Birding Hotspots Where to Go Birding

Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge

Birding in New Mexico

Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge
La Joya, New Mexico 87028
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge webpage
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge Trails webpage
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge Hunting webpage
Amigos de la Sevilleta webpage

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eBird Hotspots

Socorro County

Sevilleta NWR
Coordinates: 34.3918165, -106.8736926
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Sevilleta NWR–Unit A
Coordinates: 34.2929629, -106.8434143
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Sevilleta NWR–Unit B
Coordinates: 34.2769002, -106.8569756
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Sevilleta NWR–Visitor Center Area
Coordinates: 34.3514526, -106.8822822
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eBird Hotspots with Restricted Access

Sevilleta NWR–Canyon View (restricted access)
Coordinates: 34.327683, -106.737129
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Sevilleta NWR–Deep Well (restricted access)
Coordinates: 34.358347, -106.688396
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Sevilleta NWR–Grassland Manipulation Site (restricted access)
Coordinates: 34.34186, -106.623422
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Sevilleta NWR–Piñon Canyon (restricted access)
Coordinates: 34.392251, -106.56143
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Sevilleta NWR–Sepultura Flats (restricted access)
Coordinates: 34.274253, -106.630313
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Sevilleta NWR–Tomasino Well (restricted access)
Coordinates: 34.215237, -106.716411
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Sevilleta NWR–University of New Mexico PJ Rainfall Site (restricted access)
Coordinates: 34.38492, -106.522649
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Photos by John Montgomery

Tips for birding Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge
Use the general hotspot for all of Sevilletta National Wildlife Refuge 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 that would result from mistakenly listing particular species (or a number of individuals) at more-specific Refuge hotspots where, in fact, they did not occur.

However, if for example you simply wandered around the Visitor Center, recording sightings specifically for the Visitor Center hotspot would be more informative to researchers and other birders than recording for the general Sevilleta NWR hotspot. 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.

There are 10 more-specific hotspots throughout the Refuge, but 7 of these are locations (all east of the Rio Grande) where access is allowed only to researchers; Sevilleta NWR was created primarily for research and the vast majority of the Refuge is not accessible to birders.

Fortunately, much of the riparian area, with the Refuge’s greatest bird species diversity, is accessible in hotspots Unit A and Unit B. These wetland units are both located east of I- 25, and the entire visitor-accessible area in this eastern portion of the Refuge may be divided between these hotspots; for accurate listing in the eastern hotspots, eBirders need merely know the boundary between the La Joya Wildlife Management Area state land and Sevilleta NWR Unit A, along with the boundary between Units A and B. The two Refuge wetland units can only be reached by driving through the state WMA, and it should be remembered the management area itself is closed to all recreational activities except hunting from September 1 through March 14. There are two birding trails in Unit B and one totally contained in Unit A; also, a birding trail into the southern portion of the WMA begins in Unit A.

The one specific hotspot west of I-25 is the Visitor Center. Therefore, all birds seen on the various westside trails would at this time appropriately be listed for the general Refuge hotspot. Yet, eBird species bar charts for the general Sevilleta NWR hotspot are dominated by riparian Unit A and B observations, confounding birders who would like to know what species are likely to be seen in the Chihuahuan Desert and Plateau Shrub-steppe habitats of the west side. In addition, there is no way to conveniently tell what has historically been observed along the lower westside trails (Entry Gate, Wildflower, and Nature) separately from along the higher trails (Mesa View and Ladrones Vista); upland habitat is different from lowland trail habitat, and though there is overlap among species present in the two areas, fewer species are typically seen along the upper trails. Undoubtedly, because the Wildflower, Nature, and Mesa View trails all begin at the Visitor Center, because the Wildflower Trail is short, and because birders visiting during times the vehicle gate to the Visitor Center is closed must use the Entry Gate Trail, some birders imprecisely list observations on these trails as being made at the Visitor Center. As a result, Visitor Center hotspot bar charts of species frequency may be misleading. Whereas eBirders are encouraged to include in “Checklist Comments” locationally precise information about their travel route (and/or mobile-recorded “tracks”), figuring out what birds might be expected on hiking any of the westside trails can be an often-frustrating task involving examination of Comments for lists submitted under the general Sevilleta NWR hotspot during the season in which you want to visit.

The Rio Puerco Unit, in the northeast portion of the Refuge west of I-25, is open for hunting only, but its east parking area is useful to birders exploring the tamarisk-lined Rio Puerco riverbed. If you park at the well-signed hunt parking area on the west side of Old Highway 60 and south of the Rio Puerco bridges, then walk back toward the bridges, you can easily duck under the pipe fence and get to the river bed. Typically dry except during summer monsoon season (when a visit can be dangerous), the river bed is not part of the Refuge for at least the first quarter mile east and west of the bridges. Yet, birds seen here are undoubtedly being listed for the Sevilleta NWR hotspot; stating in such a list’s Comments that you birded the Rio Puerco is helpful. Under the bridges is a great place to look for Barn Owl.

