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Bird Migration in New Mexico

Suitable habitat may not be available in one location for all the stages of an animal’s life and migration is an adaptation that addresses this issue.  Migration is the seasonal, cyclic movement of a population of animals, which includes a return to their original location. Food abundance, nest site availability and the ability to tolerate seasonal variations in moisture and temperature are all factors that contribute to whether a particular animal species is migratory. The ability to fly, in some cases long distances, has made this strategy especially useful for birds because they can access a much larger variety of habitats over the course of a year than non-flying animals. The bird species with the longest annual migration is the Arctic tern with an almost pole-to-pole trip twice per year.  Most migrations, however, are much shorter. Movements that are daily or a very short distance are not considered to be migration.

The riparian cottonwood forest, or bosque, of New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Valley is part of a major route of travel for migratory birds. Most avian migration follows natural land forms such as coasts, mountain ranges and rivers. In North America, this occurs primarily in a north-south direction and the various species follow many different routes. Scientists and regulatory agencies in North America have divided up these routes into four flyways through which most migratory birds tend to confine their travels: Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic. These four flyways converge in Panama and then diverge again in South America.

Most of New Mexico lies in the Central flyway, though the western-most part of the state is considered to be part of the Pacific flyway. In our state, birds tend to travel along the Rio Grande and other rivers and the main mountain chains. Humans, too, have tended to travel along and settle in these locations. If you look at a map of New Mexico’s rivers, you can see that many of the original human settlements and current large cities are located in riparian areas.

See full activity for more background information about migratory species in New Mexico.

Research and monitoring of birds

People are beginning to make the changes necessary to address threats to birds, including climate change. Many projects are underway to increase, improve and restore bird habitat in urban and rural areas. Long-term monitoring by professional researchers and citizen scientists has paved the way for us to address the effects of climate change (including loss of habitat). Bird banding is one of many such efforts. Research collected by banders can contribute to habitat conservation efforts, to education about threats to birds and to advances in the science of climate change.


Bird banding is a method of monitoring in which birds are captured, tiny metal or plastic bands engraved with unique identification numbers are placed on one or both of their legs, data about the birds are collected and, finally, the birds are released. All of this occurs over a span of minutes. If and when the birds are recaptured by other scientists or rescuers of injured birds, or found dead, the person encountering that bird can report the band number to the U.S. Geological Survey at the web site If nothing else, the original banding data together with recapture data can give insights as to the bird’s age and the distance it traveled. Most birds are not recaptured repeatedly but for those that have been information about a particular bird’s life can contribute to the big picture of the natural history of that species. All of the data together from banders throughout the world and over the course of scores of years begins to show patterns in timing and movement, and this information, when compared with other knowledge and data about natural history and climate, can help us to understand and inform our past, present and future actions.


Rio Grande Bird Research (RGBR) is a team of biologists and volunteers who have been monitoring songbirds at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park since 1979.  Like similar data collected around the world, their work shows some dramatic changes in bird populations and habits over this period in time. The lessons in this section are based on data collected by RGBR.

Bird Migration English Version (click here)

Overview of migration in New Mexico in English p. 577- 582.

Interesting Facts About Bird Migration p. 583
Selected Bosque Bird Information Cards p. 584-588. Greater Roadrunner, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Sandhill Crane, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, White-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow.
List of Migratory Birds Frequently Found in New Mexico p. 590


Activity 47. Who Flew Where? p. 591-599
Students explore bird migration using actual banded bird recovery data; students measure a scaled distance of where 20 different birds were found from where they were originally banded. A second part has students locating those places on a map of western North America.

Additional files for activity:

--Recapture species cards. The file includes both English p. 1-5, and Spanish p. 6-10.

--North America Banding Recapture Maps—choose with stars (easier) or without stars marking the locations. Use latitude and longitude for placement. Maps include Spanish & English on each map. We recommend printing on 11 x 17 paper.


Activity 48. Changes in Bird Populations p. 600-605

Students graph long-term data of birds banded by Rio Grande Bird Research to see if there have been changes in birds encountered.

Glossary of migration terms p. 606-607

Standards p. 608-609

Bird Migration Spanish Version (click here)

Descargas en Español can you make hyperlinks to these pages?

Migración de aves en Nuevo México p. 577-582

Datos interesantes sobre la migración de aves p. 583

Tarjetas de información sobre las aves del bosque p. 585-589

Correcaminos norteño, Colibrí garganta morada, Grulla de Sandhill, Chipe de corona negra, Cuco de pico Amarillo, Gorrión de corona blanca, Gorrión ceja blanca

Aves migratorias frecuentemente observadas en Nuevo México p. 591

Actividad 47. ¿Quién voló a dónde? p. 593-601

Los estudiantes exploran la migración de aves usando datos reales de aves anilladas y recapturadas; los estudiantes miden la distancia (a escala) del lugar donde encontraron 20 diferentes aves con respect al lugar donde fueron anilladas. En la segunda parte, los estudiantes localizan estos lugares en una mapa del oeste de América del Norte.


Archivos adicionales para la actividad:

-- Recuperar las cartas de especies. El archivo incluye ambos inglés p. 1-5, y español p. 6-10.

-- Mapas de recaptura de bandas en América del Norte. Elegir con estrellas (más fácil) o sin estrellas o sin estrellas marcando las ubicaciones. Usa la latitud y la longitud para encontrar la ubicación. Recomendamos imprimir en papel de 11 x 17.


Actividad 48. Cambios en las poblaciones de aves p. 602-607

Los estudiantes hacen gráficos de datos de largo-tiempo de aves anilladas por Rio Grande Bird Research para ver si han estado cambios en las aves encontradas.

Vocabulario/Glosario sobre la migración de aves p. 608


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