Keeping an Eye out for this Threatened Song Bird

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As I prepared for my trip back to our little slice of heaven in New Mexico, I decided to scout out a few new birding sites to visit while I’m there. It wasn’t long before I stumbled across the Gray Vireo Recovery Plan by the New Mexico Dept. of Game & Fish. Interestingly, between 2007 and 2009 there was great interest in this sweet little songbird because it is considered a threatened species.

The Gray Vireo (featured above courtesy of NM Dept. of Game & Fish) is typically found in the dry foothills and bajadas west of the Great Plains in New Mexico, and is associated with juniper, pinon pine, and oak trees – all of which are highly abundant on our property. Unfortunately, the distribution of this species is patchy at best, with 80% of the known sites found in twelve main areas in the state. As of 2006, observations estimated only 418 Gray Vireo territories, placing this bird on the threatened species list. Primary threats include vulnerability due to its small population sizes and habitats, specifically from the alteration of nesting trees and brood parasitism by cowbirds.  Additionally, Loggerhead Shrikes have been suggested as a potential predator, with other specifies praying on eggs or nestlings, including snakes, Western Scrub-Jays, Mexican jays, Northern mockingbirds, chipmunks, and coyotes.

Goodness! Our habitat is home to all of these at any given time.

But habitat alteration remains the primary threat and includes juniper control, firewood collection, removal of trees to facilitate oil/gas production… and fires!

Now, I’m immediately reminded of the 18,000 acres lost to the Dog Head fire in June. Yikes!

A follow up to this initiative was published in 2008 with a consensus indicating that “Gray Vireos might still be locally common, and even numerous in limited areas, but we should not underestimate current and future threats in occupied habitats.”

The Audubon Society of New Mexico also regards the Gray Vireo as “climate threatened.”

In the meantime, this sweet songster is known to arrive in New Mexico in April for breeding, and breeds through August before migrating to its wintering grounds in September. Since it’s now just early August, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for one of these beauties.  While they may be regarded as a “drab summer resident” because of their dull gray coloring, they are noted for their vibrant personality and song.  It would be exciting to spot one of these songbirds in my backyard.  I might even have to make a call to the NM Dept. of Game & Fish and report it.

Wish me luck!


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