When bird enthusiasts visit a new city, one of the first things they want to know is where the birding hotspots can be found. New residents, new birders, and visitors to Albuquerque are no different! If they are from outside the Southwest, they may be looking to add the New Mexico state bird, the greater roadrunner, pyrrhuloxia (desert cardinal), sandhill crane, or Gambel’s quail to their life list. Albuquerque is a great place to go birding thanks to its many open spaces and the fact that it is one of 30 communities that are part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Urban Bird Treaty program.
Situated along the Rio Grande flyway, Albuquerque is visited by numerous migrating bird species. Albuquerque and its surrounding area provide these migrants with a wide variety of habitats, including desert scrub, agricultural lands, riparian, and montane. Of course, these habitats support many resident species as well.
Albuquerque is rare in offering birders hotspots ranging in elevation from below 5,000 feet (Rio Grande sites such as Valle de Oro) to above 10,000 feet (Sandia Crest). This means birders will be able to find a wider variety of species in a relatively compact area.
Something else to know about Albuquerque is that New Mexico’s largest city has long had a focus on preserving open space, especially along the Rio Grande as well as many other locations. Some of these were once Spanish land grants that give them their names today, like Elena Gallegos. These open spaces are havens for birds and the people who enjoy them!
The eBird website and app are handy tools for birders to record their observations. It also provides lists of an area’s hottest birding locations by the number of species observed and submitted lists of sightings. We’ll list locations in the order they fall on eBird’s top hotspots lists for Bernalillo County.
Rio Grande Nature Center State Park (328 species)
2901 Candelaria Road, NW, Albuquerque
Gate hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Visitors center and nature shop: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
At this state park located on the Rio Grande Flyway, find large birds like sandhill cranes while birdwatching in the winter and tiny hummingbirds in summer, with all shapes and sizes in between.
Visitors can enjoy hiking and interpretive trails as well as access to adjacent city trails leading to the Rio Grande and bosque (riverside woodlands). The park also offers a native plant garden and a pollinator garden, which serve to attract birds and butterflies.
The observation pond and Candelaria Wetlands provide great birdwatching opportunities, as do the many trails, which are listed individually on eBird reports. Even inside the visitor center, designed by Antoine Predock, you can view and hear wildlife through special “apertures” and through the speaker system.
Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge (263 species)
7851 2nd Street, SW, Albuquerque
Seven miles south of downtown Albuquerque
Public access: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Visitor center hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
See their website for holiday closures to the visitor center and nature store
Note: The west side of the refuge is currently closed
This refuge is operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and was established in 2012. The 570-acre area is an Urban National Wildlife Refuge is perfect for birdwatching as it is located on a former dairy farm where the Fish & Wildlife Service works to limit invasive species to support native plants and the animals that are supported by them. When you visit, you can observe a wide range of plants, birds, mammals, and butterflies.
Birders may spot the American kestrel, green heron, glossy ibis, Gambel’s quail, great horned owl, gray catbird, several species of nuthatch, American redstart, painted redstart, yellow-throated vireo, golden-crowned kinglet, western tanager, white-throated swift, broad-tailed hummingbird, and many other species. The refuge offers wildlife drives and bird blinds to help you get a better look.
A nearby location to bird is the bosque trails west of Valle de Oro by the New Mexico State Land Office, which is number five on the hotspot list. Birders have recorded 248 species here, including hundreds of cackling geese and Canada geese in winter. Look for flycatchers, buntings, warblers, swallows, pheasants, and the New Mexico state bird, the greater roadrunner.
Rio Grande Valley State Park (various)
Not actually part of the New Mexico state park system, this 4,300-acre area of land stretches for miles along both sides of the Rio Grande and offers excellent birding in multiple locations. This open space area is one of many preserved by visionary Albuquerque residents and was first proposed by famed naturalist and nature writer Aldo Leopold, who for a while lived and worked in Albuquerque.
eBird lists locations in the park such as Tingley Beach’s bosque ponds (261 species), Alameda Bridge bosque trails (259 species), Pueblo Montaño bosque trails (241 species), Calabacillas Arroyo bosque trails (226 species), Rio Grande Nature Center bosque trails (216 species), Tijeras Arroyo bosque trails (213 species), Glass Beach bosque trails (194 species), and many more. You can tally birds of the riverside forest areas, including colorful wood ducks, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, and belted kingfishers, along with a variety of birds like western bluebirds, lazuli buntings, yellow-breasted chats, and warblers. Find a map of the Rio Grande Valley State Park here.
