SOUTHEASTERN ARIZONA BIRDERS GUIDE
"The Hummingbird Capital of the U.S."
Click here for a delightful video of hummingbird banding.
Located at the center of one of the finest birding areas in the United States, Sierra Vista is often referred to as "The Hummingbird Capital of the U.S." The mild climate, proximity to Mexico and diverse habitats, including 9,000-foot mountains and the magnificent San Pedro River Valley, make southeastern Arizona a major hot spot for rare and unusual species of birds.
The best times to see tropical species such as hummingbirds, trogans, warblers and flycatchers is from mid-April through September. Spring Migration peaks between late April and early May, as tens of thousands of colorful songbirds make their way north. Late summer is also an excellent time to observe both resident and migrant birds. Spectacular thunderstorms in July and August bring cooler temperatures and create a "second Spring;" blooming wildflowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies, while flocks of migrating birds feast on the bounty of seeds, fruits and insects.
Winter birding has its own special appeal. The Sierra Vista (Ramsey Canyon) Christmas Bird Count regularly has one of the highest inland species totals in the U.S., with over 150 species. Lowland sites such as the San Pedro River and Sulphur Springs Valley support the greatest variety of wintering birds. Within a two-hour drive of Sierra Vista's 1700 + hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts, and 85 + restaurants are habitats ranging from mesquite shrub land, desert grassland and lowland riparian (streamside), to high mountains with Douglas Fir and Quaking Aspen. As your "home base," Sierra Vista allows you to take day trips throughout southeastern Arizona and explore to your heart's content, always knowing you have cozy accommodations waiting for you at day's end.
Specialty Birds of Southeastern Arizona
Doves & Pigeons
Owls and Nightjars
Whiskered Screech Owl
Trogons, Kingfishers &
Jays & Ravens
Titmice & Verdin
Wrens & Gnatcatchers
Tanagers, Buntings, Etc.
Recommended Birding Sites in Southeastern Arizona
* All within 2 hours of Sierra Vista!
(520) 378-0311: U.S. Forest Service - Carr Canyon
This is a great locality for Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Red-faced Warbler, Red Crossbill, Yellow-eyed Junco, Olive Warbler, Pygmy Nuthatch and Stellar's Jay. Renovation is underway at the Carr House site for a visitor center with exhibits, trails and native plantings for hummingbirds and butterflies. The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory conducts regular bird walks in spring and summer.
South Hwy. 92, 7 miles south of Fry Blvd., to Carr Canyon Rd., 8.5 miles to the campgrounds.
(520) 824-3560 X 104: for general and camping information.
(520) 749-8700 in the Tucson area for information on the Chiricahua Mountains.
As you pass through rolling grasslands, punctuated by the cones of extinct volcanoes, watch for Burrowing Owls and Pronghorns along the highway. Near Portal and Cave Creek watch for Elegant Trogans where Arizona Sycamores grow close to the road. At the Southwestern Research Station, a research facility of the American Museum of Natural History, visitors can quietly observe the hummingbird feeders. At Rustler Park, Red-faced Warblers, Mexican Chickadees, Red Crossbills, and other high elevation species await birders. On the west side of the Chiracahua mountain range, is Chiricahua National Monument, also known as "The Wonderland of Rocks." Watch for Zone-tailed Hawks soaring high above the eerie spires of rhyolite, and Hepatic Tanagers in the lush forests of the canyon bottoms.
To Portal via Hwy. 80, North of Douglas or Chiricahua National Monument via Hwy. 181 East of Sunizona.
Coronado National Memorial
(520) 366-5515: National Park Service - Coronado National Memorial
The visitor center has a small museum with exhibits about the Coronado expedition. One viewing area overlooking a small pond has photos of birds and other wildlife native to the area many of which visit the pool to drink. All of the common oak woodland birds such as the Acorn Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse and Montezuma Quail are found here along with Coues's White-tailed Deer, White-nosed Coati, and Javelina. The Scenic overlook at Montezuma Pass provides spectacular views of the San Pedro and San Rafael valleys as well as Mexico. There are daylight picnic areas, but no overnight facilities for camping.
Coronado Memorial Rd. off South Hwy. 92, 16 miles south of Sierra Vista, 21 miles west of Bisbee.
Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, formerly Empire-Cienega Ranch
(520) 258-7200: Bureau of Land Management - Tucson
Northwest of Sierra Vista, in the open grassland, is the Bureau of Land Management's Empire-Cienega Ranch. It gets its name from the cienegas, or marshes that attract riparian species such as Vermilion Flycatchers, as well as a variety of sparrow, including Cassin's and Botteri's in Summer, and Baird's and Sprague's Pipit in winter. Herds of Pronghorn can also be seen.
Entrances on Hwy. 82 East of Sonoita and Hwy. 83 North of Sonoita.
