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The Southeast Arizona Birding Year

For brief descriptions of most of the sites mentioned on this page, please see our Where to Bird page. However, for full southeast Arizona birding information, we recommend our Finding Birds in Southeastern Arizona (2015, Rev. 8th Edition).

Southeast Arizona has a great variety of habitats encompassing everything from lower elevation Colorado River Sonoran desert up to sub-alpine forests at the tops of our “Sky Island” mountain chains. Because of this variety, birders (and birds!) can enjoy near-perfect weather throughout the year. Here are just some of the highlights:

January

Wintering raptors and cranes grace the Sulphur Springs Valley. Check fields there and in the Santa Cruz Flats for Mountain Plover. Sparrows and longspurs abound in the San Rafael and Sulphur Springs valleys. Look for loons at Patagonia and Parker Canyon lakes. Costa’s Hummingbird and thrashers are courting in the low desert in Avra Valley. Low elevation riparian areas and parks hold wintering passerines. A few “summer” hummers hold out at feeders. See also December.

February

Early northbound migrants begin to arrive; Western Grebes, Cinnamon Teal and Tree Swallows are conspicuous. Wintering ducks are showing brighter plumage. Raptors and sparrows remain abundant. Nesting is underway for thrashers and Anna’s and Costa’s hummingbirds. Resident passerines burst into song. Vermilion Flycatcher numbers build. Many January birds continue.

March

Although mornings are still cool, spring is very evident. Duck and crane numbers drop. Common Black-Hawks and Swainson’s Hawks arrive, followed later by Gray Hawks. Early shorebirds are passing through. Breeding is in full swing in the low desert. After wet winters, wildflowers explode in the desert. Swallow numbers swell over ponds, especially at Willcox. Sure signs of spring are Turkey Vultures riding thermals over Tucson and Bell’s Vireos and Lucy’s Warblers singing from mesquite thickets. Violet-crowned Hummingbirds are nearly certain at the Paton’s feeders.

April

Migrant landbirds appear everywhere in profusion. Specialty warblers arrive in numbers at all elevations. Other western warblers pass through, including Townsend’s and Hermit. It is still cool enough to find them on the desert, though temperatures are rising rapidly. Ponds and lakes host well over a dozen shorebird species. Check the Avra Valley wastewater ponds and Willcox lake. Elf Owls and Western Screech-Owls are active in lower elevations. Flammulated Owls and Whiskered Screech-Owls are in higher pine-oak areas. Hummingbirds crowd feeders in Patagonia, Portal, Sierra Vista and Madera Canyon. Listen for the peculiar calls of Elegant Trogons as they investigate nest cavities in sycamores in Madera and Cave Creek canyons and elsewhere. Buff-breasted Flycatchers and trogons are present in Fort Huachuca canyons.

May

Most of the specialty nesting birds have arrived. The dawn chorus reaches its peak. Hot days drive migrants to higher elevations in oak and conifer habitats. Nightbirds are at their most vocal in the same areas. The Nogales to Patagonia corridor hosts Tropical and Thick-billed kingbirds and Rose-throated Becard. Rising daytime temperatures quiet bird activity by 10 am in lower areas. A good plan is to start the birding day in a low area at sunrise and work up through a trogon canyon and on up to conifers atop a “sky island” (Madera Canyon trails in the Santa Ritas, Carr Canyon in the Huachucas, or Rustler Park in the Chiricahuas). Mt. Lemmon will serve but lacks trogons.

Mississippi Kites, Common Black-Hawks and Zone-tailed Hawks are active in the Dudleyville-Aravaipa Canyon area. Late May through early June is a good time for the vagrant species birders hope for; check bar graphs for possibilities and consult the Rare Bird Alert. Beware of dehydration and sunburn; drink frequently; protect your skin all day long.

June

The hottest, driest month. Desert temperatures often reach 80º by 8 am and 100º by 10 am! Bird activity dwindles quickly and the dawn chorus goes sotto voce. The latest arriving nesters (Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher) finally return. Southbound Wilson’s Phalaropes appear by the end of the month. Birders dream of finding a Yellow Grosbeak in June but most often settle for the more expected nesting rarities and a chance to study juvenile plumages. A trip to the top of a “sky island” (see May) is a good way to escape the heat. Red-faced, Grace’s and Olive warblers and Cordilleran Flycatchers are active along with Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and tanagers.

