Planning Your Visit
For info on the sites mentioned on this page, please see our Where to Bird in SEAZ page. However, for full southeast Arizona birding information, we recommend our Finding Birds in Southeastern Arizona (2015, Revised 8th Edition).
The first birding visit
If you are coming to southeast Arizona for the first time, it is helpful to become acquainted with the common birds and habitats. You could begin in the Tucson area palo verde/saguaro desertscrub where the typical species include Gambel’s Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Gila Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Canyon Towhee and in summer, White-winged Dove and Black-chinned Hummingbird, or in winter White-crowned Sparrow and Anna’s Hummingbird. Agua Caliente Park, Catalina State Park, Tohono Chul Park, Tucson Mountain Park, the two units of Saguaro National Park and Sabino Canyon are good examples of desertscrub near Tucson. To see water birds and shorebirds, the ponds at Sweetwater Wetlands and Arthur Pack Park are good from fall through spring.
Another good location in a different habitat is the oak woodlands of Madera Canyon. Stop on the way at Florida Wash for birds of brushy areas such as Crissal Thrasher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Black-throated Sparrow, Phainopepla and any desertscrub birds you may have missed. At Madera Canyon Picnic Area look for Acorn and Arizona woodpeckers, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse and Painted Redstart. At Santa Rita Lodge check the feeders which attract, in season, oak woodland birds including Scott’s Oriole, Yellow-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak and a variety of hummingbirds. The canyon is also home to several species of owls.
The conifer forest closest to Tucson is found in the Santa Catalina Mountains (Mt. Lemmon), reached by driving the Catalina Highway to Bear and Rose canyons. Look there for Steller’s Jay, Pygmy Nuthatch, Yellow-eyed Junco and in summer, Greater Pewee, Grace’s, Red-faced and Olive warblers and Hepatic Tanager. Also in summer check the hummingbird feeders in Summerhaven as well as the willows along the creek. You can drive to these same coniferous habitats in the Chiricahua and Pinaleño mountains and hike to them in the Santa Ritas and Huachucas.
Planning your trip
Decide when you’ll visit based on what you want to see. The breeding season in southeast Arizona extends through most of the year but primarily from early March through the summer rainy season in July and August. Summer residents generally arrive between March and June and some leave as early as August. Consult the annotated checklist and seasonal occurrence charts for dates for the species that interest you. If this is your first visit and you want to see the birds residing permanently in southeast Arizona you can come any time of the year; the winter sun will feel good whereas summer temperatures are HOT.
As you plan note that many of the summer residents, including most of the “Mexican specialties” on the north edge of their breeding range in southeast Arizona, nest in the mountains or mid-elevation canyons. Temperatures drop as you gain elevation (roughly 3ºF for each 1000 feet) so birding in the mountains in the summer can be quite pleasant. Even winter days can be quite warm in the deserts. Plan to birdwatch early in the morning. In summer plan to be at your birding destination near sunrise.
In planning your field time and travel schedules or making phone calls, be aware that Arizona remains on Mountain Standard Time year-round. In summer, that equates to Pacific Daylight Time.
Southern Arizona is sparsely settled outside cities and towns. Your birding destination for the day may be miles from the nearest restaurant or motel. Some accommodations that cater to birders are noted in the descriptions of birding spots in Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona, which also includes a list at the back of the book.
Suggestions for people with limited time
- Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson (early in summer)
- Agua Caliente Park for desert birds plus some riparian species; go early. Then as many stops on Mt. Lemmon Highway as time permits.
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and/or the Tucson Mountain Unit of Saguaro National Park for desertscrub birds and Sweetwater Wetlands (except summer) for water birds.
- Catalina State Park for desertscrub birds and Arthur Pack Park for water birds.
- Sabino Canyon plus a more thorough exploration of Mt. Lemmon.
- Florida Wash for desertscrub and grassland birds, Madera Canyon for oak woodland birds and hummers and visit Arivaca Cienega.
- Catalina State Park, Madera Canyon, or Paton Center for Hummingbirds/Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.
- Options 1 and 2 from the 1-day list.
- Option 1 plus San Pedro Riparian NCA and Garden Canyon.
3 OR MORE DAYS
Select from the places mentioned above plus Chiricahua Mountains (Cave Creek & Rustler Park), Willcox Lake, Buenos Aires NWR, California Gulch or other nearby areas.
Important resources to help you plan a trip to southeast Arizona:
- Check out our online Tucson Birding Trail Map. Find info on 45 birding locations in and around Tucson, separated by habitat type! Pick up a FREE printed copy at our Nature Shops.
- Use our Birding Southeast Arizona App
- Look for an upcoming free Tucson Audubon field trip
- Check the Southeast Arizona Rare Bird Alert
- Accessible Tucson birding locations
- Explore Tucson area birding month by month
- Learn tips for safe desert birding
Revised 8th Edition, 2015
Tucson Audubon’s updated edition brings together all the latest information on finding birds in southeast Arizona. This is your best source of detailed information that will help in planning bird watching adventures in the region.
A great interactive companion to our Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona, our new app covers over 130 birding sites in six subregions in and around Tucson, all vetted by local experts. Search by nearest site, by bird, or by city and get exact directions! Keep track of your sightings and share with friends on Facebook.
Sweetwater Wetlands is a gem of urban bird and wildlife activity right in urban Tucson. 306 bird species have been documented here. Join our weekly bird walks on Wednesdays and see what you can find!