Whitewater Draw
Whitewater Draw (Credit: Henry Stites)

7 Arizona Spots Every Birder Should Know About

Arizona offers some of the best birdwatching in America. Here are seven places to glimpse sightings of bird species of all types, from tiny hummingbirds to giant condors.

Welcome to paradise. A birder's paradise, that is. Thanks to Arizona's rich riparian habitats that stretch from north to south, the state is a top destination for every serious—and not-so-serious—birdwatcher in the country. Birders can marvel at an array of exotic and rare species, from tiny hummingbirds to giant California condors.

Want to get started? Check out this guide to Arizona's best birding locations.

Region: Southern Arizona

Sierra Vista

The cool walls of Ramsey Canyon Preserve lure more than a dozen hummingbird species (violet-crowned, broad-billed and blue-throated, to name a few), giving this region the title of "hummingbird capital of the United States." The delicate birds flock to the ecologically unique spot where plants and wildlife from the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts blend with those from the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre. Nearby at San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, 100 species of breeding birds and 250 species of migrant and wintering birds make their homes.

You'll also see…
Green kingfishers
Gray hawks
Cassin's kingbird

If You Go
Sierra Vista is 76 miles southeast of Tucson. Take I-10 south to Highway 90 and follow it to birding sites.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve
27 E Ramsey Canyon Road, Hereford
(520) 335-8740

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
4070 S Avenida Saracino, Sierra Vista
(520) 258-7200

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

The spectacular sight of thousands of wintering sandhill cranes is the main attraction at this 1,500-acre preserve. Between October and March, more than 20,000 cranes arrive, mostly from the Midwest, but some come from as far as Siberia. You can see the birds all day long, but if you get here before sunrise, you'll spot them leaving their roost to feed—an unforgettable experience.

You'll also see…
White-winged dove
Northern harrier

If You Go

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area
4423 W Bagby Road, McNeal
(520) 642-3763

Cave Creek Canyon

A top birding site in Arizona—and also a wonderfully remote and rewarding nature outing in the Chiricahua Mountains—Cave Creek Canyon attracts many rare species of birds to its six habitat biomes. During spring or fall, catch sight of Arizona woodpecker and lazuli bunting; in summer, see the stunning elegant trogon. And keep your ears open for the call of the whippoorwill and the song of the Mexican chickadee.

Read more about Cave Creek Canyon: Epic Fall Road Trip: Cave Creek Canyon

You'll also see…
Whiskered screech owl
Montezuma quail
Red-faced warbler

If You Go
Take I-10 east from Tucson, cross into New Mexico and take NM 80 south. At Chiricahua Desert Museum, take NM 533 (Portal Road) west, then go south on 42 Forest Road until you reach the canyon.

Cave Creek Canyon
(520) 558-2221

Region: Central Arizona

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

You'd be forgiven for thinking you can see exotic bird species only in Arizona's wild lands. But you're in for a happy surprise: Migratory routes pass through urban areas, too, making for great birdwatching in major Arizona cities. This riparian preserve, the premier bird site in metro Phoenix, was established in 1999 as a wetland habitat. In winter, ducks and water birds make their home here, as well as rarities like roseate spoonbill and little bittern.

You'll also see…
American white pelican
Little blue heron
Wood stork

If You Go

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
2757 E Guadalupe Road, Gilbert
(480) 503-6200

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

On the outskirts of Phoenix, you'll discover another important hummingbird haven. The multiple riparian habitats at this state park bring such sub-species of hummingbirds as the green-and-gray Anna's or the hunched Costa's, while the wooded areas, lake and river attract species like wrens, sparrows and orioles.

You'll also see…
Ladder-backed woodpecker
Clark's nutcracker
Rufous-backed robin

If You Go

Boyce Thompson Arboretum
37615 E Arboretum Way, Superior
(602) 827-3000

Region: Northern Arizona

Watson Woods Riparian Preserve

The cottonwood and willow trees at this 126-acre site not only offer shade for land-loving wildlife like the Mexican vole, but they also provide homes for the water birds and migrant shorebirds that visit during the winter. Other cool-weather birds include the stately bald eagle, peregrine and osprey. In summer, you might spot breeding birds such as wood duck and yellow warblers.

You'll also see…
Western scrub-jay
Acorn woodpecker
Pygmy nuthatch

If You Go

Watson Woods Riparian Preserve
1626 Sundog Ranch Road, Prescott
(928) 777-1599

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

This massive recreation area straddles the border between Arizona and Utah and is notable for one specific bird species—the spectacular California condor. Only several hundred of these birds are still in existence, and many have been introduced into the wild at Glen Canyon. They have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. Look for these graceful creatures as they fly free over the Colorado River, dipping and soaring along the air currents.

You'll also see…
Mexican spotted owl
Southwestern willow flycatcher
Peregrine falcon

If You Go
From Flagstaff, head north on U.S. 89A to Marble Canyon, then take U.S. 89 north to Lees Ferry Road. The Navajo Bridge that crosses the Colorado River offers good condor-spotting possibilities. The birds can also be seen at Vermilion Cliffs and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Glen Canyon
(928) 608-6200

About the Author

Iain Lundy

Iain Lundy spent 40 years as a newspaper and magazine journalist in his native Scotland. Now relocated to Arizona, he works as a content writer, editor and genealogist. He enjoys the great outdoors, family history and, like a true Scot, good beer and a fine malt whiskey. Read more of his bio and work at lundyink.com.


Cities & Regions

From the abundance of Saguaro cactuses and unique wildlife in the Sonoran Desert to the high country and forests of the White Mountains to the breathtaking Grand Canyon, Arizona’s regions are full of experiences that don’t disappoint.