Hawks Aloft Inc.
PO Box 10028
Albuquerque, NM 87184
Phone: 505 828-9455
Fax: 505 828-9769
E-Mail: gail@hawksaloft.org

Logo: Hawks Aloft Inc.

Hawks Aloft Blog

Blog Topic: Conservation

Our New Elf in Residence

Image by Larry Rimer

Just a few weeks we ago a new Avian Ambassador was permitted to us, trusted to our care and attention for the remainder of his life—the perfect holiday gift for all of us at Hawks Aloft.

This isn’t just any bird, it is in fact an Elf Owl, the smallest species of owl in the world, although it tends to stay further south, in the western region of North America on either side of the Mexican border. This petite, no-bigger-than-a-sparrow bird is quite scarce throughout most of New Mexico, so you can imagine our surprise at bringing this new friend into the Hawks Aloft fold.

This owl—yet to be named, more on that soon—was found in Tularosa, New Mexico, a village slightly to the north of Alamogordo in the southern half of the state. At any time of year, this is an unlikely spot for an Elf Owl to stake out—at the very, very northernmost tip of its range, and by some accounts, not within normal range for the species – period!  He was found with an injury and immediately transported to Alameda Park Zoo, where he was treated for a severe fracture to his left wing and for contusions throughout its whole structure.

Image by Larry Rimer

When the owl stabilized, he was transferred to us, where our own Lisa Morgan continued treatment along with Southwest Veterinary Medical Center’s Dr. Daniel Levenson. After many hours of treatment attempting to restore the bird’s flight, it become clear that full flight capabilities would sadly never be returned to him.

This species is not just adorable, they are threatened throughout much of their range, and are federally listed as endangered in California. Thus, it’s all the more of an honor, then, to have this particular owl in our care, so that he might share his story far and wide and bring awareness to the plight of his species.

Image by Larry Rimer

All of Hawks Aloft’s Avian Ambassadors have names that are educational—they say something about each bird’s species, or their particular story. For example, Malary, one of our Prairie Falcons, was named this because of her lovely falcon malar stripes. Her pal, and our other Prairie Falcon in residence, Sunny, got this name because it says something about the kind of habitat the species favors.

This month we are holding a contest to see who can name our newest Avian Ambassador. Got an idea? Email your best suggestions to Gail at gail[at]hawksaloft.org before December 31. In our January newsletter, the HAI Flier we’ll share a list of our top picks and will rely on you to cast a vote. (Not subscribed to the Flier? Sign up here!) We look forward to hearing your ideas, and in the coming months, stay attuned to upcoming Hawks Aloft events for your chance to meet our very own Elf in residence!

Image by Larry Rimer

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Eagle Updates from the Navajo Nation

The first of the eagles came to us on March 16. The bird–a juvenile Bald Eagle–had sustained a gunshot wound to the left wing, the tail feathers plucked, and had been left grounded for an unknown amount of time before an anonymous person discovered the bird and delivered it to the Navajo Nation Zoological Park.


The first Bald Eagle to arrive in care. Image by Larry Rimer

Immense efforts were undertaken to save the eagle’s life. Hawks Aloft volunteers Larry and Kim Rimer drove to Window Rock to pick up the eagle, transporting it to Gail Garber’s house in Albuquerque, then to Santa Fe, where Ty Horak and Nirankar Ambriz transported the eagle the last leg–to Cottonwood Rehab in Espanola and the care of Doctor Kathleen Ramsay. Though triage and surgery were quickly underway, existing infection from the birds injuries and hours on the ground eventually took this Bald Eagle’s life.

The second eagle in recovery

Just a few days later, on March 21, another eagle arrived with a similar story to tell. The bird had been shot and its tail feathers removed. Arlette Miller, our Raptor Rescue Dispatcher, took the call from the Navajo National Zoo and immediately set out from Albuquerque to Window Rock, then bringing the bird, again, to Doctor Ramsay for an emergency surgery.

It was determined over the course of this eagle’s lengthy recovery time that, although it could live happily in captivity, permanent injuries mean it will not be returned to the wild. This adult male Golden Eagle will live out the remainder of his life at the Navajo Nation Eagle Sanctuary, educating visitors with his story.

On March 30, yet another Golden Eagle was found in the same state as the first two.

