Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge Birding Guide

Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge Birding Guide

Sandhill crane creates rings as he drinks from the water

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All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted.

Silhouette of birds flying over a pond during golden hour.

If you’re looking for a place to take in all the natural beauty that New Mexico offers, look no further than Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. With its sweeping vistas of cottonwood, willow trees, meandering riverbanks, and expansive wetlands, Bosque is a haven for bird watchers, wildlife photographers, and nature enthusiasts.

The best time of day to visit Bosque is during the early morning or late afternoon, when the light is at its most beautiful and the wildlife is most active. Several hiking trails wind through the refuge, providing opportunities for bird-watching and wildlife spotting. Be sure to bring your camera—you will capture some fantastic photos!

New Mexico Wildlife at Bosque del Apache

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is a 57,000-acre wildlife refuge in the Chihuahuan Desert of San Antonio, New Mexico. The refuge was established in 1939 as a resting and feeding ground for migratory birds, and today it is home to over 300 different bird species of wildlife.

At Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, you can expect to see deer, coyotes, rabbits, and birds. The most popular birds include birds of prey (American Kestrel and the Ted-tailed Hawk), ducks (Northern Pintail and American Coot), and shorebirds (Great Blue Heron and Neotropic Cormorant).

Why Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge Is Worth A Visit

There are many reasons you should visit Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge! It’s an excellent place for nature lovers of all ages and backgrounds to explore and enjoy, and there’s something to see and appreciate no matter what time of year you visit. The refuge is also a world-famous destination for birders and bird photography because tens of thousands of migratory birds visit the refuge in hoards yearly. With its rich biodiversity and stunning landscapes, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is a must-see destination for anyone interested in wildlife or getting outdoors into the fresh air

Silhouette of a Sandhill Crane stretching its neck in golden water casting a reflection from the setting sun.
Orange and blue sunset reflecting in the water as birds fly by at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Lodging In Socorro, NM

The towns near the refuge are tiny and aren’t fancy, but several options are available. The closest town is Socorro, New Mexico, which offers a variety of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts. Many hotels in Socorro are accustomed to bird watchers who leave early morning and open their complimentary breakfast at 5:00 or 5:30 am. There are also a few campgrounds near the refuge. I stayed in the Econo Lodge and was impressed with the price; the rooms were spacious and included a dining table, a desk, a reclining chair, and a microwave and refrigerator.

Three Sandhill Cranes Taking Off in unison

Year-Round Guide To Bosque del Apache

Bosque del Apache is most famous for the Sandhill Cranes, which arrive during winter but is a birder paradise year-round. Each year and each season brings a unique experience.

Winter

This time of year, thousands of Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, and Sandhill Cranes gather in the flood plains, which protects them from predators as they rest through the night. Near dawn, the geese usually take off all at once in search of food in nearby fields. The Sandhill Cranes will take off in groups of 3-5 through the morning. You may also spot bald eagles, hawks, and other birds of prey on the hiking trail or the auto loop. Aside from birds, you may see deer, javelina, coyotes, or rabbits.

Spring

Springtime is a great season to visit the refuge, as migrating Sandhill Cranes (and the crowds) are gone, making room for a variety of other shorebirds, such as sandpipers, stilts, plovers, and dunlins. The auto tour loop offers scenic views of vibrant wildflowers and opportunities for wildlife viewing; if you’re lucky, you may find a road runner searching for lizards and snakes. Spring is also the time of year to see Flycatchers, vireos, and warblers who stop to rest in Bosque Del Apache during migration season.

 

Small white shorebird in mid flight
Baby javelina and it's mother crossing the dirt road in Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Summer

Summer is the ideal season for hummingbirds. This is also the time of year when you may see the young birds and wildlife born in the spring moving about. The best times to spot wildlife in the summer are early mornings and evenings because most wildlife hides in the shade to keep cool during the hot summer months.

Fall

The colorful contrast of late-season sunflowers with red-winged blackbirds swooping through the grasses makes for a scenic view. The first cranes and geese appear toward the end of October, and you can often find coyotes, javelina, and mule deer feeding off tallgrass. Northern shovelers and pintail ducks are popular at the Dabbler Deck and Flight Deck.

Autumn at Bosque Del Apache brings a beautiful backdrop to the fields where the deer play.

Things to do while you’re there

There are 12 hiking trails ranging from half a mile to 12 miles that provide opportunities for bird-watching and wildlife spotting. But the best place to see the wildlife in the refuge is off the auto loop trail. It is a 12-mile scenic drive on a dirt road that offers viewing decks and picturesque pit stops to get out and admire the wildlife and landscape.

It’s difficult to tell you exactly where to go because each day is different, but the Flight Deck and  The Wetlands Roost are two of the most popular spots. 

What to wear to Bosque Del Apache in Winter

The average low during the winter is in the 20s; when you’re standing around, you aren’t keeping your body warm like you would on a hike. Bundling up in layers is essential because mornings are cold and temperatures can reach the 60s by mid-afternoon. Here is what worked for me when I visited in December:

A beaniegator neckthree layers of merino wool shirts3-way coatGloves | hiking pantsMarino wool long underweartwo layers of warm socksWaterproof hiking bootsHot Hands and Hot Feet

Keep in mind I’m a Texas girl, so if this seems excessive to you, it probably is. But, if you are from a warm climate and don’t know what to wear, you’ll thank me!

Sandhill crane wading in water that is reflecting the soft golden and purple hues of the blue hour.
Sandhill crane creates rings as he drinks from the water

Understanding Bird Behavior For Great Bird Photography

The key to getting great photographs of birds is understanding a few common behaviors that will help you know what to expect and prepare for bird activity. Here are a few common behaviors you might see at Bosque del Apache:

01.

Birds take off around sunrise and land around sunset; they take off and land in the wind's direction, so make sure you position yourself with wind in your face.

02.

Raptors usually poop just before taking off.

03.

Sandhill cranes lean forward and lower their heads before taking off. A small group of 3-5 cranes will take off together; the bird in the front, with its head in the lowest position, usually takes off first.

04.

Sandhill cranes lean forward and lower their heads before taking off. A small group of 3-5 cranes will take off together; the bird in the front, with its head in the lowest position, usually takes off first.

05.

Ducks and geese will shake and spread their wings while grooming.

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If you are looking for a place to have fun, get out of the city and into nature, then Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is perfect. It’s an oasis in the New Mexico desert that offers many opportunities for wildlife viewing, hiking, and just relaxing. We hope this article has helped inform you about all things bosque! Have Fun!

Author Bio

Author Bio Image

Delaney is a project manager by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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