A Southwestern willow flycatcher
A Southwestern willow flycatcher brings food to her nest. Photo by S&D Maslowski.

Yesterday brought more good news for the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Back in October, I wrote about New Mexico’s two newly designated national wildlife refuges — areas that in addition to creating great outdoor recreational opportunities for New Mexico communities, protect valuable habitat for the willow flycatcher. Well, the flycatcher is on a roll. Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated more than 200 thousand acres along 1,227 miles of river as protected critical habitat for this endangered bird. The newly protected acres — in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada —  expand upon the existing 730 miles of river that were designated as protected for this endangered bird in 2005.

Jemez River
Jemez River, New Mexico. Credit: spotzilla/Flickr

The Southwestern willow flycatcher is a small brown and gray bird that eats berries, seeds and — true to its name — flying insects. The flycatcher winters in Central America, but come April or May, it returns home to breed in the riparian forests of Arizona, New Mexico and southern California, Utah and Nevada. These streamside forest ecosystems are essential to the flycatcher’s successful breeding, but the bird has lost more than 90 percent of its historical habitat due to dams, livestock grazing and urban sprawl, among other causes. Listed as endangered in 1995, the bird’s prospects have faced another blow as severe drought of the past two years has left its habitat even more vulnerable.

One of the best ways to help with the latter problem is to reforest streams’ banks. We will plant 100,000 willows, aspen and other trees along streams in the headwaters of the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico, restoring areas damaged by grazing, improving water quality and restoring nesting habitat for the flycatcher.

The flycatcher had some victories in 2012 and is off to a good start in 2013. Let’s hope that with these improvements to its habitat, we start seeing recovered populations of this little bird in the years ahead.