Sunday, March 30, 2008

Birds of Arizona

Isn't he beautiful? This is a Broad-billed Hummingbird, one of those little jewels, only about 4 inches long, that flit about from flower to flower and fascinate us not only with their speed, but with their bravery. Perhaps one precludes the other. I was chasing down the Vermilion Flycatcher in the picture below when my DIL said, "Mom, look behind you!" and there he was just sitting on a branch, posing for me to take his picture.

There are many such colorful and interesting birds that can be found nowhere else in the U.S. except in Arizona. Most are birds of the Sonoran Desert which extends down into Mexico and are at the northernmost extent of their range. Others are migrants that pass through in spring and fall. Any birder worth his salt will make a trip to Arizona to add these birds to his North American life list.

For a map of the North American birding area as defined by the American Birding Association, click here. The 947 species that make up the North American checklist are here. Most birders in the U.S. are trying to see every one of these birds and when they speak of their Life List, this is the main list that they are talking about. I have seen over 400 of these birds, but I have a long way to go! The problem is that as the number gets higher, you have to go to more exotic places to find the birds. (Not a bad thing, actually.)

Both the hummingbird and the flycatcher are year-round residents of southern Arizona. We happened to be at the Tumacacori National Historical Museum, which I will blog about later, when I took their pictures. There was also a female flycatcher with the male. Females are not so colorful. As we tried to get closer to the trees in which they perched between rapid flights to catch bugs, they moved further away. The Chipping Sparrows, with the rusty crowns, and Lark Sparrow, with the bold face stripes, on the left were also in the museum's lovely garden.

One of the main places birders go in Arizona to find the birds is Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains which was just across the valley from where we were staying. In fact, it was a visit to the canyon that was the impetus for the whole trip. I had been there nine years ago and wanted to see it again. At first we were going to stay at the cabins right in the canyon at Santa Rita Lodge, but we were too late to make reservations there. The lodge has feeders out that attract birds and birders to sit and watch each other. This Mexican Jay with his head in the shade was at one of these feeders.

But there were plenty of birds to watch right at our condo at the Inn at San Ignacio in Green Valley. I gave my grandson a pair of binoculars and a field guide of the birds of Arizona and together went went out in the early morning to see what we could find in our own backyard—a covey of Gambel's Quail, Black-throated Sparrow, Inca Dove, a pair of Cardinals, and a mother hummingbird (possibly Black-chinned) feeding her baby.

There were some mystery birds, too. In fact, quite a few were mysteries either because you never got a good look at them, or because they defied identification even with a nice long look. We encountered one such mystery bird on a hike up at the end of Madera Canyon. This little guy sat high in a tree long enough for me to take several pictures of him, but I am still not sure of what species he is. He is all fluffed up because it was very cold that morning in the mountains (42 degrees), cold enough for their still to be snow on the ground. My first thought was that he is another Vermilion Flycatcher. If so, he was in the wrong place. My second thought was that he is a Hepatic Tanager, but the bill seems to be too sharp. I vacillate back and forth.

On our way home, we stopped at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum which has a world-famous hummingbird exhibit as well as a large aviary. My grandson was disappointed when we told him that these birds do not count for your Life List. They have to be in the wild. But I will never get this close to an American Kestrel (female) in the wild to take her picture. These beautiful birds can be found all over the U.S. They are a small, delicate falcon. But we did see one out on the top of a Saguaro at the north end of Saguaro National Park, so Nick was able to check that one off.


  1. Mom Could the bird in the tree be a cardinal ?

  2. No I don't think so. Cardinals have a large red bill with black feathers around it. I'll have to see if I can find a bird identification book that shows the flycatcher and tanager from the underside.