North Diversion Channel Outflow (242 species)
Not every place for birdwatching is a park or forest. Birds are attracted to food, water, and shelter and they can find all three at the North Diversion Channel Outflow east of the Fourth Street bridge. A large group of Wilson’s phalaropes has been spotted here in August, and you may spot cattle egrets, sandhill cranes, American crows, ring-billed gulls, a variety of duck species, and others.
Los Poblanos Fields Open Space (206 species)
Parking and trailhead at westbound Montaño to Tierra Viva Road where there is a gravel parking lot or at Alvarado Elementary School in Los Ranchos.
Currently number 13 on the eBird list, this open space is different from others, preserving a 138-acre area of working agricultural fields, where they grow sorghum, corn, flowers, and vegetables and which includes a community farm. It is partially surrounded and crossed by three hiking loops formed by wide farm roads and ditch banks. Birds of open field areas find safety and food here, including doves, sparrows, crows, robins, western meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, both eastern and western bluebirds, and pinyon jay. You may spot sandhill cranes and Canada geese in the winter. Nesting boxes encourage owls to live here while Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks keep an eye out for prey.
University of New Mexico (199 species)
1890 Roma Ave. NE
Open 24 hours
Universities aren’t only places to advance your education in the classroom. You can expand your birding knowledge by walking the campus and birdwatching at the duck pond! The City of Albuquerque lists the university duck pond on its downloadable Bird Watching Guide for Albuquerque. The pond, which was constructed in 1975, provides a welcome respite for busy students and university staff, as well as campus visitors. Find ducks, woodpeckers, robins, cedar waxwings, nuthatches, and other species of birds at UNM’s duck pond and campus.
Tingley Lagoon at Albuquerque BioPark (190 species)
Tingley Beach Nature Preserve Parking: 1521 San Carlos Road SW
Open sunrise to sunset, no admission fee.
If your goal is to check off waterfowl on your list, this is a great place to visit that is easily accessible. eBirders have recorded wood ducks, northern shoveler, American wigeon, hooded merganser, and sandhill cranes, to name a few. In addition to waterfowl, you may spot goldfinch, sparrows, gulls, and hunting specialists like black-crowned night heron, belted kingfisher, great blue heron, American kestrel, merlin, osprey, hawks, and perhaps even a bald eagle. There are trails leading from the beach area to the Rio Grande for additional nature observations.
Cibola National Forest (Various locations with as many as 166 species)
There are dozens of birdwatching hotspots listed on eBird for Cibola National Forest. Avid birders Jay and Judy Wilbur say their favorite locations are Cienega Canyon Picnic Area (166 species), Sandia Crest (145 species), Doc Long Picnic Ground & Bill Spring Trail (131 species), Capulin Spring (131 species), 10K North Trail (104 species), and Tree Spring Trailhead (93 species). At these locations, you can spot birds like evening grosbeaks, black rosy-finches, several species of nuthatches, woodpeckers, bohemian and cedar waxwings, and red crossbills.
Elena Gallegos Open Space (154 species)
Number 33 on the list of eBird hotspots for the area is this one-time Spanish land grant, now a 640-acre piñon-juniper open space preserved for all to enjoy. Both golden and bald eagles have been recorded here, along with a variety of swallows, hummingbirds, warblers, woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens, towhees, and more.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro (379 species)
Even though more species have been recorded here than in any place on this list, it comes at the bottom because it isn’t in Albuquerque, but south of Socorro. However, one Duke City birder asked about his favorite Albuquerque birdwatching spot replied succinctly, “Bosque del Apache.” This popular destination is the winter home of thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese, along with hundreds of other bird species, including bald eagles. The refuge is also home to the annual Festival of the Cranes, which features workshops about the refuge, nature, and photography.
Discover birding in nearby Corrales Bosque Preserve here.