A second Golden Eagle arrives with tail feathers removed

Discovered by a Navajo Agricultural Products Industry employee, this female Golden Eagle was quickly delivered to the Navajo Nation Zoo where emergency triage was performed. Chad Smith soon thereafter brought the bird to Albuquerque where Dr. Kariana Atkinson of Petroglyph Animal Hospital performed further triage and took X-rays.

At first hopeful that this bird might be re-released post-surgery, Dr. Atkinson’s team performed surgery to repair the bird’s humerus bone. Over the course of recovery, however, it became apparent that this bird, too, must remain in captivity for the rest of her life under expert care at the Navajo National Eagle Sanctuary.

Though under continued investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Navajo Department of Game and Fish, the perpetrators have not yet been apprehended.

In late July representatives from Hawks Aloft attended a press conference at the Navajo Nation Zoo in Window Rock to receive news of the birds. Gail Garber, below, reports on the conference.

On Tuesday, July 31, 2018, Larry Rimer, Dr. Kathleen Ramsay, Lori Paras and I attended the press conference at the Navajo Nation Zoo in Window Rock. Below, I share comments from the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife and also the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Navajo Nation Statement:
Golden Eagles, one of the most sacred birds to the Navajo People, have many threats to their survival on the Navajo Nation. They are threatened by climate change, drought, and excessive grazing, leading to low prey availability, disturbances to their nesting and hunting areas, lead poisoning, powerline electrocutions, vehicle strikes and other accidents. The Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife has been dealing another serious threat as well, illegal shooting for feathers.
The most recent of these illegal acts occurred in March 2018, as the Department’s Wildlife Law Enforcement Program responded to numerous calls regarding eagles shot with their tail feathers removed. These heinous acts were conducted solely for financial benefit, going against federal laws, tribal code, and the spiritual sacredness of the Golden Eagle.
Today, July 31, 2018, the Department is welcoming two of these Golden Eagles back to the Navajo Nation; unfortunately they both were severely injured from the gunshots and cannot be returned to the wild. Both eagles will remain in captivity at the Navajo Nation Eagle Sanctuary and will be cared for by the expert staff of the Navajo Nation Zoo for the remainder of their lives.

At the Navajo Nation Eagle Sanctuary. Image by Larry Rimer

Although we are pleased to be able to provide a home for these two eagles with our federally-permitted Eagle Sanctuary, the Department is disgusted by the acts of this person(s) that shot these eagles and removed their tail feathers. All efforts are being made by the Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to apprehend these violators.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Statement:
These rehabilitated eagles represent both the extreme cruelty and compassion of people. The Service is still investigating these crimes and hopes to see justice done. A reward is being offered for information in the case. We thank our partners, both those helping with the investigation and the rehabilitators who tended to these birds. We recognize the importance of eagles to our tribal partners and will continue to work through our tribal aviary program and National Eagle Repository to provide a legal source of feathers for cultural and religious needs.

We, at Hawks Aloft, want to recognizes and thank all of the partners who helped in the care and transport of these birds: David Mikesic and his staff at the Navajo Nation Zoo. Dr. Kariana Atkinson and Dr. Ray Hudgell at Petroglyph Animal Hospital, Dr. Kathleen Ramsay at Cottonwood Rehabilitation, Lori Paras at Santa Fe Raptor Center, Larry and Kim Rimer, Arlette Miller, Katrina Hucks, James Robinson, Nirankar Ambriz, Ty Horak, and Lisa Morgan.



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Nightmare on the High Plains

Dr. Kathleen Ramsay holds the Bald Eagle as it wakes up from anesthesia.

Imagine: As dawn began its faint ascent on the eastern horizon, the young Bald Eagle roused atop a power pole, yanking one leg and foot back up into the warmth of his breast feathers on this chilly morning.  Soon, the prairie dogs that called the Navajo Agricultural Products (NAPI) fields would awake and the hungry eagle might find a meal. Suddenly, a loud pop reverberated and the eagle felt a blinding flash of pain in his left wing, falling to the ground in agony. As he lay there, not understanding the searing pain, two men hurried toward him. One held him down forcefully, and the other began pulling out his tail feathers one by one. Once finished, they left him there to die a slow death, no longer able to fly.

