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Meet Your Southeast Arizona Specialty Birds

Rick Taylor | Borderland Tours

When I was a kid growing up in Tucson, summer vacations meant raggedy cut-off jeans, white cotton tees, and tennies without socks. The skimpy street attire my pals and I favored was designed to give us more time outdoors practicing on our skateboards. Skin damage—and skin cancer—were concepts over a decade away.

Meet Your:

Eventually the sun always won and we retreated indoors to evaporative cooling and our reading—no digital universe in those days. My favorite writer was Weldon Heald. Heald penned a series of articles published by Arizona Highways about his adventures in the Chiricahua Mountains (ultimately collected in 1967 under the title of “Sky Island”) in which he chronicled his jaunts up the so-called “climate ladder.” Leaving the valley floor below Portal where summertime temperatures frequently exceeded 100 degrees, he ascended cave creek to a mountain meadow surrounded by pines and firs called Rustler Park. Still not satisfied, Heald hiked out on the Crest Trail to Chiricahua Peak. Here, among aspen glades and the southernmost Engelmann spruce in North America, the temperatures dropped to the mid-70s.

Vicariously I could smell the sweet mold in the leaf litter on the shady, north-facing slopes and the aromatic air where the trail meandered through tall stands of Ponderosa pine. From June through August, Weldon Heald created many of my daydreams. he was the master of the climate ladder.

That was over forty years ago, but Heald’s image of the Southeastern Arizona border ranges as mountain islands surrounded by a sea of desert still holds true today. rainfall increases about 4 inches per 1000 feet because cool air cannot hold moisture as well as warm air, and is the same as moving north in latitude approximately 300 miles. The vegetation changes from creosote desert to spruce forest over the 5,000 feet of elevation spread separating Portal from Chiricahua Peak are the same one would encounter driving 1500 miles north into Canada.

And—of course—the birds change too. Cactus Wrens give way to Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Verdins morph into Red-faced Warblers. This rich panoply of habitats, from saguaro cactus to Madrean pine-oak woodland and boreal forests of spruce and fir, gives southeast Arizona its concentration of “specialty birds.” Just as boys—and girls—need fantasy to escape the heat, this edition of Tucson Meet Your Birds introduces you to some of our neighbors that use the Sky islands to survive the summer in Southeastern Arizona.

Specialty Birds

Elegant Trogon
ELTR_LoisManowitzMany American birders regard the male Elegant Trogon as the most beautiful bird north of the international boundary. Almost a foot-long with an iridescent green back and scarlet red breast, the multihued male trogon exhibits a yellow bill, an orange eye-ring, immaculate white breast band, dove gray wings, and a black-and-white laddered undertail. Females are fractionally larger than the males. Overall the olive-hued upperparts are a neutral grayish-brown, but she shows a dramatic white “teardrop” behind the eye, a coffee latte-colored vest, and a watermelon pink lower belly. The underside of her tail is more heavily barred than the male’s, and the top is a brilliant plane of beaten copper that gave rise to the former species name: Coppery-tailed Trogon.

Add rarity to the charisma of the Elegant Trogon. With a range that extends as far south as Costa Rica, a 2013 census revealed that only approximately 100 adult trogons summer in the United States, all in the border mountains of Southeastern Arizona. Furthermore, trogons occupy canyons hosting the greatest avian species diversity of any habitat within the whole of the U.S. Social scientists at the University of Arizona have estimated that over 25,000 birders come to Arizona annually to enjoy our unique avifauna. Undoubtedly the foremost symbol of that community is the rare and beautiful Elegant Trogon.
-Rick Taylor, Borderland Tours

Elf Owl
ELOW_JeremyHayesSometimes a bird’s name can be a bit baffling once you become more experienced with the bird itself. For instance the ring on a Ring-necked Duck can be very hard to see and Turkey Vultures don’t look all that much like Turkeys. The Elf Owl certainly does not have this problem! Everything about this tiny predator of insects is reminiscent of an elfin creature. Their miniscule size of 5 to 6 inches in length makes them the smallest owl in the world and their startlingly loud call sounds like ethereal laughter. This bird certainly lives up to its name. With a breeding range in the U.S. restricted to the southern half of Arizona and portions of New Mexico and western Texas, it is no wonder why this bird is featured on the logo for the Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival.

