Madera Canyon, one of the most famous birding areas in the United States, is a north-facing valley in the Santa Rita Mountains with riparian woodland along an intermittent stream, bordered by mesquite, juniper-oak woodlands, and pine forests. Madera Canyon is home to over 250 species of birds, including 15 hummingbird species. Visitors from all over the world arrive in search of such avian specialties as the Elegant Trogon, Elf Owl, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, and Painted Redstart.
The road to Madera Canyon enters through desert grasslands and ends in juniper-oak woodland, where hiking trails lead up in the "sky island" through pine-oak woodland to montane conifer forest and the top of Mt. Wrightson (elevation 9,453 feet). The spectrum of birds found in these varied habitats includes four species of tanagers: Summer at Proctor Road, Hepatic starting at Madera Picnic Area, Western up the trails in the conifers, and Flame-colored as an occasional breeder. Hummingbirds, owls and flycatchers are also very well represented in this area. Montezuma Quail are inconspicuous but present near grassy oak-dotted slopes.
In the Santa Rita Experimental Range below Madera Canyon can be found birds of the desert grasslands and brush, including Costa's Hummingbird, Varied Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Scaled Quail, Phainopepla, Botteri’s, Cassin’s, Black-throated, Brewer’s, and Rufous-winged Sparrows.
At Proctor Road, most birders walk the productive first section of the trail to Whitehouse Picnic Area to find Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Lucy's Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Varied Bunting, Summer Tanager, and sometimes Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The dirt road shortly above the parking lot may have Western Scrub-Jays and a Crissal Thrasher.
Farther up the road, the Madera Picnic Area has Acorn and Arizona Woodpeckers, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, and Dark-eyed Junco. Three Myiarchus flycatchers , Western Wood-Pewee and Hepatic Tanager can be found here in season. Watch overhead for Zone-tailed Hawk among the Turkey Vultures.
At the end of the road at the parking lot, the trailhead leads to Old Baldy. Elegant Trogons are most often found along the first mile of either the Super Trail of the Carrie Nation trail. Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Plumbeous Vireo, Painted Redstart, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher are common along the trails. Yellow-eyed Juncos breed higher up towards Josephine Saddle.
Night birding is a Madera canyon highlight, especially in May. Listen for Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, Elf Owls and the much rarer Flammulated and Spotted Owls. Whip-poor-wills are in the forest and Common Poorwills can be heard near Proctor and below. Lesser Nighthawks, Barn and Great Horned Owls often fly across the road through the beam of your headlights as you approach the canyon.
Friends of Madera Canyon publishes a comprehensive "Birds of Madera Canyon" checklist that is available at the Visitor Information Station, trailheads, and website (link).
NOTE: Playing recordings of bird vocalizations is discouraged in Madera Canyon.
For a listing of current bird sightings in Madera Canyon, Click Here
To Download or Print a copy of the Check List of Madera Canyon Birds, Click Here
HUMMINGBIRD MONITORING NETWORK
Of the 32 hummingbird monitoring sites in western North America and Mexico sponsored by the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, one is adjacent to Madera Canyon, in Florida Canyon. We are cooperating to learn more about the habitat requirements and populations of migrating and breeding hummingbirds. At this time, visitors are not invited to attend banding sessions, but we are working to make it possible. There we trap and band hummingbirds from the middle of March to the end of October. The data we collect include occurrence of birds at different times of year, the age and sex ratios of the population at each date, whether the birds are molting or building up fat for migration, and whether the females are preparing to lay eggs. From birds already banded, we learn about hummingbird longevity and sometimes of movement from one place to another over time.
If you would like to volunteer as an assistant for the project, contact Elissa Fazio at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to learn more about the national program, Hummingbird Monitoring Network, go to: www.HumMonNet.org.