Juvenile Bald Eagle with gunshot wound to elbow

Fact:  March 16, 2018. This eagle, found by an unknown person, was driven to the Navajo Nation Zoological Park (NNZP), in what would become the first raptor rescue call that day. David Mikesic, Director, called to ask for transport help to get the eagle here. Larry and Kim Rimer drove the 3-1/2 hours to Window Rock to pick up the injured eagle, returning him to my home, where we transferred his travel crate to my car for the drive to Santa Fe. His next trip was to Santa Fe to meet Ty Horak and Nirankar Ambriz, who drove him to his final destination: Cottonwood Rehab in Espanola. There, Kathleen Ramsay, DVM provided critical triage, and examined his fractured elbow. Surgery followed the next day and it appeared to be successful. However, the unknown length of time the eagle lay on the roadside, had caused a massive infection that later took his life.

Juvenile Bald Eagle awaiting transport to Albuquerque.

Imagine: A few days later, a Golden Eagle waited for dawn, hoping for an easy meal of prairie dog at the massive colony adjacent to NAPI. BOOM!

All tail feathers pulled on each eagle.

Fact: March 21, 2018. Another phone call from the NNZP, another shot eagle with tail feathers pulled. NNZP drove the bird to Albuquerque, where Arlette Miller, raptor rescue dispatcher, then drove the eagle to Espanola. Emergency surgery, again by Kathleen Ramsay, revealed the wingtip was already dead and would have to be removed. This adult Golden Eagle would have to spend the rest of his life in captivity, no longer able to fly. However; without his hunting prowess to feed his mate and nestlings, his 2018 nest certainly failed as his eggs/hatchlings would not be old enough to be left alone so the female could hunt. He is thriving under captive care and will eventually be returned to the NNZP, where his nightmare can be shared with their visitors.

The male Golden Eagle in transport to Albuquerque. This was the second eagle shot.

Imagine: A shot rang out at NAPI, pre-dawn, and the big female Golden Eagle fell from her power pole perch. Pain seared through her wing, while two men held her down and yanked out her tail feathers. Then, she was alone, in agony, unable to fly, and waiting to die.

Golden Eagle #3, a female.

Fact: March 30, 2018. Shot on NAPI fields, a NAPI staff member found the eagle. Chad Smith picked the bird up and drove it to NNZP arriving at 10 pm, where he and David Mikesic administered triage. Chad then drove her to Albuquerque, on March 31, 2018 and transferred her to Arlette Miller who took her to Petroglyph Animal Hospital where Dr. Kariana Atkinson performed triage and took X-rays.

Dr. Kari Atkinson performs triage on the Golden Eagle

April 2, 2018. Dr. Kari and her colleagues, Dr. Ray Hudgell and Dr. Mike Melloy, performed surgery to repair the humerus bone, inserting many pins and an external fixator device that will hold everything in place while the bone heals. There is optimism that she might be releasable, but it will be months before releasability can be determined and for her tail feathers to regrow if the feather follicles have not been damaged.

Surgery on Golden Eagle #3


Both the US Fish and Wildlife and the Navajo Department of Game and Fish are investigating and rewards are offered for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.
It is taking a statewide and national community to help these birds and to search for the criminals who committed these barbaric acts. Thank you to:
Kariana Atkinson, DVM
Nirankar Ambriz
Eldon Brown, FWS
Cottonwood Rehab
The Daily Courier
Farmington Daily Times
The Grant County Beat
KANW Radio – Albuquerque
KOAT TV – Albuquerque
KOB TV – Albuquerque
KRQE TV — Albuquerque
Ty Horak
Katrina Hucks
Ray Hudgell, DVM
Mike Melloy, DVM
David Mikesic
Arlette Miller
Lori Paras
National Public Radio
Navajo Agricultural Products, Inc.
Navajo Department of Game and Fish
Navajo Times
Petroglyph Animal Hospital
Kathleen Ramsay, DVM
Larry and Kim Rimer
Las Cruces Sun News
Santa Fe Raptor Center
Chad Smith
Katie Wade, FWS
USA Today
US News
US Fish and Wildlife Service, Law Enforcement
The 200,000+ individuals that commented, shared, or viewed the story on Facebook and Instagram

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Animals and Forest Fires, Pt.1

The wildfires that recently raged in California’s North Bay have renewed concerns about the dangers and effects of forest fire across the West. After dealing with the immediate concerns—that the fire spread so uncontrollably and killed several dozen people and destroyed thousands of homes, businesses, and other developed spaces, many began to wonder about the less apparent effects, for example—what happens to wildlife during these events? Hawks Aloft supporters might be wondering in particular—what happens to birds during forest fires?  

