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Bird Sightings

MADERA CANYON BIRDS: Summer 2016 – June 1 to August 31

General Summary

The past spring was overall warmer than normal with a few unusual showers but without much extreme heat. The summer-like temperatures (extreme heat) arrived with June. Residents are already looking forward to the monsoon season. Two species of hummingbirds that normally would be considered summer visitors graced the feeders of the Santa Rita Lodge in late May, a female Berylline Hummingbird and Plain-capped Starthroat. The big excitement in the birding world locally was the discovery of a Pine Flycatcher at a remote spring & camping site on the east flank of the Santa Rita Mountains in Sawmill Canyon. This will be the first record for the United States when/if accepted by the Arizona Bird Committee and the ABA Checklist Committee. While not in Madera Canyon is attracting many birders from across the country to the area and Madera Canyon will surely see an increase in birder activity.

More Bird Possibilities

Turkey Vultures nest in remote areas of the Canyon and can be seen soaring overhead. Additionally many non-breeding Turkey Vultures roost in the Canyon and large numbers may be seen streaming into and out of the Canyon in the evenings and mornings. A few Red-tailed Hawks nest in the Canyon and along Madera Canyon Road below the Canyon. They may be seen soaring or perched over the grasslands along Madera Canyon road. Both Swainson's Hawk and American Kestrel are uncommon along Madera Canyon & Whitehouse Canyon Roads in the grasslands below the Canyon. Cooper's Hawk breed throughout the Canyon wherever other larger raptors are not. A few Northern Goshawks breed in remote areas of the Canyon and therefore rarely seen. Zone-tailed Hawks breed nearby and can occasionally be seen on the Canyon or the grasslands below. Golden Eagles breed nearby in the Santa Ritas and may be seen hunting for prey in the Canyon and over the grasslands. Keep watch for Short-tailed Hawk which may be a summer resident in the Santa Ritas but very rarely seen. Gray Hawks are nesting for again in the Canyon and below the Canyon along the riparian stretch along Madera Creek. They can be heard and sometimes seen soaring over the Santa Rita Lodge and lower in the Canyon.

Three species of quail are possible around the Canyon. Gambel's Quail are common in the desert scrub at lower elevations, particularly at the Florida Wash Crossing and along the dirt Proctor Road. Scaled Quail are uncommon in the grasslands below the Canyon, though sometimes can be seen crossing mower Madera Canyon Road they are more frequently heard calling. Within the Canyon, the only quail to be encountered is the sought after Montezuma Quail. They may be heard from the trails traversing the oak-savannah habitat. If seen, it is most often as they flush from under foot or crossing the road. In the late summer, there is the opportunity to see family groups scurrying along the hillsides. Wild Turkeys can be found throughout, from the Canyon bottom to the higher elevation oak covered slopes and occasionally out on the grasslands. They are nearly always at the feeders of the Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Kubo, and the Chuparosa Inn.

White-winged and Mourning Doves are common throughout the lower portions of the Canyon during the summer, particularly near feeders. Band-tailed Pigeons breed in the higher elevations and wander widely each day while foraging for food (mostly acorns). Individuals or small flocks can be found throughout the Canyon, as far down as the Santa Rita Lodge. Greater Roadrunners are often found along Whitehouse Canyon Road towards Green Valley and along Proctor Road. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are uncommon visitors to and probably breeding in the riparian areas of the lower Canyon, they are more likely to be heard than seen. Recent observations indicate that Yellow-billed Cuckoos may be breeding in the oak-woodland in the middle elevations of the Santa Rita Mountains (and elsewhere). If you observe this species in the Canyon, please report it and include in your report specific location, habitat, and any behavior noted.

Seven species of Owls occur in the Madera Canyon, they are difficult to find during the day but can be heard after dusk. Great Horned Owls are most often encountered (heard) from the lower portion of the canyon. Western Screech-Owls are uncommon in desert washes and along Proctor Rd. Whiskered Screech-Owls are common within the Canyon, they can be heard from any of the parking/picnic areas from Whitehouse upwards. Elf Owls are usually the most common owl in the warmer months; they can be heard from the grasslands all the way to the Mt Wrightson Picnic Area. Northern Pygmy-Owls occur throughout the Canyon from the Madera Picnic Area up and can sometimes be heard calling during the daytime. Spotted and Flammulated Owls inhabit the montane forests of the upper Canyon (beyond the Wrightson Picnic Area) and are difficult to find because of scarcity and remoteness.

