Tucson and Southern Arizona Wildlife Viewing
Waterfowl are numerous at Willcox, Patagonia and Parker Canyon Lakes and urban ponds. Wintering raptors and sparrows abound in many habitats alongside desert residents. Photograph antlered Coues whitetail deer bucks in the grassy foothills below Cochise Stronghold.
In southern Arizona ducks and geese increase around ponds and lakes and early migrants begin to arrive. Arizona is one of only a few states where you can find coati – raccoon-like animals, and lower elevation foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains are a prime place to look. The Nature Conservancy’s Muleshoe Ranch is also a hotspot for watching wildlife.
Gray, zone-tailed and common black hawks begin to arrive along the large riparian corridors of the Santa Cruz and San Pedro Rivers. Hummingbird numbers begin to increase and violet-crowns are reliable in Patagonia.
Shorebird numbers begin to build at Willcox and Avra Valley. Bridges and culverts provide habitat for maternal colonies of Mexican free tailed bats, which can number in the thousands and are enthralling to watch as they stream out each evening to hunt for insects.
Riparian corridors along Nogales and Patagonia near the Mexican border host nesting subtropical birds. Night-flowering cacti and yuccas in southern Arizona offer a chance to seek nectar-feeding bats such as the lesser long-nose, which is an important pollinator for organ pipe cacti.
The hottest, driest month and bird activity quickly dwindles by mid-morning. In southern Arizona late breeders are arriving. High elevation forests are active with many nesting montane species.
The onset of the dramatic monsoon thunderstorms marks the breeding season of many grassland birds. Shorebird numbers increase at ponds and lakes. Visit the tops of Sky Island Mountains during July to see ladybird beetles (“Ladybugs”) converge at the mountaintops carpeting shrubs and small trees close to the forest floor.
Hummingbird numbers and diversity are at their peak as early migrants and fledglings buzz through Miller and Ash Canyons, Patagonia, Portal and Madera Canyon. Mt Graham (near Safford) offers a chance to escape the low desert heat and to seek one of Arizona’s rarest of all species – the endemic (and endangered) Mt. Graham red squirrel.
As the monsoon rains come to an end, migrant birds gather en masse with large numbers of Swainson's hawks soaring in huge flocks in the Sulphur Springs Valley. Shorebirds abound at most southern Arizona ponds and lakes and mixed flocks begin to form in the mountain canyons as summer breeders begin moving down slope. Lowland desert areas host congregations of mixed species as migrants start heading south.
Wintering species begin to arrive with large numbers of raptors and sparrows invading the valleys, grasslands and agricultural fields. Reptile enthusiasts will also enjoy the Blue River’s variety of snakes, lizards, frogs and toads.
Most winter species have arrived and duck numbers increase. Wintering hawks, kites, falcons and eagles are numerous in desert fields and agricultural areas throughout southern Arizona. Sandhill cranes can be seen by the thousands in the Sulphur Springs Valley including the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s White Water Draw Wildlife Area. They remain in the area until early March.
The San Rafael and Sonoita Grasslands are prime for flocks of wintering sparrows. Raptors and sparrows abound in many habitats. Coues whitetail deer like grassy slopes of southern Arizona mountain ranges including the Chiricahuas, Dragoons, Dos Cabezas and Pinalenos.
In the vast Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge you can find the endangered Sonoran pronghorn.