Forest fires aren’t necessarily unnatural or bad. In fact, over millennia, many species have evolved to cope with fire where it is a natural part of the landscape. In fact, some organisms, like morel mushrooms, for example, only produce spores when stimulated by the heat of fire. Additionally, certain plants only seed in the aftermath of events such as these and young aspen trees thrive in the nutrient rich soil post-burn. Some birds benefit tremendously—take, for example, species of woodpecker, who when new habitats are formed in the wake of forest fire, swoop in and feast on bark beetles exposed in dying trees. Species like these actually benefit as a result of wildfire.  

Three-toed Woodpecker, image by Alan Murphy

Yet, October’s fires in California were caused by human activity, not natural events such as lightning. And with a rising global temperature, fire season is lasting longer, and individual fires are blazing for extended periods of time. When massive fires such as these attack landscapes where natural fire activity has long been suppressed, the impacts can be more far-reaching.  

Generally speaking, birds fly away, mammals run, and amphibians and other small animals burrow into the ground or hide in logs or under rocks. Young, weak animals, and nestling birds (during certain times of the year, of course) are the losers in these scenarios, because they are unable to flee to safety. Despite these inevitable casualties, usually direct mortality to avian life isn’t very broad or devastating during forest fires.  

What can negatively impact bird populations in areas of forest fire are things like air quality. Birds are circular breathers, so smoke from fires can damage their delicate respiratory systems. However, impacts like these haven’t been widely studied on bird populations, so it is difficult to gauge the number of birds who might have succumbed to these peripheral effects. 

For example, during a 1999 fire in the Everglades, smoke is thought to have contributed to the deaths of 50 adult White Ibises, and low-flying birds, by some accounts, suffer even more.  

In New Mexico, Hawks Aloft has spent five years monitoring birds in the Jemez, gauging various species responses to fire, and the habitats created in their aftermath. So far, what we have come to understand is that responses vary considerably across the 112 species documented there. Species of concern, like the Grace’s Warbler were far less present in burned habitat than unburned, while species like the Western Bluebird seemed to thrive in burned landscapes. A sample of information gleaned from our studies is pictured below.

Image by David Powell, featuring information gained through five years of study by Hawks Aloft staff

Every forest fire is different in its breadth and reach, and each habitat is different. It will take time and deliberate study to understand the impacts of California’s fires on the bird life there. As always and as a testament to the resilience of nature, some species will be hurt and some will thrive after this widespread blaze. What is assured, that given time, the forest will rebound and the habitat there will, once again, transform.  

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West Nile Virus & Birds

Mosquitoes can breed in just a couple of tablespoons of water, which is why the gallons of water standing in the bosque are a little troubling when it comes to management of the pests. This year, heavy snowpack, coupled with early warming (before a late cold snap) caused the river to rise higher sooner and stay longer, causing flooding in the bosque. All these forces combined to create a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, bolstering their numbers considerably, and causing a concern for the city as early in the year as April. Since mosquitoes can go from egg to adult in a week, it is high time to start thinking about what we all can do to mitigate the concerns created by an increased mosquito population. At Hawks Aloft, West Nile Virus (WNV) is now at the front of our minds.

West Nile Virus was first detected in New Mexico in 2003. This, of course causes concern for humans—there were six confirmed cases of the virus in New Mexico last year, one of which resulted in death. It is also a concern for horses, who can be killed when infected, and dogs, in whom it can cause heartworm. And, it is also a very serious concern for avian populations. The last time mosquito populations boomed in our state, local Cooper’s Hawk and crow populations were devastated by an outbreak of the disease.

