Southeast Arizona is a very beautiful place as you can see and it has spectacular birding hot spots to boot. My husband Jeff and I have been coming here for the past 4 years and we just love not only the birding, but the amazing views, landscaping, and wildlife. Over time you get to know a place and this place is no different. Consequently, we have come up with our list of the Top 10 Birding Hot spots of Southeast Arizona which we know you will want to check out!
1st Stop: The Sonora Desert Museum
This place is not just great for birding but has a number of other features that you will enjoy. Such as the beautiful cactus garden, the aviary, the hummingbird aviary, which I really like, and an animal collection which includes 230 native mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. There really is a lot to see and do as you will see on their site map.
As you walk around the over two miles of walking paths you will be able to catch a glimpse and definitely hear the Cactus Wren calling, the Gila Woodpecker, Gambel’s Quail, and see the most famous bird of the Sonoran Desert, the Roadrunner (one of my favorites). You may also see different warblers and hummers, depending on the time of year.
I particularly need to go through the hummingbird aviary as they are my absolute favorite bird. Hummers will zip right by you as they head to a nearby nectar feeder. It is a good place to get up close an personal with these gems and maybe get a great photo of one too.
You will love walking around the gardens with all of the wildflowers and cacti and also enjoy the many butterflies fluttering around and feeding on the flowers.
There are water fountains along the pathway with nice cold water, but you can also take in your own water bottle which I recommend highly. Be sure to stop in the gift shop too and order a cold smoothie. It is very refreshing after a walk around the desert, especially in August.
Jeff and I usually go in the early morning when it is cooler, but this time went around 1 PM and it was not bad. Of course the overhead clouds helped a lot!
This is such a beautiful place to go you will not be disappointed!
Next Stop – #2 Madera Canyon (Santa Rita Mountains)
Madera Canyon is part of the Coronado National Forest and a famous birding spot as it is a resting spot for migrating birds. It has many miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, and camping areas. Depending on the time of year you may see up to 200 species of birds which includes four different tanagers (Summer, Hepatic, Western, Flame-colored), hummingbirds (up to 15 different species), owls, flycatchers, gnatcatchers, hawks, sparrows, woodpeckers, and trogons to name a few. Spring seems to be the most plentiful time to see these birds and easier to spot because of their calling/singing. You can still see some of these birds in the Fall but it can be a little more difficult to find them without their individual vocal sounds that they make mostly in spring.
In this canyon there are a couple of places to stay if you do not wish to camp and where you will be able to get good views of different species of hummingbirds such as Broad-billed, Rivoli’s (Magnificent) , Black-chinned, Anna’s, Blue-throated, and Broad-tailed to name a few. You may also see the Acorn and Arizona Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Black-headed Grosbeak, and possibly the Elegant Trogon if you are lucky.
The Chuparosa B& B is a wonderful, peaceful place, where you can relax and watch the various species of hummers zipping about and drinking nectar at the many feeders spread around the grounds. That plus Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers and Nuthatches, and possibly the Elegant Trogon, Arizona Woodpecker, and the Yellow-eyed Junco to name a few.
From the rooms themselves, to the charming patio and deck, you will be delighted in the pleasant surroundings of the mountains. There is no air conditioning needed here as the temperatures at night can be in the 60’s and 70’s.
The owners Luis and Nancy are great hosts and will make your stay so worth the while. Luis is very knowledgeable about the birding in the canyon and will direct you to the latest hotspot to find specific birds there.
You have to be a guest of the Chuparosa to be able to park at and lounge on the premises. However, if you ask Luis or Nancy they may allow you to come in and check out their feeders for a few minutes.
Check out my video below of the hummingbirds at one of their feeders:
The Santa Rita Lodge is a mile down the road from the Chuparosa and has a public viewing area with covered seating if you need it. You can either park at the Madera Canyon Picnic Area which is just a short walk to the lodge or you can park briefly at the lodge if you are a non-guest.
This is where Jeff and I like to sit and view all of the hummers at the various nectar feeding stations that have been placed around the grounds in the front of the lodge. There are other feeders there as well that attracts the Mexican Jay, the Acorn Woodpecker, and different warblers too just to name a few. We have even seen wild turkeys feeding there.