Many of us in Tucson associate this bird with saguaros and indeed they do often use cavities created by woodpeckers in these giant cacti as nest sites. During late April through July their call can be heard throughout the deserts surrounding Tucson but they can also be found at higher elevations as well. They will also use woodpecker holes in Arizona sycamores, various oaks and even pines in SE Arizona’s Sky Islands. Next time you find yourself in suitable habitat as night begins to fall, be sure to listen for this amazing little bird.
-Jennie MacFarland, IBA Conservation Biologist

Five-striped Sparrow
FSSP_RichardFrayBirders in southeast Arizona are lucky to have one of the most striking and rarest breeding sparrows in the U.S. The Five-striped Sparrow is a mostly Mexican species whose range barely extends into Arizona just south of Tucson. It can be the bane of birdwatchers (including myself!) who choose to locate them “out of season” when they are very secretive. Once the summer rains start, nearly inaccessible mesquite and hackberry-filled mountain canyons come alive with this sparrow’s song. Only an estimated 75–100 individuals inhabit places such as California Gulch and Montosa Canyon (the two well-known Five-striped locations), making them hard to find even at their most conspicuous!

So why even try to see a Five-striped Sparrow? Well, because they are a beautiful bird with five white stripes around the face, bold triangular black “whiskers” and a rich, rusty back. First found in Arizona in 1957, birders now come from everywhere to catch a glimpse of this species. Most hear the bird before seeing it, and luckily Five-striped Sparrows are not shy about showing off their large vocal repertoire that may contain up to 200 different songs!
-Matt Griffiths, Communications, Habitat Restoration, AZ IBA Program

Gilded Flicker
GIFL_JBurnsA regular at our Mason Center water feature, Gilded Flicker is one of Tucson’s Most Wanted (Specialty Birds). Have you seen this handsome woodpecker and the golden flash of its wing feather shafts?

Once lumped with look-alike Northern Flicker (which is widespread throughout North America and comes in Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted forms), Gilded Flicker is found from extreme southeast California and Baja California, southeast Nevada, through central Arizona to northwest Mexico. Found singly or in pairs, it frequently forages on the ground for ants and other insects, and also eats fruits and berries.

Closely associated with cactus and yucca plants, this cavity nester/master carpenter is a keystone species of the Sonoran Desert, creating crucial nest holes used by other birds and small mammals. Gilded Flicker uses its strong bill to excavate deep holes toward the top of saguaro arms. The saguaro responds by secreting a sap that hardens into a bark-like shell, defending against water loss, and creating a waterproof lining inside the cavity. This hardened structure, known as a ‘saguaro boot’, was historically used by the desert-dwelling Seri people to carry water.
-Erin Olmstead

Harris’s Hawk
HAHA_AlWilsonI knew the first time I saw a Harris’s Hawk that this was a remarkable bird. I was immediately impressed with the richness of its color. According to color psychology, brown is a serious, down-to-earth color signifying structure and support. What better terms to describe such a beautiful creature, and even more so knowing the nature of this bird’s way of life?

Harris’s Hawks most often nest and cooperatively hunt within a social unit of a small number of birds. This unit typically consists of an alpha female (who may sometimes breed with two males), or a main breeding pair, and a few other non-breeding adults. All adults care for the young. Eventually young may grow up to care for additional broods. These hawks are unique among raptors for hunting in family groups and are only one of two types of hawks in the world that hunt in this fashion. By hunting in groups, they are able to take down larger prey than if hunting on their own. Their style works in such a way where some members of the family group flush out prey and chase it toward other hunters in the group. The structure of the Harris’s Hawk family unit, and the support the birds provide to each other through hunting and raising young, are commendable traits.
-Sara Pike

Rivoli’s Hummingbird
MAHU_GWestOn first encounter, a Rivoli’s Hummingbird brings to mind a large butterfly. The relatively slow wing beat, though, is faster than that of the larger Blue-throated Mountain-gem, the largest hummingbird in North America.