Mosquitoes are a primary carrier of West Nile Virus, which can be devastating to various bird species

Mosquitoes are a primary carrier of West Nile Virus, which can be devastating to various bird species

In birds, the mosquito-born pathogen creates a rapid, traumatic response, resulting in death rather quickly. Taken with the many other threats to birds—like cats, pesticide use, and habitat loss—WNV contributes to a huge overall decline across species throughout the entirety of the U.S. For example, a study released in 2015 indicated that Warbling Vireo populations had been reduced a full one-third solely due to WNV (killing 15 million of the 49 million total population). This strong impact on certain bird populations is related to the fact that the virus multiplies more quickly in an avian host than in, say, a mammal. Over 300 species of birds have been found infected with WNV, which is very troubling considering the very high rate of mortality among them once infected.

Our resilient Avian Ambassador, Aires

Our resilient Avian Ambassador, Aires

Hawks Aloft has been directly affected by the spread of this disease. One year, Aires, a Swainson’s Hawk that came to us in the mid-90’s after being hit by a car in Raton, was found listless on the floor of her mew. Panicked, her caretaker rushed her to Petroglyph Animal Hospital, where she was treated for WNV, spending considerable time in an oxygenated incubator hooked up to a continuous fluid drip until the virus ran its course.  Had she not been treated so promptly, the disease might have caused a plethora of awful symptoms including ataxia, weakness, tremors, loss of flight, blindness, rapid weight loss, and in its final stages, severe seizures. Aires recovered and is happy and healthy today, but many birds are not as lucky.

This year, anticipating the boom in pathogen-carrying mosquitoes, we have committed to vaccinating every single one of our beloved Avian Ambassadors against the virus—that’s 25 birds in total!—so that they will never know the suffering caused by this disease. The conservation work that these birds help us to do is invaluable, and we want to protect their health and safety at any cost, although it is an overwhelming financial burden. The total cost of the vaccinations is around $1,700, straining the budget of our small nonprofit. You can help us to protect our Avian Ambassadors—including many species from a small Saw-whet Owl to large Red-tailed Hawks, and even one American Crow—by making a donation in any amount you are able. Helping us protect our birds means helping to protect birds everywhere by allowing us to continue educating our community about the importance of avian life. Thank you for helping us to continue our mission and for sustaining our Avian Ambassadors through these hard times.

Warbling Vireo by David Powell

Warbling Vireo by David Powell

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Avian Habitat in Corrales

Corrales has always been known as the riverside oasis near the more urban Albuquerque, that somehow still maintains the feel of being far away. For this reason, it is perhaps one of the most accessible jumping off points for local birders and all-around nature lovers to take a stroll along the river and observe local flora and fauna, among those, bird species. Since 2004, Hawks Aloft staffers and volunteers have done just that—and specifically, have monitored the abundance of various bird species throughout the years and seasons.

Spotted Towhee, Image by Kristin Brown

Spotted Towhee, Image by Kristin Brown

Recently, our lead avian biologist, Trevor Fetz, compiled a brief report on the findings of these extensive surveys so far, as they relate to Corrales. (You can read the full report here, in the form of a downloadable PDF.) The report chronicles the findings across 22 different transects in the Corrales bosque (out of a broader 81 transects along the middle Rio Grande, that include outlying areas like Albuquerque). The report details the avian density along different transects, presenting the data as the number of birds per 100 acres. Avian richness is also indicated, that is, the number of different species observed. The numbers determined were then contextualized in light of different events such as drought, bank terrace construction, and thinning efforts on behalf of local governments. The report also importantly draws comparisons between two types of habitat present in the Corrales bosque—drain transects with understory vegetation and those without.

Lazuli Bunting, Image by David Powell

Lazuli Bunting, Image by David Powell

The surveys found that in recent years (about 2010-2016) avian density decreased (from preceding years, from about 2004-2010) during both summer and winter months—with winter bird density significantly lower from 2011-2016. It is important to note that drought was a significant factor in avian population declines from 2010-2014; however, despite more moisture post-2014, Corrales avifauna did not bounce back as quickly as other parts of the bosque. The report suggests that this could be attributed to vegetation thinning in the area, particularly of Russian olive, which provides essential habitat for many species of bird along the Rio Grande in Corrales.

Hawks Aloft will continue our work monitoring the middle Rio Grande bosque, in Corrales and beyond. However, this report, which takes into account more than a decade’s worth of findings, shows concern for some important developments to consider moving forward.

To read the full report, complete with charts and in-depth explanation of processes, head over to our Publications page, where you can find a link to the report by Trevor Fetz.


