Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Tips for Birding

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge Auto Tour Loop

In October, one of America’s great wildlife showcases begins at this refuge on the Rio Grande in central New Mexico. The first of thousands of Sandhill Cranes start arriving to spend the winter, creating a noisy, colorful scene that delights birders from around the world.

The nearby town of Socorro holds a very popular festival each November to celebrate the cranes. The programs, field trips, and general camaraderie make it a great way to enjoy not just the strikingly tall Sandhill Crane but also the huge flocks of Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Canada Goose, and other waterfowl (more than a dozen duck species) that winter here.

The other star winter resident is Bald Eagle, common from November into March. Winter also brings Ferruginous Hawk, Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, American Pipit, and sometimes Chestnut-collared Longspur.

Tips for using the eBird Hotspots at Bosque del Apache
Please use the overall hotspot for the Bosque del Apache to report your Refuge observations if you are not going to be specific with respect to where on the Refuge you encountered birds. It is much easier to list all your birds for this single hotspot than to prepare multiple lists when you have birded in various areas of the Refuge. Using this hotspot for your list avoids the confusion which would result from mistakenly listing particular species (or the number of individuals) at more-specific hotspots where, in fact, they did not occur.

However, if for example you came solely to see a winter morning crane flyout from the Flight Deck, recording sightings specifically for the Flight Deck hotspot would be more informative to researchers and other birders. Likewise, should you be willing to keep track of where your observations occur across multiple locations, relative to the specific eBird hotspots on the Refuge, this information can be quite helpful to other eBird users (or maybe yourself at a future date). This, of course, requires a familiarity with the location and extent of Refuge hotspots, help with which is precisely one of the purposes of this website.

As of January 2022, there were 17 more-specific hotspots throughout the Refuge, each described in this website. 5 of these hotspots are located on the west side of NM-1, whereas the other 12 form portions of, or are accessed via, the Auto Tour Loop, located on the east side of the highway. With the exception of those observed from the Point of Lands Overlook and from NM-1 in the extreme southern portion of the Refuge, birds seen in publicly accessible areas west of the Rio Grande River should fit into at least one of the 17 specific hotspots; if you record for any of these, please use this website as a guide to determine the appropriate hotspot(s) for your list(s), listing for the general Bosque del Apache NWR hotspot birds observed in the southern refuge areas mentioned.

Note that, as of early 2022, there are no specific Refuge hotspots east of the Rio Grande River. Birds observed in that portion of the Refuge (almost half the area of the Refuge) would therefore also appropriately be recorded for the general Bosque del Apache NWR hotspot. Directions to the area east of the river are given in the East Hunt Unit section of the Refuge website’s hunting page. Those directions do not mention that, whereas San Pedro Road is paved, only the first quarter-mile of Guadalajara Road (County Road 158) is paved, with the rest being sand. The sand is quite soft in the dips, so a 4-wheel-drive is a good idea, even when the area is dry. Until you get to the Refuge gate where you’ll leave your vehicle, this is open range; cattle are often on the road.

Birds of Interest

Bosque del Apache isn’t just a winter destination. The refuge manages certain wetlands for shorebirds, and more than 35 species are seen regularly in migration. Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet nest. Other nesting birds include three grebe species, Neotropic Cormorant, Least Bittern, Virginia Rail, Sora, Greater Roadrunner, Lesser Nighthawk, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher, Chihuahuan Raven, Common Raven, Crissal Thrasher, Phainopepla, and Lucy’s Warbler. Golden Eagle and Peregrine Falcon may be seen throughout the year.

About this Location

Established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl, the refuge is well known for the thousands of sandhill cranes, geese, and other waterfowl that winter here each year.

Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331-acre refuge harbors a wild stretch of the Rio Grande, a ribbon of cottonwood and willow trees visible on the landscape from distant mesas.

Petroglyphs tell the story of ancient people that lived and hunted here. The river and its diversity of wildlife have drawn humans to this area for at least 11,000 years when humans migrated along this corridor, sometimes settling to hunt, fish, and farm. Artifacts and stone tools found nearby tell us that nomadic Paleo-Indian hunters pursued herds of mammoth and bison in the valley.

Today, Bosque del Apache is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters set aside and managed for the benefit of wildlife, habitat, and you.

Notable Trails

The AllTrails website has descriptions and maps of hikes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Content from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge website, Birding in New Mexico (National Audubon Society), and John Montgomery