Of the two races of this species that inhabit a combined range extending from southwestern United States to Panama, Arizona has the smaller northern race (Eugenes fulgens fulgens). Males are around ten percent larger than females by most measures. However, the females have bills that are around ten percent longer, which would make some nectar sources available to her that the male cannot reach.

The male’s green throat and purple crown sometimes flash in the light but usually the bird appears to be all dark with a white spot behind the eye. The female is much plainer, with a white stripe behind the eye, a noticeably long bill, and mottled gray-green sides. Easy to see at some feeders in Madera Canyon and elsewhere, this species wanders far from its southeast Arizona stronghold. There are regular records from the White Mountains, and northwest along the Mogollon Rim and as far north as Flagstaff. It prefers cool, shaded Madrean pine-oak canyons. While some birds winter locally at feeding stations, most are migratory, appearing in Arizona during early to mid-March.
-Paul Green, Former Executive Director


Tucson Audubon Society
300 E University Blvd. #120 Tucson, AZ 85705

Mason Center
3835 W Hardy Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85742

Paton Center for Hummingbirds
477 Pennsylvania Ave.
Patagonia, AZ 85624
520 415-6447


Tucson Audubon Society
300 E University Blvd. #120
Tucson, AZ 85705

Mason Center
3835 W Hardy Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85742

Paton Center for Hummingbirds
477 Pennsylvania Ave.
Patagonia, AZ 85624
520 415-6447


Tucson Audubon Society
300 E University Blvd. #120
Tucson, AZ 85705

Mason Center
3835 W Hardy Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85742

Paton Center for Hummingbirds
477 Pennsylvania Ave.
Patagonia, AZ 85624
520 415-6447

Michael T. Bogan (he/him)

Michael is an Assistant Professor of Aquatic biology at the University of Arizona. Originally from California, he earned his PhD at Oregon State University, where his research focused on stream ecosystems of the Madrean Sky Islands and Sonoran Desert. He is well-known for his work on Santa Cruz River Heritage Project, and his beautiful photos of dragonflies. His research topics include Arid Lands, Conservation Biology, Invasive Species and Population and Community Ecology.

Michael serves as the faculty advisor for the UA chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, a national Diversity in STEM organization. Michael is a partner on our Santa Cruz River Heritage Project work and has contributed to the Vermilion Flycatcher in the past year.

Michael has a hard time choosing a single favorite bird, but says that Curve-billed Thrashers are pretty hard to beat. “I could watch them goofing around through the leaf litter and be entertained for days!”


Alberto Búrquez

I currently work at the Instituto de Ecología, Department of Ecology of Biodiversity, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). I got my bachelor and master’s degree at UNAM, and my PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK. I do research in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Ethnoecology. Drylands ecology and societal use of resources in water-limited systems have been an ever-present passion through my life. It might be because I am a Sonoran Desert born person. However, my personal theory is that once someone experiences the desert landscapes they are smitten for life. I am passionate about bird and honorary bird species like bats and hawkmoths, particularly in their mutualist interactions with plants. My current projects include: 1) Columnar cacti: ecology, evolution, societal services. 2) Effects of extreme events on vegetation, 3) Species Distribution and Biogeography, 4) Indigenous lands and ecosystem processes, and 5) drought and freezing resistance in plants at the edges of distribution.


Jeanne Calhoun

Fascinated by wilderness and everything wild since growing up backpacking with her family in the Sierras, Jeanne pursued a diverse environmental career over the past 30+ years.  With a Bachelor’s in Biology (Carleton College) and a Master’s in Geology (Oregon State University), she pursued multiple aspects of environmental protection, with the last 23 years focused on ecological conservation in Arizona, working for The Nature Conservancy, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the US National Park Service.  During her ten years at TNC, Jeanne was responsible for on-the-ground conservation in four ecoregions in Arizona, management of TNC’s preserve system, land management and restoration, government relations, and water policy.