Bewick's Wren, Image by Kristin Brown

Bewick’s Wren, Image by Kristin Brown

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Decolonizing Nature at UNM

What does decolonization mean? And, how can one even begin to address the process of decolonizing something as big and full of meaning as nature? These are heady topics, and a recent conference in Albuquerque sought to address them in a multitude of ways. I was lucky enough to write an article for the Weekly Alibi about the recent Decolonizing Nature conference, hosted by UNM at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and in turn, attend some sessions on behalf of Hawks Aloft.

The conference, which was held between April 18 and 22, included an array of sessions that broached such topics as “Species, Place, Politics,” “Building Bridges—Art, Community, Humanities,” “Sustainable Communities,” “In the Borderlands,” and “Water is Life,” among many others. In addition, an art exhibition opened in conjunction with the conference at 516 ARTS and the UNM Museum of Art hosted a small film festival. Through this variety of mediums and topics, the organizers of the conference, led by Subhankar Banerjee, hoped to free minds when it comes to considering our planet and its fate, and to engage the community in a dialogue on its own broad-based health and happiness.

Goodbye to All of That

Virginia Colwell’s “Goodbye to All of That,” part of the Decolonizing Nature exhibition at 516 ARTS

In this process of shaking off prescribed notions of ways of being and interacting with the natural and constructed world, many vital and inspiring conversations took place. Each panel discussion allowed for brief lectures by a carefully chosen group of individuals and left ample time for questions and comments from the community. Jeanette Hart-Mann, who I interviewed about the conference, pointed out that the presenters were carefully chosen because they are individuals who aren’t just “writing glorious papers” for other academics but are actually doing the work that they think is meaningful in their field.

From "Golden Migration," a site-specific work by choreographer and dancer, Lisa Nevada

From “Golden Migration,” a site-specific work by choreographer and dancer, Lisa Nevada

Sitting in on “Species, Place, Politics” panel discussion was interesting, particularly because speakers were selected from a vast number of fields. What many might find surprising is that there were a large number of artists participating in the conference, always game to speak on how art can provide another language to discuss complex, nuanced topics. On this particular panel was local dancer and choreographer Lisa Nevada, and Silver City-based photographer (and former field biologist) Michael Berman, as well as UNM PhD candidate and biologist Carlos Carrion. Nevada talked about her site-specific art, Golden Migration, performed at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge; Berman presented photography from the border as a vehicle for discussion; and Carrion, a native of Ecuador, talked about Yasuni National Park in his home country, and its fraught future due to Ecuador’s economic reliance on oil.

"Macho Peak Looking North," Pinto Ranch, TX, 2007. By Michael Berman

By Michael Berman

Each presenter addressed the topic in subtle, nuanced ways, suggesting there are infinite ways to tackle such pressing issues, using your own very specific and personal talents. As Hart-Mann mentioned when I interviewed her, the root of our ecological problems is that we view ourselves and our world as fundamentally different; that we as humans are set apart from the natural world. If we are separate from nature, then exploiting it isn’t so problematic. The aim of the conference, in part, was to realize that we are a part of this Earth, and what we do it, we do to ourselves. We are not “Earthmasters” as the Decolonizing Nature program described, but Earthlings, a single part of the biological web much bigger than ourselves.

Maggie and Idaho


Maggie Grimason is senior editor and an educator at Hawks Aloft.

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All About the Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count (also abbreviated as CBC) is the longest running citizen science project in the United States. Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the count is performed annually near the end of December. Many bird experts and aficionados, as well as those of us who simply find ourselves dumbfounded and staring upwards quite regularly, commit to the count each year—but who started it? And why?

The first Christmas Bird Count took place in 1900. It was born in response to a burgeoning environmental movement, but also as a reaction to a noticeably dwindling number of birds. This population decline may have been related to a strong tradition of bird hunting for both sport and sustenance. In fact, prior to 1900, there had been a long-running tradition of going on a bird hunt every Christmas day. (This was known as a “Side Hunt” for some obscure reason.) Frank Chapman, an official at the American Museum of Natural History and an early member of the Audubon Society dreamed that instead of using all that man power for something destructive, like hunting, why not arm people with binoculars and do something productive, like a bird count?

