A Bird for All Seasons

Birds in Taos Ski Valley

- | 5 min read

Arriving by air, you may be surprised to know that New Mexico isn’t a dry barren desert!  All across our state and especially here in the north in Taos and Taos Ski Valley, we are a confluence of activity for wildlife. Birds especially love it here thanks to the rich diversity of natural habitats that exist in close proximity. From wetland and sagebrush mesa, piñon-juniper foothills, aspen-lined meadows and the waterways of our canyons and alpine extremes, many species are able to remain here year-round thanks to a bounty of largely protected resources, especially food. And migratory species enjoy an abundant stop along the way to their breeding grounds to the north. That is if they’re not already planning to do so right here in our backyards!


Sliding down the mountain with slick boards under our feet can feel like flying, especially when the powder comes down! The thrillseekers among us swish past chasing that Rocky Mountain high, but take a moment to pause, look and listen. Our other flying friends will reveal themselves on and off the slopes!

The Black Rosy Finch and Grey-Capped Rosy Finch grace the pine trees of the ski valley village in winter. They are the most range-restricted members of their genus. Due to their habit of nesting amongst alpine rocks and cliffs, the Rosy Finch is one of the least studied birds in North America. This has also made it a favorite of birdwatchers and photographers. In the summer months, the finches move higher into the alpine terrain and reside above tree line.

A rosy finch perches on a snowy bannister eyeing a bird feeder.

In the snowy and cold times of the year these rare finches head down mountain in gregarious flocks. For a limited window of time food is more plentiful in nature and in the village. The Kandahar Condos is one of the oldest buildings still in operation at Taos Ski Valley (1967). This ski-in/ski-out condo hosts the finches with suet-stoked feeders and sunflower seeds. This Kandahar is recognized by The Audubon Society as one of the few places to observe such a robust mixed colony of these birds.


When spring arrives, so does the handsome Evening Grosbeak. Males sport foreheads streaked vibrant yellow and rich chocolate brown chests, complementing the females’ more subtle ombré yellow and gray. In Taos Ski Valley we are especially lucky to also receive these rare birds at the Kandahar Condos.

Two Evening Grosbeck birds sit atop a pine tree while two pine siskins fly in for a landing

“We went through 40 pounds of sunflower seed last week,” says the historic condo’s manager, Brent Knox. “We can’t fill them fast enough!” Everyone can take advantage of the office deck’s bounty, a friendly fixture going on too many years to count. You’ll also find the diminutive Pine Siskin hanging around these statuesque Grosbeak. The Siskins provide scale to appreciate the Grosbeak’s impressive bill and stately demeanor.

Evening Grosbeak populations dropped steeply between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey—particularly in the East where numbers declined by 97% during that time. Evening Grosbeak rates a 13 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List. This is a list that includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions.

One of the most active and exciting birds to experience is the hummingbird. These restless little creatures descend on the ski valley and in town in huge numbers, multiplying by summer’s end! Here in Taos we have a few easily identifiable varieties. The gorget, or iridescent throat feathers on male hummingbirds reveal their species. You may see: Rufous with orange, Broadtailed with crimson-magenta and Black-Throated with purple. Watch and listen with delight as they buzz past and catch a glimpse if you can at a blooming claret cup cactus or any of the many feeders that abound – most homes and businesses put them up as courtyards begin to flower signaling the arrival of summer!

A hummingbird hovers in front of a feeder with blue sky behind


By the time the heat of summer rolls around, everyone’s getting a little frisky especially the convivial Canada “Gray” Jays. These curious and sociable little birds and will often hop along the trail as they inspect the passersby. Keep an eye on your trail mix too! These birds also have the nickname of “Camprobber Jay” and will sneak off with some of your snacks (or gear!).

A 'Camprobber Jay' eats a cracker out a gloved hand.

A summer visitor who isn’t quite as conspicuous as the Gray Jay is the Western Tanager. These brilliant yellow and black birds tend to remain solitary and perch high in the pines. The males sport a sunset-stunning red-orange gradient. Keep your eyes on the higher branches when you hear a loud, hoarse bird song of 2-4 rising notes. The bright reddish-orange head make this a stunning bird to sight on your hike.

A brightly colored orange and yellow Western Tanager perches in the dark branches of a fir tree.


In the fall keep your eyes peeled because the most uncommon spotting can occur when you least expect it. A sunny little bird drops in through our mountains during its winter migration from Canada to the coastlines of Mexico. It’s the Wilson’s Warbler – you can spot this active, chatty yellow bird in willow and alder thickets near water. Many of the trails in Taos Ski Valley follow along alpine creeks and provide an excellent opportunity to see this warbler. Males have distinctive black caps atop their bright yellow bodies. If you happen to see multiple warblers together you can impress your friends with the plural name – “a confusion of warblers”.

A yellow Western Tanager sit in a dense shrub


A mountain favorite you can spy year-round is the Steller’s Jay. With their distinctive black head atop brilliant blue bodies, the Steller’s Jay is the alpine cousin of the common bluejay. The are seen commonly in the higher elevations of western North America. It is the only crested jay to be found west of the Rocky Mountains.

A Stellar's Jay perched on a branch with yellow aspen leaves

Steller’s Jays tend to travel together except when they are nesting during breeding season. Hiking up to the higher elevations on the Williams Lake Trail this vocally animated creature will announce its presence. Appearing to raise its white eyebrow to match its seemingly always ruffled feathers – if they didn’t have personality enough! If you happen upon a group of them, that’s a “party of jays”.


To discover more birds in Taos Ski Valley, or in your area — because there are so many more to discover — check out the Merlin app from Cornell University’s School of Ornithology. Photo and sound ID tools make it fun and easy to explore and understand what you experience, on a hike or just strolling through the neighborhood.

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