July

By mid-month violent afternoon “monsoon” thunderstorms usually break the extreme heat. Humidity rises and Botteri’s and Cassin’s sparrows start singing. Five-striped Sparrows are singing in California Gulch. A Brown Pelican may wander north from the Gulf of California, joining growing numbers of migrant shorebirds. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks nest in Nogales area ponds including Kino Springs, Palo Duro Creek golf course and Rio Rico ponds. Calliope and Lucifer hummingbirds are most likely at Huachuca Mountain canyon feeders. Plain-capped Starthroat is unlikely but possible at canyon feeders. Watch out for lightning and flash flooding from storms.

August

Another great birding month. Summer monsoons continue as migration picks up and diversity peaks. This is the top month for “Big Days.” Numbers of most of the breeding specialties are peaking. Scour the mountain canyons for a casual Aztec Thrush. Hone your hummer skills – diversity and density peak. Shorebirds and swallows swarm at ponds. By month’s end migrant warblers are common. Bunting flocks (mostly Lazuli) work sunflower patches and weeds in open areas. Townsend’s and Hermit warblers grace the mountains. Five-striped Sparrows continue to sing.

September

Monsoon rains peter out; heat and humidity moderate. Hummingbirds continue to mass at feeders. Locally breeding neotropical migrant species depart by month’s end. In the mountains check the mixed feeding flocks working the trees. Migrants congregate in the lowlands, anywhere there is water. Cassin’s and Plumbeous vireos are on the move. Carefully working any water hole or patch of trees could turn up an interesting migrant. Check ponds for Black Terns and rare shorebirds among the hordes of “peeps” and phalaropes. Purple Martins and Swainson’s Hawks are conspicuous migrants while the Empidonax challenge lurks in every woodland. Check prominent perches for Olive-sided Flycatchers and the much rarer Eastern Kingbird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Winter sparrows begin to arrive in numbers.

October

As the days shorten and cool, desert residents briefly sing again; listen for thrashers, wrens — and relieved people! October offers the best chance for vagrant passerines from the east. Scour the migrant traps. As shorebirds dwindle duck numbers build. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks often mass at Nogales ponds. Western (and a few Clark’s) Grebes turn up in small numbers. Wintering hawks arrive in numbers; check Sulphur Springs and Avra valleys. Wintering Anna’s Hummingbirds arrive as summer breeding hummers depart. Lawrence’s Goldfinches may be in every weed patch in a good year, absent in others. By month’s end nights are cool enough that most of the late migrant passerines are in the lowlands or mid-level canyons. Yellow-rumped Warblers invade.

November

One of the quieter months for birding, punctuated by late wandering migrants and vagrants. Check deeper lakes (Patagonia and Parker Canyon) for rare Common Loons, grebes and diving ducks. Check wigeon flocks for a Eurasian. Ferruginous Hawks, Mountain Plovers and thousands of Sandhill Cranes return to the Sulphur Springs Valley; watch for Rough-legged Hawks. Sage Thrashers and Sage Sparrows are often in Avra Valley. A run from the Santa Cruz Flats to Avra Valley Wastewater Treatment Plant (WTP) or from Whitewater Draw (Sandhill Cranes) to Willcox can be very productive.

December

Join one of the many Christmas Bird Counts. Examine sparrow flocks for the rare White-throated, Golden-crowned and Harris’s sparrows. Check berry-laden bushes for the possibility of a casual Rufous-backed Robin or Varied Thrush. Hunt for elusive Sprague’s Pipit and Baird’s Sparrow along with the more numerous longspurs in the San Rafael Valley. If fall has been mild, late migrant passerines may linger in broad-leafed trees; Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned warblers are less picky. Driving the Redington Road from Tucson can yield bluebirds, solitaires, sparrows and raptors in good years. A few Magnificent or Blue-throated hummingbirds may winter at feeders; Anna’s is the only common hummer. Check flocks of Inca Doves for Common or Ruddy Ground-Doves.

Important resources to help you plan a trip to southeast Arizona:

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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

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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

color_square_face_right

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.