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Bird Sightings

Madera Canyon Birds: Spring 2017
March 1 to May 31

Summary: The past winter was particularly cool & moist early then warm & dry late. This means some flowers, lots of plant growth, and Madera Creek continues to flow. Springtime in southeast Arizona is usually a dry period and becoming quite warm in May. Birds and other wildlife will be concentrating in areas where they can find food and water.

Red-tailed Hawks are found throughout the Santa Cruz River valley and in smaller numbers up towards Madera Canyon. Their numbers drop rapidly throughout early spring as the bulk of the wintering population migrates north, leaving a few nesting pairs to remain through summer. Cooper’s Hawks, year-round canyon residents, will be setting up territories to nest in the canyon. A few Northern Goshawks remain all year in the Canyon at higher elevations, though rarely seen. Sharp-shinned Hawks are rare migrants through the Canyon in spring. Swainson's and Zone-tailed Hawks may be found over the grasslands in spring, but they are uncommon. Golden Eagles breed in a nearby canyon and may occasionally be seen hunting the grasslands or soaring high over the Canyon. Northern Harriers may be seen over the grasslands at the base of the canyon through April. Rarely all four of the local falcons, may be found on the road up to the Canyon. American Kestrel is a resident breeder along Madera Canyon Road. Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Prairie Falcon are rare visitors.

Three species of quail can be found in or around the canyon. Gambel’s Quail are common in the desert scrub at lower elevations (more common towards Green Valley). Scaled Quail also inhabit the lower elevations, though uncommon; a few utilize the grasslands at the base of the Santa Rita Mountains. Within the Canyon, the only quail to be encountered is the much sought after Montezuma Quail. If you know their calls, they can often be heard from the trails traversing the oak-savannah habitat. If seen, it is most often as they flush from under foot. Wild Turkeys can be found throughout, from the canyon bottom to the higher elevation oak covered slopes and occasionally out on the grasslands. This re-introduced population is wild and flourishing, particularly near bird feeders.

Mourning Doves are present year round around the canyon frequenting feeding stations and are common in spring. White-winged Doves have returned and will be in the Canyon through the summer. You might find singles or flocks of Band-tailed Pigeons along trails at higher elevations and occasionally at feeders. A lone Inca Dove has spent the winter at the Santa Rita Lodge and may remain through spring in the area. Greater Roadrunners are regular all year around Proctor and down into the desert, listen for the males “coooing” song through the spring. Yellow-billed Cuckoos do not arrive in the canyon until June.

Now is a good time to listen for Great Horned, Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, and Northern Pygmy-Owls. They are in the canyon but are very hard to find except when they are calling. Elf Owls will arrive in late March and several pairs usually nest from Whitehouse Picnic Area up to the Mt. Wrightson parking area. A few Spotted and Flammulated Owls are in the forests in the upper canyon but are very hard to locate. Barn Owls may be encountered at dusk and dawn along less traveled roads in the desert below the Canyon.

By April Lesser Nighthawks may be seen between dusk and dawn along Whitehouse and Madera Canyon Roads; easily seen around the lights along the entrance road to La Posada. Common Poorwill can be heard in the evenings below Proctor and in the lower portions of the Canyon. Mexican Whip-poor-wills can be heard from the Amphitheater parking area and up the Canyon. Vaux’s Swift is an uncommon migrant over Madera Canyon, while White-throated Swifts are often seen high over ridgelines.

The spring hummingbird migration is from March through April. Broad-billed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds return to breed and are the most numerous. Most of the Broad-tailed and all of the Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds will move through to more northern mountains. The few Anna's, and Magnificent Hummingbirds that overwinter become more numerous. Any other species of hummingbirds are uncommon to rare and should be documented and reported.

A few Elegant Trogons overwintered in nearby Florida Canyon and possibly one in Madera Canyon. The main population of trogons should return to the Canyon in late March and early April followed by nesting in May. They can be heard along the stream beds from the Amphitheater Parking Area up canyon on the Carrie Nation & Super Trails and at Bog and Kent Springs.

Ladder-backed, Arizona, and Acorn Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers are common. Hairy Woodpeckers are uncommon in the forested area high on the mountain. The wintering population of Red-naped and any other Sapsucker species will be moving north by the end of March. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers are common around Green Valley but not in the canyon.

Eighteen species of flycatchers have been recorded for the canyon and all are here in spring. Some come early and others, like the Sulphur-bellied will not arrive until late May. Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet may be found around Proctor. Olive-sided Flycatcher is usually at higher elevations but passes through quickly in spring. The most common species in spring are Greater Pewee, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond's, Dusky, Gray, Cordilleran, Pacific Slope, Dusky-capped, Ash-throated, and Brown-Crested Flycatchers, Black & Say's Phoebe, and Cassin's & Western Kingbirds.

Loggerhead Shrike is uncommon in the grasslands below the Canyon. The resident Hutton’s Vireos will be joined by migrating Cassin's Vireo and nesting Plumbeous and Warbling Vireos. Bell’s Vireos are easily heard, not so easily seen, from Proctor down through the brushy grasslands.

Mexican Jays may be found in flocks throughout the Canyon. Steller's Jays are uncommon in the fir forest higher on the mountains, not likely to be seen near any road. The Common Ravens are the more common of the two ravens in the Canyon with some flocks of Chihuahuan Ravens in the mesquite grasslands and pecan groves along the Santa Cruz River. Western Scrub-Jays are rare along Proctor Road down from the Canyon.

