Birding is a fast-growing outdoor activity. It’s been estimated that about 85 million Americans enjoy birdwatching, and about 18 million are serious enough to take trips and vacations exclusively for that purpose.
Las Vegas, NM is a prime but little-known destination for birdwatchers, and a great place to vacation.
Our avian abundance is no coincidence. Diversity of bird species is an indicator of ecological health, and the Las Vegas area abounds with “unspoiled wilderness.” The area is also within the Central Flyway, a migratory bird path that extends all the way into Central and South America.
A few miles east of town, the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge (LVNWR ) is home to a wide variety of birds, some migratory waterfowl, others year-round residents. Over 270 bird species have been sighted here. The refuge encompasses several ecosystems, including tall-grass prairie, piñon-juniper woodlands, and numerous riparian areas.
The LVNWR includes a visitor center and several nature trails. The Refuge staff hold regular educational events, open to the public.
In the fall, visitors to the refuge may be lucky enough to see the dance of the sandhill cranes. The dances of these large, migratory birds are both exuberant and elaborate, and may feature bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass-tossing and wing-flapping. Their dance is popularly referred to as a “mating dance,” but while important as a courtship ritual, it is also performed by cranes of all ages outside the breeding season. The behavior is believed to serve a number of other purposes including motor skill development, relief of tension and strengthening the pair bond.
Slightly north of Las Vegas, the Ruby Ranch plays host to a variety of migratory waterfowl, some as rare as Sabine’s gull and the red phalarope. A variety of raptors including the bald eagle can also be seen here.
Both the LVNWR and Ruby Ranch are on the Audobon Society’s list of Important Bird Areas.
The Sabinoso Wilderness is not (yet) on the list of Important Bird Areas, but this may be because it has only recently been opened to the public. Birders visiting the Sabinoso can help by documenting the variety of bird species in this rugged and unspoiled wilderness area.
Roughly 40 miles from Las Vegas, the Sabinoso has a great deal of habitat diversity, from forest to cliffs, canyon and riparian bottomlands. Species already sighted here include the red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, western scrub-jay, pine siskin, juniper titmouse, mourning dove, lesser goldfinch, savannah sparrow, chipping sparrow, mountain chickadee, Bewick’s wren, broad-tailed hummingbird, white-breasted nuthatch, pinion jay, Virginia warbler, hairy woodpecker, white-throated swift, gray flycatcher, bushtit, and turkey vulture.
The birding statistics in this article were obtained from the website and smartphone app ebird.org. Ebird lists over 30 area birdwatching destinations. Nearby sites listed by Ebird with over one hundred bird species observed include Storrie Lake, Gallinas Canyon, Villanueva State Park, Pecos National Historic Park, and, within city limits, the Gallinas Riverwalk and the New Mexico Highlands University Golf Course (it has a wetlands on site.)
Las Vegas, then, is a phenomenal birdwatching destination, both for the dedicated birder and those who may wish to get out and view some wildlife while enjoying a relaxing vacation in a small, friendly, picturesque community.
~ Lee Einer