The Refuge website, updated in early 2022, is your best resource to begin planning a birding experience. Though the trails page (a submenu selection under “Visit Us”) does not include extensive descriptions, the maps linked to that page are excellent. Note that the length given for each trail is a total length, and may include multiple trail sections which the average birder would consider separate trails or short offshoots (the latter generally to lookout points); this is particularly true of Unit A and Unit B, but clarity is achieved by clicking on the “View Trails” button, which takes you to a map of your selected trail with each section’s length given. Westside trail lengths on the trails page are accurate with one exception (as of June 2022): the Mesa View Trail is 2.7 miles as listed on the lower portion of the trails page, not the 3.8 miles listed on the upper portion of the page containing the narrative trail description (a discrepancy repeated on the outdoor kiosk map behind the Visitor Center). A bit inconsistently, Unit A and Unit B trails are not described separately on the website, though a brief “Wetland Units” trails description is given (including false information that the road surface is paved), along with great maps for each unit’s trails. Be advised that Google Maps is much less accurate than the maps associated with the Refuge website; for example, Google does not accurately show the Refuge north boundary in the area of the Rio Puerco hunt unit.

Two additional hotspots on many maps appear to be located within the Refuge, but are not: these are the rest stops on either side of the Interstate at Mile 114 (North Bound and South Bound), 3 miles south of the offramp for the Refuge.

Cautionary notes of importance:
1) Observe all signage. Exploration off-trail is generally prohibited, though most roads and levees, as well as trails in the wetland units, may be hiked. The eBird map “pin” for the overall Refuge hotspot is located miles from any area of the Refuge open to public birding.
2) If hiking any westside (or even eastside) trails in the summer, hydrate beforehand, carry adequate water, protect yourself from the sun, and be mindful of rattlesnakes. If hiking westside trails during the summer monsoon season, be aware that it is dangerous to be caught in a wash during thunderstorms.
3) When hiking eastside trails in the spring or early fall, insect repellent will make your birding safer and more comfortable.
4) Know which areas are open to hunting and when. It is worth restating that the State WMA, which you must drive through to get to the Refuge wetland units, is closed to birding from September 1 through March 14. Refuge Units A and B are typically open for dove beginning in September, and then for waterfowl in October, with some seasons lasting through January 1. The two units may be open on different days of the week, but there should be at least one day a week during hunt seasons when both units are free of legal hunters. The Rio Puerco Unit has been open to hunters every day of the week during dove and quail seasons; the latter can last through mid-February, while the state “season” for Eurasian Collared-Dove is all year. If planning a trip during fall or early winter, examine the Refuge website’s hunting page; if phoning for clarification, do so well in advance as it could require your leaving a message and receiving a return call. USFWS personnel will have information about hunting on the Refuge, but should not be expected to have information about hunting at the state WMA.
From John Montgomery

About Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System in the lower 48 states.

The 230,000-acre refuge includes four different biomes that intersect and support a wide array of biological diversity. The Rio Grande flows through the center of the refuge and is an important source of water that creates an oasis for wildlife in the arid landscape. Scientists from across the country and internationally come here to conduct research in these amazing ecosystems. The refuge is unique in that it was set aside “to preserve and enhance the integrity and the natural character of the ecosystems of the property by creating a wildlife refuge managed as nearly as possible in its natural state.” Thus the refuge is not managed for specific wildlife species but to allow natural processes such as flood and fire to prevail.

Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge is unique because four different kinds of biomes intersect on the refuge, including the Colorado Plateau Shrub Steppe, Great Plains Short Grass Prairie, the Chihuahuan Desert, and the Pinyon-Juniper Woodland.

A biome is a regional ecosystem with distinct types of vegetation, animals, and microbes that have developed under specific soil and climatic conditions. The result: an area with a remarkable array of plant and animal life.

The Colorado Plateau is a large geological slice of western North America and reaches its southeastern limit on Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. The Colorado Plateau Shrub Steppe is one of the many biomes found within the Colorado Plateau and is a sparse, windswept environment; not quite desert, but definitely not the forest. The sagebrush, saltbush, and grasses of the shrub-steppe thrive in conditions where few plants can survive and support many different wildlife species.

The Great Plains Short Grass Prairie has wide open spaces, sunshine, and acres of nutritious grasses and flowering plants – exactly what animals of the grassland need. The Gunnison’s prairie dog is one of the main architects of the prairie. They create elaborate underground burrows with long tunnels for hiding, nesting, and escaping extreme heat or cold. Within the grassland, many ground-dwelling animals find shelter in the network of tunnels and burrows built by prairie dogs and also kangaroo rats.

The Chihuahuan Desert appears forbidding to humans, but this dramatic landscape is home to an amazing array of life. Creosote bushes interspersed with yuccas, grasses, and cactus give this desert its characteristic appearance.

The Pinyon-Juniper Woodland supports two main tree species: pinyon pine and one-seed juniper. Both tree species provide high-quality food for wildlife throughout the year in the form of juniper berries and pinyon seeds. This biome shelters and supports some of the area’s larger wildlife such as black bear and mountain lion.

In addition, the Rio Grande flows through the center of the refuge creating an oasis along the river that plays a vital role within these mixed ecosystems. Because the environments are so diverse, they attract and support a wide diversity of native species, including 251 species of birds, 80 species of mammals, 58 species of reptiles, 15 species of amphibians, and more than 1,200 species of plants.

The more commonly seen wildlife on the refuge includes mule deer, coyotes, pronghorns, snakes, lizards, and many different types of birds.
From Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge webpage