Southeastern Arizona is an eco-crossroad with five life zones within five miles. Habitats and species from the Sierra Madres of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonora and Chihuahuan deserts can all be found in these “Sky Islands.” The bird watching and wildlife viewing areas are world-renowned.
With 15 species of hummingbirds passing through Sierra Vista annually, the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory has been conducting an ongoing study into the life and migration patters of these tiny birds for more than a decade. Learn more about this study and learn how you can watch researchers capture and handle hummingbirds before releasing them.
Click here to see a list of specialty birds of Southeastern Arizona.
Where To Go
These popular canyons lead into the Huachuca Mountains along trails suitable for bird and wildlife watching, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Part of the Coronado National Forest, some of the trails cross into wilderness areas where motorized vehicles and mountain bikes are not permitted. Rare bird sightings in these canyons, like the Plain-capped Star Throat, the Flame-colored Tanager, and the Slatethroated Red Start, have gained national attention.
Ramsey Canyon Preserve
The Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve is famous among birders and other naturalists for over a century. This 300-acre property in the middle elevations of the canyon provides excellent birding opportunities from April through September. Hummingbirds (including Magnificent, Blue-throated and White-eared) abound. Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Painted Redstart are common in Summer, while Arizona Woodpecker and Spotted Towhee are visible year-round. Some Coues’s White-tailed Deer and White-nosed Coati are common, as well as a variety of reptilian and insect life.
Ash Canyon is easily accessible by car. You can explore the Huachuca Mountains along Lutz Trail from the trailhead at Ash Canyon.Ash Canyon offers three separate habitats: Chihuahuan Desert grassland, riparian woodland, and oak forest. It is also home to one of the most rarely seen hummingbirds, the Plain-capped Star Throat. Ash Canyon is a great place to spot the Scott’s Oriole and the Lucifer Hummingbird. Hwy 92 East, 12 miles south; right (west) onto E. Ash Canyon Road; travel 1.6 miles; veer right at the fork, 0.6 mile to the Lutz Canyon trailhead.
Miller Canyon is a great place to spot birds, wildlife, and breath-taking views of the San Pedro Valley, Mule Mountains, and Miller Peak. Miller Canyon Trail treks along Miller Creek, which usually flows all year and passes through the remains of the Palmerlee townsite and abandoned mining digs. The trail intersects with the Crest Trail, Perimeter Trail, and Miller Peak Trail (via the Crest Trail). The Clark Springs/John Cooper Trail connects Miller and Carr canyons for longer excursions. Hwy 92 East, 9 miles south to Miller Canyon Road; turn right (west) onto Miller Canyon Road.
Another favorite, Carr Canyon provides a twisty drive to Carr Peak and Reef Townsite trailheads. If you’re looking for a picnic spot, campground, or easy stroll, head to Reef Townsite Campground about midway up Carr Canyon Road. The cool canyon is a terrific place to spot birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Hwy 92 East, 7 miles south to Carr Canyon Road; turn right (west) onto Carr Canyon Road.
Garden Canyon, Fort Huachuca
Hike along trails that wind through some of Arizona’s most diverse flora and fauna. Along the way, you’re sure to spot some of the 53 pictographs dating from 600 C.E. to Apache art of the 1700s. Allow 1 hour. A bird-watcher’s paradise! Garden Canyon is accessed from the Fort Huachuca Van Deman Gate. Note: Garden Canyon is occasionally closed for maneuvers. Click here to learn more about accessing Fort Huachuca. International visitors must contact the City of Sierra Vista Public Affairs Office at least 3 weeks prior to visiting.
Riparian Areas & Wetlands
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
With nearly 40 miles of riparian vegetation, this 56,000-acre area is teeming with plant and animal life. Highly popular with bird watchers (more than half of the known breeding bird species in the U.S. have been spotted here), visitors can hike solo or choose from regularly scheduled bird, interpretive, and river walks led by docents from the San Pedro House. 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. A narrow ribbon of Fremont Cottonwoods, some over 100-years-old, support 40 percent of the nesting Gray Hawks in the U.S., as well as Bell’s Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Vermilion Flycatchers are hard to miss in spring and summer, while resident Kingfishers are always elusive. Abert’s Towhees, Gambel’s Quail and Crissal Thrashers are joined by large flocks of sparrows in winter. Hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and dogs are welcome. Start your exploration from the San Pedro House. San Pedro Riparian NCA website
Environmental Operations Park
This 50-acre wetlands supports aquatic vegetation and grasses through an ongoing restoration project. Over 2,000 acre-feet of water is treated through this natural system and returned to the aquifer each year to help protect the area’s unique environment. From Fall through Spring Yellow-headed Blackbirds roost among the cattails. Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal and Ruddy Ducks cruise open water under the watchful eyes of hungry Northern Harrier or Peregrine Falcon. Find a 1,800 square-foot viewing platform, open 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guided bird walks are offered on Sundays at 7:00 a.m., (March through October) and at 8:00 a.m. (November through February) courtesy of the Friends of the San Pedro River and the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. Hwy 90 East, left (north) onto N. Kino Road (between mileposts 324 and 325).
Willcox Playa and Whitewater Draw
This area is for birders on the move. The valley’s highways and back roads offer access to a variety of habitats including grassland, desert, scrub, playa lakes and farm fields. The Sandhill Cranes, Brewer’s Sparrows winter here, joining the Greater Roadrunner, Scaled Quail, Crissal Thrasher and Pyrrhuloxia. Wintering raptors are the claim to fame here for birders far and wide. It’s possible to see over 100 birds of prey of up to 12 species in a day’s drive. Ferruginous Hawks, now rarer than Bald Eagles, are common around colonies of Botta’s Gophers. Other commonly seen raptors include the Great Horned Owl, Harris’s Hawk, Bald and Golden Eagles and a variety of Red-tailed Hawks. East of Sierra Vista between Willcox to the north and Bisbee and Douglas to the south. Willcox Playa, Whitewater Draw
Spring Migration peaks between late April and early May, as tens of thousands of colorful songbirds make their way north. You’ll see hummingbirds, trogans, warblers, flycatchers, and many other species from spring through September. Each spring, the Southwest Wings organization hosts the Spring Fling, a three-day bird-watching event during nesting season.
Summer & Fall
Late summer is an excellent time to observe both resident and migrant birds. Spectacular thunderstorms in July and August bring cooler temperatures and create a second Spring in southeast Arizona, complete with blooming wildflowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies, while flocks of migrating birds feast on the bounty of seeds, fruits, and insects. The Southwest Wings organization hosts a late summer festival offering guided viewing trips, educational seminars, vendor booths, and more.
Winter birding has its own special appeal. The Sierra Vista (Ramsey Canyon) Christmas Bird Count regularly has one of the highest inland species totals in the U.S., with over 150 species. Lowland sites such as the San Pedro River and Sulphur Springs Valley support the greatest variety of wintering birds. Each winter, the Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival takes place each January, celebrating the hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes during their seasonal migration, along with other tours and seminars.