The Madera Kubo B&B sits in the middle about 1/2 mile down from the Chuparosa and 1/2 mile up from the Santa Rita Lodge. They have a nice little area next to the gift shop with quite a few feeders where you may get to see various hummingbirds, grosbeaks, and woodpeckers. We usually stop here on our walk down the canyon to Santa Rita Lodge to watch the hummers.
Next Stop #3 Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary
The Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary is the most reliable place that we go to see the Lucifer Hummingbird. There is a $5 fee per person to enter into their grounds unless you are a guest there. It is also handicap friendly. They have outdoor seating for you to sit and enjoy not only the hummingbirds but also Black-headed and Blue Grosbeaks, Hooded, Bullock’s and Scott’s Orioles, and Summer and Hepatic Tanagers all crowding the feeders. You may also see migrants such as the Lazuli Bunting and Western Tanager, wintering kinglets, warblers and sparrows, and some of the resident birds which includes Bridled Titmouse, Arizona Woodpecker and Canyon Towhee.
#4 Florida Canyon
Florida Canyon (pronounced Flor ee da) is a good place to see the Rufous-capped Warbler, Indigo Buntings, Black-chinned Sparrows (winter), Black-capped Gnatcatchers and Blue-gray and Black-tailed Gnatchers. The Five-striped Sparrow has also been spotted there.
#5 Ramsey Canyon Preserve
Ramsey Canyon Preserve is the private property of The Nature Conservancy. Admission is $5. This lush canyon is a best known site for up to 14 species of hummingbirds and a diversity of other birds too. There is a very nice trail that you can walk to see possible Elegant Trogon, Plumbeious Vireo, Painted Redstart, Hepatic Tanager and the Blue-throated, Rivoli’s (Magnificent), Broad-tailed, and Black-chinned Hummers to name a few.
There are 23 parking spaces so it is first come, first serve. No pets are allowed here.
#6 Miller Canyon (Beatty’s Guest Ranch)
Beatty’s Ranch in Miller Canyon is nestled in the Huachuca Mountain range. Up a graded dirt road and into Beatty’s Ranch ($5 to get in) you will be taken to a stadium type seating area which is shaded and where you can sit and view quite a few different species of hummingbirds. This includes the White-Eared which Jeff and I were lucky enough to see the last time we were here. If you feel like hiking on up the canyon you may be able to see a Spotted Owl, Eared Quetzal, Aztec Thrush, and the Flame-colored Tanager.
#7 Mt. Lemmon
Mt. Lemmon is the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains. This is a 27 mile trip starting in the Sonoran Desert and ending at a shady Rocky Mountain forest at the top. So you will get a good variety of birds along the way. It is a gorgeous drive just by itself with many places to stop for beautiful scenery, hiking, biking, picnicking, and of course birding.
Places to Stop for Birds:
Babad Do’ag at mile 2.6 where you can see gilded flickers year round.
At mile 4.5 Molino Canyon Vista Point you may see Black-chinned Sparrows in winter. Rock and Canyon Wrens are reliable to see here and Broad-billed and Costa’s Hummingbirds are here year-round.
Mile 5.5 is Molino Basin Campground which hosts Acorn Woodpeckers, Mexican Jays, Bridled Titmice, Bewicks’s Wrens, Crissal Thrashers, Rufous-crowned and Black-chinned Sparrows. In breeding season you will find Cassin’s Kingbirds and the Scott’s Oriole.
At mile 9.9 is Bear Canyon you will see the Acorn and Arizona Woodpeckers, Mexican Jays, Pygmy Nuthatches, Yellow-eyed Juncos. In breeding season is Plumbeous Vireos, Grace’s and Black-throated Gray warblers, Painted Redstarts, and Hepatic Tanagers. You may also see the Flamulated Owl and the Mexican Whip-poor-will there in the evening.
Mile 13.7 is Windy Point Vista, a gorgeous panoramic view of the Tucson Valley. This is a good area for White-throated Swifts, a possible Zone-tailed Hawk in summer, and Spotted Towhees and Hermit Thrushes in winter.
