By Scott Cutler
We hear them around us all the time, squawking and chirping –– singing their songs –– but how many of us actually stop to notice our feathered friends?
The El Paso region is home to a wide array of avian species, each bringing their own beauty to the arid desertscape. Some of these birds appear delicate with colorful and ornate plumage and others are powerful predatory raptors, ruling over our lands from above, but all of them have adapted unique ways to thrive in the Chihuahuan Desert.
In addition to Franklin Mountains State Park and Organ Mountain Desert Peaks National Monument, Castner Range –– centrally located land El Pasoans are currently fighting to conserve as a national monument –– provides a safe haven for these birds amid our developing region.
One of the species that calls Castner Range home is usually seen in a quirky bunch –– the Gambel’s quail. Often followed by more than a dozen young chicks, these foraging birds call the desert floor their home, eating many of the seeds, plants and fruits they find scattered on the ground.
The male Gambel’s quail are more recognizable with their deep, red-brown color, cream and gray scales and their proud head crest. The females of the species are also lovely, but their colors are muted and their head crest is shorter. If you spend much time in El Paso, you are sure to happen upon a covey of Gambel’s quail.
Another species native to Castner Range is the cactus wren. Traversing the forests of cacti in the desertscape, the cactus wren calls this vegetation its home. The cactus thorns offer protection from predators and keep snakes and rodents from getting too close to their nests.
The cactus wren has a noticeably thick beak to help it sift through the rocks and sand to find insects and seeds to eat. Often you can spot the brown, white and black speckled bird sitting comfortably on a cactus or hopping around on the desert floor.
Finally, perhaps the proudest bird to call Castner Range its home, at least for some of the year, is the golden eagle. Though it is not quite as recognizable as a bald eagle, this massive, magnificent bird can often be spotted overhead, soaring over the desert, searching for its next meal.
The golden eagle is a migratory bird, but has resident, breeding individuals in our area, including the Franklin Mountains and Castner Range. The golden eagle has a wingspan stretching beyond seven feet and is among the largest birds in North America. Their beautiful brown color turns gold in the warm desert sunlight, and if you haven’t seen one yet, they are a bird to behold.
Together, these birds symbolize the truth of the Chihuahuan Desert beauty –– if one only stops to look around, there are abundant marvels to be found on the seemingly desolate land.
President Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland can make sure these birds are protected by making Castner Range a national monument and conserving this natural refuge El Paso’s birds call their home. Though we may not notice the birds day-to-day, we will surely notice their absence if Castner Range and the mountains are not protected forever.
To learn more or sign a letter of support today to conserve Castner Range as a national monument, click here.
Scott Cutler is the president of the El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society, an organization committed to the preservation of birds, wildlife, the environment, and birding in the El Paso/Trans-Pecos community.
Cover photo: The golden eagle, seen here at the Phoenix Zoo, is one of the many bird species found at El Paso’s Castner Range. (Photo courtesy of Scott Cutler)