Jeanne spent seven years with the USFWS where she oversaw threatened and endangered species issues in southern Arizona. She enjoyed the challenges of dealing with controversial issues such as the international border, proposed mining projects, energy infrastructure, wilderness management and climate change.

Most recently, she worked for Grand Canyon National Park as Chief of the Science and Resource Management Division, where she oversaw all science research as well as natural and cultural resource management activities in the park.  During her years at the Grand Canyon, Jeanne initiated the first Paleontological Resources Inventory for the park, led a Climate Change Analysis for the park’s watershed, reinitiated the effort to designate 94% of the park as Wilderness, and led publication of the Natural and Cultural Resource Condition Assessment for the park.

Recently retired, Jeanne has a passion for water sports, hiking and exploring Arizona’s spectacular landscapes, and is learning how to play the saxophone.


Colleen Cacy

Colleen is a partner with the firm Gadarian and Cacy, PLLC, a Tucson law firm specializing in professional Tax Strategy, Estate Planning and Asset Protection law.

  • J.D. from the University of Kansas School of Law (1986)
  • President of the Board of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council
  • Elected member, American College of Trust and Estate Council
  • Memberships: Executive Committee of the Probate and Trust Section of the State Bar, the State Bar of Arizona, the Probate and Trust and Tax Sections of the State Bar, the American Bar Association, and the Pima County Bar Association.
  • Past President of the Board of ZUZI Dance Company


Richard Carlson

Richard started birding as a child in Minnesota 70 years ago. After a brief interlude at Harvard, where he majored in caving, mountain climbing, winter mountaineering and economics, he began birding again in Washington DC with the Maryland Ornithological Society. He was one of Chan Robbin’s volunteers in establishing the first Breeding Bird Surveys. Bribed by the Nixon administration to leave town with a fellowship to Stanford, he moved West in 1969. He worked at Stanford Research Institute, where he co-authored “Solar Energy in America’s Future” and led field trips for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. He became President of the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory and expanded his birding to Latin America. He has birded throughout the Neotropics and in Africa, Australia, Antarctica, India, China and Europe. He hopes to ultimately see at least half the birds of the world. He and his wife Pat now migrate between homes in Tucson and Lake Tahoe depending on where the birds are.


Tricia Gerrodette

Tricia never wound up with a career but instead had a variety of jobs and life experiences. She's been a bookkeeper, a typist, a proofreader and then a test analyst for a defense contracting company. She was a tour guide for trips into Mexico's Copper Canyon for Elderhostel (now Road Scholar). The trips focused on Mexican and railroad history as well as the history and culture of the Rarámuri (Tarahumara) natives.

Secretary of the board for Tucson Audubon, member of the board for Friends of the San Pedro River, president of the now-defunct Huachuca Audubon Society, treasurer for Sky Island Unitarian Universalist Church, Water Sentinel with Sierra Club Water Sentinels, Steering Committee for Sustainable Water Workgroup.

When Huachuca Audubon Society disbanded in May 2016, Cochise County became part of the "assigned" territory for Tucson Audubon Society. That was a huge amount of land, although not too many people, to absorb. I was invited to be on the Tucson Audubon board to help with that effort, and to help protect the San Pedro River. That work still continues! Photo by Mark Levy.

Kathy Jacobs

Kathy Jacobs is a professor of Environmental Science at the University of Arizona and Director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions (CCASS). CCASS is a component of the Arizona Institutes for Resilience, and builds capacity to accelerate adaptation and on-the-ground solutions to climate issues.  She is currently a member of a team that is building the Indigenous Resilience Center at the UA.  From 2010 – 2013, Jacobs worked in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House. She was director of the Third National Climate Assessment, and the lead advisor on water science, policy, and adaptation. From 2006-2009 Jacobs was Executive Director of th

e Arizona Water Institute, a consortium of Arizona’s three universities focused on water sustainability. She worked 23 years for the Arizona

Department of Water Resources, including 15 as the director of the Tucson Active Management Area.  She was engaged in multiple aspects of implementing Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act, including development of water conservation programs and the Assured Water Supply Rules.  Jacobs has served on nine National Academy panels; she earned her M.L.A. in environmental planning from Berkeley.


