar energy.

   

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