White-breasted Nuthatches, Bridled Titmice, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are common in the juniper-oak woodlands. The numbers of kinglets diminish as they migrate to breeding grounds to north. This is the time of year that we get to see their bright red crowns as the male quarrel. There may be a few Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches high in the canyon near Josephine Saddle. Flocks of Bushtits are common in the juniper-oak habitats. Brown Creepers may be anywhere in above 5,000 feet. Verdins are permanent residents, found in the mesquite grassland around Proctor.

Five species of wrens may be found along the roads to and in the Canyon any time of year: Cactus at lower elevations, and House, Bewick's, Canyon, and rarely Rock in the Canyon. Eastern Winter and Pacific Wrens are rare. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers migrate through the mesquite-grasslands near Proctor and breed in the juniper-oak habitats along the Four Springs Trail. Black-tailed Gnatcatchers might be found in the mesquite grassland (below Proctor) while the rare Black-capped Gnatcatchers has been reported from the Proctor Road area trail.

American Robins are common migrants in the Canyon. Bluebirds of any type are usually uncommon in the Canyon. Eastern Bluebirds are or were rare residents in the juniper-oak habitats and may breed near the Bog Springs Campground. Townsend’s Solitaire is a rare find in the Canyon with no reports over the winter. Hermit Thrushes are common all year; their beautiful songs can be heard in the upper reaches of the Canyon in the spring. Swainson's Thrush is an uncommon spring migrant.

Northern Mockingbirds and Curve-billed Thrashers can be found along Whitehouse Canyon Rd. Resident Crissal Thrashers can sometimes be found in the mesquites along Proctor Rd. Phainopeplas are common in the mesquite grassland all year where they feed on mistletoe berries. Flocks of migrating Cedar Waxwings may be found in the Canyon.

Migrating wood warblers will increase in number through May and some will remain to nest. Migrants include Orange-crowned, Nashville, Townsend’s, Hermit, Wilson's, Black-and-white (rare), MacGillivray's (uncommon), and Northern Waterthrush (rare), while breeding species include Virginia's (uncommon), Lucy's, Yellow (rare), Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Gray, Grace's, Red-faced, and Olive Warbler along with Painted Redstart. Yellow-breasted Chat is rare in the canyon. Thirty-four species of warblers have been documented in Madera Canyon. The following warbler species are very rare in Madera Canyon (and Arizona), don’t count on seeing them: Crescent-chested, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Yellow-throated, Prairie, Cerulean, Hooded, Fan-tailed, and Slate-throated Redstart. But if you do, document and report them.

A few Hepatic Tanagers overwintered in the canyon and will be joined by Western, Summer, and more Hepatic Tanagers in April. A few Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias can be found in the mesquite grasslands on the way up to the canyon. Black-headed Grosbeak is an abundant migrant throughout the canyon and remains through the summer to breed. Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a rare spring visitor, most often seen around one of the feeding stations. Beginning in May Blue Grosbeak and Varied Bunting can be found in the mesquite grasslands below Madera Canyon up to Proctor and at the feeding stations. Lazuli Buntings compete for feeder space as they migrate through to more northern breeding areas. The few wintering Green-tailed Towhees will soon depart while Canyon Towhees will become more evident around Proctor. Spotted Towhees move from the lower Canyon up to the pine-fir and scrub oak habitats high in the Canyon. This has been a good year for wintering sparrows (Chipping, Brewer's, Black-chinned (rare), Vesper, Lark, Lincoln's, Fox (rare), Savannah, and White-crowned Sparrows, & Lark Bunting), their numbers will be declining as spring progresses and they migrate northward. Botteri's and Cassin's Sparrow will be returning to the grasslands below the canyon but will be mostly silent & difficult to find until June. Rufous-winged, Rufous-crowned, & Black-throated Sparrows are resident in the grasslands and lower portions of the canyon. Dark-eyed Juncos and Yellow-eyed Juncos are still at feeders from Santa Rita Lodge to the Chuparosa Inn. The Dark-eyed will migrate north and the Yellow-eyed will go up higher in the canyon to nest.

Eastern (Lilian’s) Meadowlark is common in the grasslands. Sometimes Western Meadowlarks may be heard in the grasslands but most leave for their breeding grounds to the north. Scott's Orioles will be common in the canyon by May and Hooded and Bullock's Orioles, while more common in Green Valley, are also found in the canyon.

Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, and Pine Siskins dominate the feeders in the canyon in early spring but the Siskins will soon depart for the north.

To view or print the Madera Canyon bird checklist, go to:

If you see an unusual bird or one not on this bird checklist – please let us know by writing an email to:

To learn more about hummingbird research near Madera Canyon, go to:

To learn what unusual species are being seen in the Canyon and Arizona in general go to

Laurens Halsey for The Friends of Madera Canyon
Editor's Note: Additional birding information is available at Laurens' birding and nature guiding site, Desert Harrier.

Note to eBirders:

If you are entering eBird data for Madera Canyon there are a number of eBird hotspots in Madera Canyon. There are hotspots for each of the parking & picnic areas, feeding stations, and a number of the trails. Please use these hotspots when ever possible and do not merge a hike or drive through the canyon into one checklist. Also beware that the Pima – Santa Cruz County line cuts east-west through Madera Canyon. County boundaries are important for eBird data collection & reporting. The county line crosses Madera Canyon Road at the Madera Picnic Area, about at the midpoint of the big parking area on your left as you head up canyon. If you can see the Santa Rita Lodge, you are in Santa Cruz County so please use the "Madera Canyon—Santa Rita Lodge" hotspot. Otherwise use the "Madera Canyon—Madera Picnic Area" hotspot. If birding at the Bog Springs Campground, which is bisected by the county line, use the "Madera Canyon—Bog Springs campground" unless the birds you are noting are on the north side of the campground, then create a personal spot that is in Pima County.