The authors of a recent guide for Mexican birds, del Olmo and Roldán, propose that bird-watching in Mexico City is productive because it incorporates three different ecozones: semi-dry, temperate sub-humid and temperate semi-cold. These provide habitats for at least 300 species, 50 of which can commonly be seen. The Inca dove, house finch, English sparrow and great-tailed grackle are ubiquitous in patios and parks, but far more can be seen travelling to a special ecological park, PEX, in Xochimilco.
The Xochimilco District: chinampas and trajineras
In the southeastern part of the city, the Xochimilco district is famous for its waterways and flower gardens — remnants of the former lakes which once filled the Basin of Mexico and of the cultivation methods devised by the native Indian peoples to grow their food at the edge of the lakes. The chinampa fields at Xochimilco are canal-surrounded plots of land now used especially for growing flowers. Visitors going to any of the numerous embarcaderos (docks) to board the trajinera boats that tour the canals may have a chance to see the chinampas and will certainly be accosted by flower-sellers.
If one requests a tour of the back canals, several species of water birds inhabit the quieter reaches, but these can equally well be seen at the Ecology Park.
The Xochimilco Ecology Park (PEX)
Northeast of Xochimilco’s main trajinera docks lies the Parque Ecológico de Xochimilco. It is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes all of Xochimilco and the city’s historic centre. The park has a separate entrance on the southern periphery road (Anillo Periferico Sur), well known by taxi drivers and served by a city bus stop. The park actually extends both north and south of the ring road: north is a sports complex, while south is a public park surrounding the northern and eastern sides of a lake, Lago Huetzolin. Entrance to the park is 20 pesos for an adult, and another 20 pesos will buy a park map (numbers below refer to the location of features on the park map). The park incorporates several small lakes and canals, east of Lago Huetzolin (#26), as well as two chinampas: the demonstration chinampas (#28), and Isla de los Mitos (#19).
PEX has reasonable amenities including an information center (#2) with restrooms, a shop, library (with books housed in painted orange crates), and a video describing in Spanish the park’s establishment in 1989. An observation deck (#3) is on the roof of the center, and an outside kiosk sells snacks and drinks. There is a small multi-car ‘train’ that travels around the park in high season, and trajineras can be hired from a dock (#21) on the lake. Opening times (approximately 9am to 6pm in summer) and facilities available should be checked by phone (55-5673-8061); on our visit, the shop was closed, the train wasn’t running, and the kiosk was not serving coffee (or ice cream!). The park map serves as a general guide but is easily misunderstood, as some pathways are not illustrated and signs defaced.
Birds in PEX and the Reserva Natural de Aves
The far northeastern corner of PEX is designated as a bird reserve, the Reserva Natural de Aves. Several secluded ponds can be accessed by grassy paths, but surprisingly, most of the birds seen were actually in the greater park area, not the reserve.
The water birds were clustered near the Foro abierto (#22) in a corner of Lago Huetzolin: Mexican duck, great and snowy egrets, green herons and black-crowned night-herons, and black-necked stilt. Moorhens and coots populated the lake verges.
The wide grassy parks not only hosted rock pigeons, grackles, mourning and Inca doves but also the flycatchers: greater pewee, Cassin’s kingbird and the stunning vermilion flycatcher. Hummingbirds flew near the trees but no feeders were put out to allow a close look; two groups of parrots passed quickly overhead (probably the white-fronted, the only parrot listed for Mexico City) as did violet-green and barn swallows.
Shruby areas provided cover for the chipping and song sparrows, common yellowthroat, house finches and English sparrows, and the suprisingly numerous lesser goldfinch. Two tentative identifications were the brown-throated wren and brown-backed solitaire.
All these birds were seen in a five-hour tour of the length and breadth of the park on foot in late August, but many nooks and crannies went unexplored. Well worth a visit, Parque Ecológico de Xochimilco will offer even more species during the winter when many North American birds come to stay. Get prepared!