(520) 533-3000: Information
This canyon on Fort Huachuca is arguably the most beautiful in the Huachuca Mountains. Birders should note that the canyons are closed occasionally for maneuvers. You may see White-tailed and Mule deer, Pronghorns or Javalinas. The upper picnic area offers Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Painted Red Start and Elegant Trogan. The Scheelite Canyon Trail offers Mexican Spotted Owls. The Sawmill Canyon Trail is a good area for Montezuma Quail, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and Red-faced and Grace's Warblers. Butterfly enthusiasts will also be kept busy here.
Just west of Sierra Vista. Enter the Fort from Fry Blvd., then follow the signs for 2 miles.
NOTE: Ft. Huachuca is an active military installation. Visitor passes for US citizens are available at the front gate with a valid drivers license, vehicle registration, proof of vehicle insurance (or rental vehicle agreement). All passengers 16 and older must also have photo IDs. Fort Huachuca is occasionally closed for maneuvers. International visitors are not permitted access, unless they are sponsored and escorted by authorized personnel.
Located in the Coronado National Forest on the north slope of the Santa Rita Mountains, this densely wooded canyon is one of the most famous birding localities in Arizona. Most of the southeastern Arizona "specialties," including Elegant Trogan, can be found here. the feeding station at Santa Rita Lodge offers an easy introduction to Broad-billed hummingbirds as well as 14 other species. On summer evenings, Elf Owls can be seen leaving nest cavities in utility poles on lodge grounds. Access to high-altitude species like Flammulated Owl is by trail from the upper picnic area. Florida Wash in the foothills is often good for lowland species like Buff-collared Nightjar.
Interstate 19 via Continental exit, or from Hwy 83 via Greaterville Road.
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
(520) 394-2400: Information
This sanctuary, owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, is one hour west of Sierra Vista. This lush riparian area has over 200 species of birds. Gray Hawks nest in large Cottonwoods, and Zone-tailed and Common Black Hawks can be seen along with Thick-billed Kingbird, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds. The preserve is closed Monday and Tuesday. Visiting hours are 7:30 am to 3:30 pm Wednesday through Sunday. Fees apply.
On Pennsylvania Ave. off Hwy. 82 on the southwest side of Patagonia.
Ramsey Canyon Preserve
520) 378-2785: The Nature Conservancy
Famous among birders and other naturalists for over a century, this 300-acre property in the middle elevations of the canyon provides excellent birding opportunities from April through September. Hummingbirds (including Magnificent, Blue-throated and White-eared) abound. Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Painted Redstart are common in Summer, while Arizona Woodpecker and Spotted Towhee are here year-round. Some Coues's White-tailed Deer, White-nosed Coati and the unique Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frog are common. Open Thursday-Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. November-February, bookstore open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
Hwy 92, 7 miles south of Fry Blvd. to Ramsey Canyon Preserve. Fee: to access trails.
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
(520) 439-6400: Bureau of Land Management - Sierra Vista
This 56,000-acre preserve along the upper San Pedro River is home to over 100 species of reeding birds and provides invaluable habitat for over 250 migrant and wintering birds. A narrow ribbon of Fremont Cottonwoods, some over 100-years-old, support 40% of the nesting Gray Hawks in the U.S. as well as Bell's Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Vermilion Flycatchers are hard to miss in spring and summer, while resident Kingfishers are always elusive. Abert's Towhees, Gambel's Quail and Crissal Thrashers are joined by large flocks of sparrows in winter.
San Pedro House Visitor Center on Hwy. 90, 7 miles east of Sierra Vista.
Sierra Vista Wastewater Wetlands
(520) 458-5775 or (800) 288-3861: Information
Water is precious in the desert, and wildlife is drawn to it regardless of its source. Three ponds, part of a pilot project to test natural treatment of secondary sewer effluent, were hand-planted in 1992 and now support lush aquatic vegetation that attracts thousands of birds like waterfowl, shorebirds, rails, raptors and songbirds. From Fall through Spring Yellow-headed Blackbirds roost among the cattails. Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal and Ruddy Ducks cruise open water under the watchful eyes of hungry Northern Harrier or Peregrine Falcon. Hwy 90, 3.1 miles east of Fry Blvd./Hwy 92 intersection.
Sulphur Springs Valley
(520) 258-7200: Bureau of Land Management - Tucson
This area is for birders on the move. The valley's highways and back roads offer access to a variety of habitats including grassland, desert, scrub, playa lakes and farm fields. The Sandhill Cranes, Brewer's Sparrows winter here, joining the Greater Roadrunner, Scaled Quail, Crissal Thrasher and Pyrrhuloxia. Wintering raptors are the claim to fame here for birders far and wide. It's possible to see over 100 birds of prey of up to 12 species in a day's drive. Ferruginous Hawks, now rarer than Bald Eagles, are common around colonies of Botta's Gophers. Other commonly seen raptors include the Great Horned Owl, Harris's Hawk, Bald and Golden Eagles and a variety of Red-tailed Hawks. The Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, managed by Arizona Game and Fish Department, is located on Coffman Road southwest of the town of Elfrida. This area features a seasonal wetland that attracts up to 6,000 Sandhill Cranes each winter.
East of Sierra Vista between Willcox to the north and Bisbee and Douglas to the south.