A portrait of ornithologist Frank Chapman, taken for the American Museum Journal

A portrait of ornithologist Frank Chapman, taken for the American Museum Journal

Chapman worked hard to advocate for the Christmas Bird Count and, that year, 27 birders headed out into the field on Christmas morning. From that first bird count, the tradition has held strong, and today, a huge database of information exists from the annual Christmas Bird Counts. Participants from all over the world have joined in, and now these population gauges guide important conservation decisions and research, contributing to the protection of both birds and their habitat in a huge array of regions.

In Albuquerque, there are many established ways to get involved with the bird count.  For example, Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge will be holding one on December 17 from 7am-4pm. More information on that here.  The Albuquerque Count will take place on December 18.  You can also find details on how to participate independently, or look for more groups in your area on the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count webpage.

Photograph by Frank Chapman, from his book "Camps and Cruises of an American Ornithologist," published in 1908

Photograph by Frank Chapman, from his book “Camps and Cruises of an American Ornithologist,” published in 1908

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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft.

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Sandhill Cranes Return Once Again

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender

I remember the first Sandhill Crane I ever saw vividly—it was the first winter I lived in New Mexico, nearly six years ago now—near the Rio Grande on south Fourth Street. It was an amazing sight, and continues to be. Second in size only to the Whooping Crane, how could anxious watchers ever cease to be impressed these large, graceful birds? Their gurgling call and shadows cast over the wintry high desert is a sure indication of the changing seasons; without fail, they return year in and year out to New Mexico. Though these large, red-capped bird dependably herald the changing seasons, there is still much to learn about their migration patterns, especially in the face of a warming planet.

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender

In New Mexico, the Rocky Mountain Sandhill Crane population’s migration habits are being closely studied by students and researchers at New Mexico State University. As the birds respond to changes in climate that have created water scarcity and loss of wetlands (meaning less habitat) they have taken to traveling back and forth between several wintering areas in New Mexico, in order to find more opportunities for foraging. This is just one observable difference in the behavior of cranes responding to a changing world, and a clear indication of the importance of this kind of research, which reveals essential details about survival rates.

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender

With a range that encompasses distant places like Alaska all the way up to Siberia, these stately birds make their way south each autumn to winter in places like New Mexico, even as far south as the state of Durango in Mexico. Winter flocks usually consist of several nuclear families; Sandhill Cranes mate for life, so these may be comprised of parents, their young, and maybe even “grandchildren.” Typically these loose groups will overnight in shallow waters, and during the day forage for a variety of insects, snails, plants and amphibians.

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender

A particularly good place to stand in awe of these impressive birds—one of the most ancient species on Earth—is, of course, at Bosque del Apache. Even if you missed out on the Festival of the Cranes, don’t worry, there are still plenty of months to see Sandhill Cranes; they likely won’t start their departure until March. If you have your heart set on a festival, you can put the Monte Vista Crane Festival in the San Luis Valley of Colorado in your planner for March of 2017. Hawks Aloft will be there! Otherwise, just head out your front door to the Rio Grande bosque and look up, you’re likely to glimpse them near water and hear their trumpeting calls, too.

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender

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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft

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Call for Volunteers!

As we work toward expanding our raptor rescue program to areas in southern New Mexico, in communities like Las Cruces, the need for volunteers to help ensure the wellbeing of raptors of all shapes and sizes is becoming more and more apparent. Raptor rescue coordinators and mitigations experts Emiliano Salazar and Lisa Morgan have already conducted trainings in the Las Cruces area and have equipped a team of local bird-lovers with all the knowledge they need to assess, rescue and transport injured birds in desperate need of attention.

However, Las Cruces is a long drive down I-25 from Albuquerque. Currently, the greatest need that we have in this arena is for transport of these birds from relay points in Socorro and Truth or Consequences to Albuquerque and the expert care of our rehabilitators. If you reside in or around these flashpoint cities, we could use your help!

As a volunteer, you’ll receive recognition in our online newsletter, which is delivered to thousands of bird enthusiasts around the country each and every month. You’ll also receive basic training and the satisfaction that comes with knowing you’ve done some essential work to give an animal the best possible chance at a healthy life.

To get involved as part of our raptor rescue team, contact Raptor Rescue Coordinator Emiliano Salazar at emiliano@hawksaloft.org for details, training dates and more information on how you can help wild birds of prey across New Mexico.

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