Elisabeth (Lissie) Jaquette

Elisabeth (Lissie) Jaquette had been an occasional birder prior to moving to Arizona in 2018. Since connecting with Tucson Audubon, she has become increasingly passionate about birding, and is excited to give back by serving on the board. Lissie first became involved with Tucson Audubon by participating in the Habitat at Home program, then by joining as a member, and more recently by volunteering with the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival, the Birdathon, and several bird surveys.

Lissie’s education includes a BA from Swarthmore College and an MA from Columbia University. Since 2017 she has served as Executive Director for the American Literary Translators Association, a non-profit membership organization.

When Lissie is not birding, she enjoys hiking and trail running in the Sonoran Desert, and translating literature from Arabic to English (her latest book was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Awards). She lives in Tucson with her 1-year-old son, Cassin (named for the kingbird); dog, Cooper (named for the hawk); and husband, Dan (sadly not named for any birds).


Riana Johnson

Riana Johnson is a skilled researcher with experience in quantitative, qualitative, and data visualization within the energy efficiency and utility industry. She brings creativity along with strong data analysis skills to her work. She uses her background in fine art and econometrics to deftly craft data visualizations and tell data-driven stories. Riana is a new birder and loves living in Tucson where the Vermillion Flycatchers are plenty. She recently started a chapter of the Feminist Bird Club in Tucson where she can mix her passion for activism, art, and birds. Riana has degrees in Political Science and Studio Art from New York University and a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Arizona.


Linda McNulty

Linda McNultyLinda’s education includes a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Rochester, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Arizona, where she graduated Summa cum Laude and was elected to the Order of the Coif. A recently retired partner at the law firm of Lewis and Roca, LLP, Linda was a member of the firm’s Real Estate and Finance practice group. Her law practice focused primarily on commercial real estate, business and natural resources law. Linda has served a number of board roles, including: President of the Tucson chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) and member to the board of directors of the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority, the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, and the Wilderness Land Trust. Early in her career, Linda worked for the Arizona Department of Water Resources and she’s maintained a connection to water policy issues in Arizona. Linda has been a member of Tucson Audubon Society since 1976 and lives with her husband Michael in Tucson.


R. Cynthia Pruett

Cynthia-Pruitt-with-raffle-tickets-by-Kendall-KroesenFor a long period I was what you might call a "lapsed birder". I started birding in college with a boyfriend who became my husband and we traveled all over the United States while he was in the service; leading to a pretty comprehensive bird list. Then suddenly, other life activity got in the way and for about 25 years birding was shelved. In the late 80's I was introduced to an avid woman birder at an environmental conference and the passion came back. My work career involved many executive jobs, some of them key environmental positions, which only reinforced my understanding of the need to protect important habitat around the world. It's (the birding) led to many trips to many countries, a joy of seeing both new and revisited birds and of course, to becoming active in Audubon chapters, both here and in Virginia.


Cynthia M. VerDuin, CPA

Cynthia began birding when she was 10 by participating with her girl scout troop create a bird-watching badge. In the 90’s she began birding with family, friends and with bird walks in various Ohio regions. Since 2010, she has enjoyed Tucson Audubon bird walks and short trips. Beginning in 2016, she has participated in the Birding Festival, serving as a volunteer in 2017-2019 and at Meet your Birds events. She served on the Gala and Finance committees in 2016-2017, and joined the board in 2018. She now serves as Treasurer and Search Committee co-chair.

Cynthia founded her accounting firm in 2007, focusing on not-for-profits, small companies and individuals, providing accounting, tax planning and reporting services, calling upon her Kent State University (BA degree in accounting with honors) and her experience at one of the “Big Eight” accounting firms (Arthur Andersen). Cynthia is also a Physical Therapist and commercial hot air balloon pilot, and enjoys hiking, birding, biking and swimming.