Mile 17.1 is the road to Rose Canyon Lake and campground. Look for Greater Pewees, Cordilleran Flycatchers, warblers such as the Red-faced, Olive, and Virginia’s, Painted Redstart, and Hepatic Tanager.
Mile 19.3 Incinerator Ridge Road (my husband’s favorite place to bird there) requires a high clearance vehicle as you go drive in a little ways you may be able to find a spot before it starts to get rough like we did. Here you can find the Red-faced warbler, Greater Pewee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Grace’s and Olive warblers, and Virginia’s and Black-throated warblers.
Mile 22.1 is Bear Wallow Picnic Area where we find the Cordilleran Flycatcher, Steller’s Jays, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets, and Hermit Thrush.
Mile 24.7 is the junction that will lead you to Summerhaven. This is where we make a stop at the Sawmill Run Restaurant to eat and have a good beer and watch the birds coming in to the feeders. There are other places to eat but this place is our favorite.
Top of Mt. Lemmon. You can find Orange-crowned Warblers, Band-tailed Pigeon, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Western Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, and Western Tanager. Olive Warblers can be found in the breeding season in the Ponderosa Pines.
#8 Paton’s Feeders
Wally and Marion Paton used to live here and always welcomed birders into their yard to view hummingbirds at their feeders in Patagonia. Both are now deceased and the Tuscon Audubon Society now owns their homestead and continue the tradition that the Paton’s started. It is a must see when Jeff and I travel to Arizona! This is the best place to get to see the Violet-crowned Hummingbird and also plenty of other species such as the Costa’s, Rufous, Anna’s, Black-chinned, and Broad-billed. Lucifer’s and Allen’s are occasional and the Starthroat and Ruby-throated have shown up here along with the Cinnamon Hummingbird.
You will also see Thick-billed Kingbirds and Gambel’s Quail and much more as you can see on their Bird Reporting Board. This is used for visitors to post the birds that they have spotted while visiting.
ADDED NOTE! Be sure to stop at Mercedes Cafe in Patagonia for lunch. They have Mexican/Sea Food that is excellent! It is a charming little place that you can eat outside if you want and even bring your dog.
#9 Sweetwater Wetlands
Sweetwater Wetlands has open water ponds, catttail and bulrush marsh, cottonwoods, willows, dead snags, streams, and gravel lined basins. Migration season and winter time are the best times to go where you may see Black-necked Stilts, American Coots, Common Moorhens, Sora and Virginia Rails, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal to name a few.
#10 Green Valley Water Treatment Facility
The Green Valley Water Treatment Facility has a group of settling ponds where you can spot waterfowl and shorebirds in migration or in winter. You need to go to the main gate of the facility and sign in with staff at the Administration Building. They will tell you where you are allowed to bird. Long-necked Stilts, Wilson’s Phalarope and Red-necked Phalarope, Spotted, Least, and Western Sandpipers, White-faced Ibis, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds are just a few of the birds that you may see.
Southeast Arizona is a fantastic place for birding in the United States. There are more than 400 species found annually and about 500 species that have been recorded overall. April and May are great months to visit as the migrant birds are coming through plus the temperatures are pretty decent. Then once monsoon season comes along in mid July (their second spring) through August and early September you will get great views of migrant birds and the many hummingbirds that Southeast Arizona has to offer.
Our Top 10 Picks for Places to bird are listed here but you will find that there are plenty of other spots for birding when you visit. In fact you may just find your own special hotspots that you like to go to that haven’t been mentioned.
Traveling to Southeast Arizona doesn’t just have to be about the birds though. It also has an abundance of beauty…the mountains, the gorgeous flowers and cacti, and the amazing views that go along with it. You will love it whether you are birding or not.
FINDING BIRDS IN SOUTHEAST ARIZONA, by Kenn Kaufman, is a fantastic resource for birding in Southeast Arizona. This is the “go to” book for birding there and we highly recommend it. It provides detailed information for great places to bird when and where, tips for finding the birds, what species, and includes maps and directions for each place. This is a must have!
If you have any comments that you would like to make about birding in Southeast Arizona (i.e. your favorite hotspots) please feel free to make them below. We would love to hear from you!