Lesser Nighthawks may be seen between dusk and dawn along Madera Canyon Rd. Common Poorwills call from the base of the mountains and the grasslands most of the summer and occasionally sit on Madera Canyon Rd or the Proctor Road parking area at night. Mexican Whip-poor-wills call in the upper portions of the Canyon at night and rarely are flushed from the upper trails in the day. Buff-collared Nightjars were not heard this spring along Proctor Road, unfortunately. White-throated Swifts may be seen near rocky cliffs around the perimeter of the canyon and down in the canyon leading summer storms.

North-bound migration of hummingbirds is over, nesting is well underway, post-breeding wandering begins in June, and south-bound migration begins in July. Hummingbirds concentrate near feeding stations at the Chuparosa B&B, Madera Kubo, Santa Rita Lodge, and the Bog Spring Campground Host. Broad-billed and Black-chinned are the most common hummingbirds in the Canyon. Less common but resident in the canyon are Anna's, Magnificent, and Blue-throated (rare) Hummingbirds. White-eared & Berylline Hummingbirds and Plain-capped Starthroat have been found in the canyon though very rare & not to be expected. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds nest high in the pine forest, wandering to feeding stations in the late summer along with south-bound Rufous and Calliope (rare) Hummingbirds. Costa's Hummingbirds have completed breeding in the desert and may wander into the lower Canyon during the summer. Violet-crowned Hummingbirds (rare) attempted nesting in the Canyon in previous summers, look for them at the feeding stations along Madera Creek. Lucifer and Allen's are rare and not reliably found in the canyon. A Berylline Hummingbird and a Plain-capped Starthroat were seen and well documented at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders in May, perhaps they will return.

Elegant Trogons are well into nesting and have already fledged young from one popular nest. They usually nest in holes created by broken branches or woodpeckers in sycamore trees. Watch and listen for them along the creeks from the Amphitheater up to the Carrie Nation Trail, at the beginning of the Super Trail and the side drainages near Bog and Kent Springs. There has been males calling from along Madera Creek at the Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Kubo, and the Chuparosa Inn. Additional a pair is nesting in the Hopkins Fork of Madera Creek a few hundred yards above the Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area along the Carrie Nation Trail.

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are common amongst the mesquites in the lower portion of the Canyon. Arizona Woodpeckers can be found in the evergreen oaks from the mid-Canyon and higher. Hairy Woodpeckers are only found in the highest sections of the Canyon, far above the Mt Wrightson Picnic Area. Acorn Woodpeckers are found in colonies throughout the Canyon, particularly near the feeding stations. Northern Flickers are uncommon, primarily found in the upper portions of the Canyon. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers are common around Green Valley, but rarely found in the Canyon.

Many species of flycatchers may be found in the Canyon during the summer. Greater and Western Wood-Pewees are common in the upper portions of the Canyon. Sulphur-bellied and Cordilleran Flycatchers are common along the stream courses. Black and Say's Phoebes nest near Proctor Road. Dusky-capped, Ash-throated and Brown-crested Flycatchers can be found throughout the canyon and are best separated by voice. Cassin's and Western Kingbirds are found in the desert scrub and grasslands around Proctor Rd. Vermilion Flycatcher, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Rose-throated Becard rarely stray to the canyon.

Loggerhead Shrikes may be seen sitting on the power lines along Whitehouse Canyon Rd, but rarely make it into the canyon proper. Bell's Vireo is common in the shrubby washes at and below Proctor Rd but does not wander further up into the Canyon. Three species of Vireos nest higher in the Canyon; Plumbeous being most common throughout, Warbling common in the upper Canyon, and Hutton's in the oaks throughout.

Mexican Jays are a standard feature througout the Canyon. Steller's Jays are in the fir forest high on the mountains but are not common. Common Ravens are commonly seen & heard throughout the Canyon. Western Scrub-Jays are rare.

