Rare birds still make appearance

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We've heard many reports of evening grosbeaks in and around Santa Fe lately.

These striking, stocky members of the finch family are year-round in much of New Mexico, but mostly make their presence known in winter, when they move around looking for food. The male is boldly marked with a yellow rump and belly, yellowish head and black and white wings. The female is similar but with lighter colors. Both have a large, thick bill, thus the name grosbeak.

This time of year, look for small flocks of evening grosbeaks at your seed feeders, especially if you're offering black-oil sunflower seeds. Their unusually large bill is perfect for cracking seeds, which is the main food source of this species.

The Clark's nutcracker was first recorded in 1805 by William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark expedition). Although year-round in our part of the state, this bird is hit or miss.

Some years we see many but most years not. Typically they are seen more in the fall. Late winter sightings are a bit unusual. We haven't had a huge surge in sightings but are starting to see more nutcrackers in the last week or two.

This member of the jay family is 12 inches long, gray all over with black wings. White wing patches can be seen in flight. Also look for this bird's long black bill.

The Clark's nutcracker is found in mountain coniferous forests. They can often be seen perching at the tops of trees. Pinon seeds are a favorite of this bird, and in the fall they cache many thousands of seeds for later use. Their large pouch (sublingual pouch) makes this task easier as it is large enough to hold dozens of seeds at a time.

Evening grosbeaks and Clark's nutcrackers aren't rare, but they are not everyday birds for most of us, so it's fun when we see them. The ovenbird, on the other hand, is a rare sight this time of year in New Mexico, with only eight confirmed winter sightings in our state, ever.

It was quite a surprise when one was spotted recently in a Canyon Road backyard in Santa Fe. The quick-thinking homeowner snapped a photo that was used by the folks at the New Mexico Ornithological Society to confirm that it was, in fact, an ovenbird. All eight winter sightings have been since 1998.

According to Sandy Williams, a member of the group, "The first published record of an ovenbird in New Mexico was of one seen near Las Cruces on Sept. 10, 1939, and the first confirmation of the species [specimen] was obtained there in October 1941. The species is now understood as annual in fall and spring migration through New Mexico, with multiple records each year. The recent occurrence of winter records [beginning in 1998] is noteworthy in light of our increasing understanding of climate change."

This member of the warbler family has distinctive black streaks on its white chest and belly and an orange crown-patch bordered by dark stripes. The odds of seeing an ovenbird, especially in the winter, are very remote, but sometimes birds that aren't supposed to be here show up anyway.

If you think you see a very unusual or rare bird call the NMSO Rare Bird Hotline at (505) 264-1052.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe, and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard and Birdhouses of the World. The Santa Fe New Mexican is a sibling newspaper of The Taos News.

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