Birding festivals in Arizona are seeing more Mexican birds as warmer temperatures attract often colorful species that many U.S. birders have never seen.
By Rex Graham
More Mexican bird species have been confirmed by Audubon Society chapters in Arizona, California and Texas. One species, the Tufted Flycatcher, is rarely seen in Arizona, but was a fairly common sighting at the 2017 Southwest Wings Birding Spring Festival in Sierra Vista, AZ.
Tufted Flycatcher at Arizona birding festivals
“The Tufted Flycatcher is a Mexican bird that hasn’t been reported here in about 20 years – if ever,” said Gorgon Lewis, head of Southwest Wings. He said the northern movement of the flycatcher is a trend among species that usually remain in Mexico.
“It’s the same with the Blue Mockingbird, Rufous-capped Sparrow and Flame-colored Tanager,” Lewis said. “They are usually 100 to 150 miles south of us, but those birds are coming up here, staying and breeding.”
The northward movement of Mexican birds has been a boon to the spring and summer birding festivals in Sierra Vista, as well as the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival in August sponsored by the Tucson Audubon Society. Lewis said 95% of the roughly 200 registrants of his festival are from out of state. Many birders are eager to add new species to their “life lists,” and U.S. festivals in Arizona, Texas and California offer the best opportunities to seen species normally limited to Mexico and farther south.
Mexico is one of the world’s “megadiverse: countries, particularly for birds. The Short-crested Coquette, Eared Quetzal, Guadalupe Caracara and 100 other species are endemic in only Mexico.
Hundreds of other migratory species travel from South and Central America, Mexico and the U.S. before nesting in Canada. Ornithologists say that International cooperation is more important than ever to conserve birds that cross national borders.
The aVerAves and e-Bird databases now provide Mexican and U.S. ornithologists with key distributional and temporal data on about 333 species. These sightings by thousands of amateur birders are considered crucial in conservation-planning decisions.
Birds skirt ‘security concerns’
“Substantial gaps still exist also in distributional information about Mexican birds,” scientists at the National University of Mexico and the University of Kansas said in the Journal of Field Ornithology. “And filling those gaps can be challenging, particularly in view of security and safety concerns that now exist across much of the country.”
As more bird species to Mexico extend their ranges northward, new protected areas have become a top priority for Mexican conservationists.
Protecting Chihuahua’s rare birds
For example, the state of Chihuahua currently has 13 protected areas that are home to 98% of Chihuahua’s 300 bird species. However, 3 categories of birds are poorly represented in those areas: protected (39-42 species), restricted-range and quasi-endemic (11 species).
“New protected areas can be useful and can have the largest impact on bird conservation, particularly for those poorly represented species, hotspots, or ecosystems,” a group of Mexican researchers led by Alejandro Botello said in 2017 in the Natural Areas Journal.