Swallows are uncommon in the canyon during summer. A few Violet-green Swallows may nest in the pine and fir forest at high elevation. Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows are sometimes encountered on the grasslands near water tanks. Other swallow species are rare.

White-breasted Nuthatches, Bridled Titmouse, and Bushtits are common in the juniper-oak woodlands. Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches have been absent for the most part recently; they might be encountered in the pines at higher elevations. Verdins are permanent residents and can be found in mesquites at and below Proctor.

Five species of wrens summer in or near the canyon. Cactus Wrens nest in the scrubby desert along and below Proctor Road. House, Bewick's, and Canyon Wrens can be found (mostly heard) throughout the canyon. Rock Wrens are rarely encountered because their favored habitat is along the crest and summit of Mt Wrightson where few birders venture. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers spend the summer on the oak-savannah hillsides of the canyon. Black-tailed Gnatcatchers occupy the mesquite grasslands and washes. Black-capped Gnatcatchers are breeding again along the Proctor trails but have been difficult to find since they fledged.

A few American Robins nest in the Canyon, mostly encountered above 5000 ft elevation. This could be a good year for Aztec Thrushes, typically they are rarely found in late July through August. This summer there was one individual at the Carrie Nation Mine on the first of June and a different individual was seen east of Madera Canyon less than two weeks later. Bluebirds of any type are uncommon in the canyon, but check for both Eastern and Western Bluebirds at higher elevations where they possible nest. Hermit Thrushes are common all year and nest in the woodlands up the Canyon. Northern Mockingbirds and Curve-billed Thrashers can usually be found along Whitehouse Canyon Rd. Crissal Thrashers can sometimes be found along Proctor Road. Phainopeplas are occur in the mesquite grassland but are inconspicuous during the summer.

The following warblers may be found in the canyon during the summer months: Virginia's (uncommon higher elevations), Lucy's (mesquite grasslands), Yellow (rare), Yellow-rumped (pine-fir), Black-throated Gray, Townsend's (August), Hermit (August), Grace's (pines), Wilson's (rare), Red-faced (above 6000 ft el), and Olive Warbler (pines) along with Painted Redstart and sometimes a Yellow-breasted Chat. A very rare Golden-winged Warbler was seen near the Carrie Nation Mine by birders searching for the Aztec Thrush, it was seen for only one day.

Hepatic, Summer, and Western Tanagers are common nesters in the canyon. A few Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias can be found in the mesquite grasslands on the way up to the canyon. Black-headed Grosbeaks are the commonest seed-eater at feeders. Blue Grosbeaks are more common at lower elevations below the canyon but may be found at feeders farther up canyon. Varied Buntings nest commonly near Florida Wash and up to the Proctor Road area once the summer rains begin.

Canyon Towhees can usually be found around the Proctor parking area and trails. Spotted Towhees are common in summer along most of the higher elevation trails. Summer Sparrows out in the grasslands and desert include: Botteri's, Cassin's, Rufous-winged, and Black-throated. Rufous-crowned Sparrows may be found around Proctor Rd and in scrub oaks throughout the Canyon. Yellow-eyed Juncos nest high on the mountain & are rare below 6000 ft elevation in summer, however small numbers of them appear to be nesting near Madera Kubo & the Chuparosa.

Eastern (Lilian's) Meadowlark is common and may be heard singing out in the grasslands. Scott's Orioles are common in the canyon. Hooded Orioles may be found in the riparian areas of Madera Creek from Proctor to the Chuparosa Inn. Bullock's Oriole is less common and more likely below Proctor along Madera Creek. Bronzed and Brown-headed Cowbirds may be around seed feeders. Lesser Goldfinches and House Finches dominate the feeders in the canyon. Other cardueline finches are rare in the Canyon in spring and summer.

If you see an unusual bird - or one not on this or the canyon check list – please let us know by sending an email to: or by calling the Tucson Audubon Rare Bird Alert, 520-629-0510, Extension 3.

For current news on unusual species being seen in the canyon and Arizona in general go

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.