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Bird Sightings

Madera Canyon Birds
December 1, 2015 to February 29, 2016

A complete checklist of Madera Canyon birds is available for download on the Friends of Madera Canyon web site (link below) and in print at the Visitor Information Station as you enter the Canyon and in some brochure boxes attached to trail map panels in the Canyon. To learn of unusual species being seen in the Canyon and Arizona in general, go to the local birding hotline on the web at:

General Summary:

The monsoon-like conditions lingered later into the fall of 2015 providing another season of above average precipitation. Madera Creek still has a good flow of water and the seed crop is excellent in places. The forecast for the winter, with the anticipated strong El Nino event, is for Madera Canyon to continue to receive above average precipitation particularly late December and afterwards. How will these conditions impact bird watching in Madera Canyon?


Most of the raptors near Madera Canyon will be encountered along the Whitehouse Canyon Road from Green Valley. Red-tailed Hawks are fairly common, frequenting roadside power poles. Less numerous are American Kestrels perched and Northern Harriers cruising over the grasslands. Cooper's Hawks and occasionally Sharp-shinned Hawk may be found in the Canyon proper. Northern Goshawks are rare residents in the Canyon and when found are usually at higher elevations. Look for Harris's Hawks in Green Valley, they do not occur in the Canyon. Other raptors less frequently encountered include: Golden Eagle, and Prairie & Peregrine Falcons. Loggerhead Shrikes may be seen sitting on power lines or bush tops along Whitehouse Canyon Road below the Canyon.

Three species of quail can be found in and near Madera Canyon. Gambel's Quail are common in the desert scrub at lower elevations, particularly in the washes. Scaled Quail also inhabit the lower elevations, though less common they prefer the grasslands at the base of the Santa Rita Mountains. Within the Canyon, the only quail to be encountered is the much sought after Montezuma Quail. They can often be heard from the trails traversing the oak-savannah habitat. If seen, it is most often as they flush from under foot or scurry across the road or trail in front of you. Wild Turkeys can be found throughout, from the Canyon bottom to the higher elevation oak covered slopes, particularly at the bird feeding stations, and occasionally out on the grasslands. Mourning Doves are common all year in the Canyon frequenting feeding stations. White-winged Doves are mostly absent from the Canyon in the winter, however a few remain in Green Valley and Continental. Band-tailed Pigeons are scarce in the mountains during the winter. Yet to be found in the Canyon, Eurasian Collared Doves are a common sight in Continental. Inca and Common Ground-Doves are rare in the Canyon at any season. Greater Roadrunners are common all year around Proctor and down into the desert and may sometimes be encountered at higher elevations.

Five species of Owls occur in the Madera Canyon during winter, they are difficult to find during the day but may be heard after dusk. Great Horned Owls are most often encountered (heard) from the lower portion of the Canyon. Western Screech-Owls are common in the desert washes and along Proctor Rd among the primitive camping area. Whiskered Screech-Owls are common within the Canyon, they can be heard from any of the parking/picnic areas from Whitehouse upwards and sometimes can be seen poking their head out of a cavity during the day. Northern Pygmy-Owls occur throughout the Canyon from the Proctor Road Area & up Canyon and can sometimes be heard calling during the daytime. Spotted Owls inhabiting the forests of the upper Canyon (beyond the Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area) are difficult to find because of scarcity and remoteness. Barn Owls are rarely encountered.

The southward migration of hummingbirds is over and only a few individuals winter in the Canyon. A few Anna's and Costa's may winter in the desert washes at and below Proctor. Very few Magnificent and even fewer Blue-throated Hummingbirds may winter near feeders. A single Elegant Trogon has remained in the Canyon through the winter, though it can be very difficult to find.

Acorn Woodpeckers are very conspicuous around all the parking/picnic areas above Proctor Rd. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are common along the Proctor trail and down into the desert. Arizona Woodpeckers are generally found from Proctor and higher in the Canyon. A few Gila Woodpeckers wander into the Canyon during the winter. Hairy Woodpeckers are uncommon in the forested area high in the mountains. Red-naped and Williamson's (rare) Sapsuckers can be found in the Canyon, particularly at berry bushes. A rare Red-breasted Sapsucker has returned to the Canyon for the sixth winter in a row; found in early November, it has been seen regularly since along the south edge of the Whitehouse Picnic Area. Northern (Red-shafted) Flickers are common throughout the Canyon in the winter.

Say's Phoebe can usually be found near the entrance station and along Proctor Road. Other flycatchers that could be encountered include: Greater Pewee (rare), Hammond's, Dusky, Gray, & Ash-throated Flycatchers, Cassin's Kingbird (rare) and Black Phoebe.

An occasional Plumbeous Vireo may remain in the lower portion of the Canyon through the winter. Hutton's Vireos are fairly common throughout the Canyon; identification becomes the challenge with the return of the wintering Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Mexican Jays are a standard feature throughout the Canyon. Steller's Jays (uncommon) are in the fir forest high on the mountains. The Common Ravens are the more common of the two ravens in the Canyon with some flocks of Chihuahuan Ravens in the mesquite grasslands, particularly near Green Valley. Western Scrub-Jays are rare.

White-breasted Nuthatches, Bridled Titmice, Bushtits, Brown Creepers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are commonly found in flocks in the juniper-oak woodlands. In some winters they are joined by Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches. Verdins are permanent residents found in the mesquite grasslands at and below Whitehouse Picnic Area.

Five species of wrens are often found in and around the Canyon: Cactus at lower elevations, House, Bewick's, Canyon, and Rock in the Canyon. Winter and Pacific Wren have been found in past winters in the Canyon but are not to be expected.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are present in winter, though rare. Black-tailed Gnatcatchers might be found in the mesquite grasslands below Proctor. There have been a few recent reports of Black-capped Gnatcatchers in along the Proctor Road trails in Madera Canyon; lower Florida Canyon may be a better bet for this species.  

During the winter, thrushes gravitate towards berry producing bushes anywhere in the Canyon; American Robins are regular but uncommon, Eastern Bluebirds are uncommon at higher elevations, Western Bluebirds appear to be uncommon this year, Townsend's Solitaires are rare, and Hermit Thrushes are common all year. Aztec Thrush has occurred at this time of year but should not be expected.

Northern Mockingbirds and Curve-billed Thrashers remain along Whitehouse Canyon Rd year round. Crissal Thrashers can sometimes be found on the Proctor trail where it crosses the road and stream. Phainopeplas are common in the mesquite grassland all year. Cedar Waxwings are more often in Green Valley but might be found in the Canyon in winter.

Only a few warblers remain in the Canyon in winter, usually found associated with roaming flocks of titmouse and bushtits: Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Gray, Townsend's, and Olive Warblers. A few Painted Redstarts setup winter territories along Madera Creek. There is always hope for a rare eastern warbler spending the winter in the Canyon.

Hepatic Tanager is the only tanager that regularly overwinters. A few Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias can be found in the mesquite grasslands on the way up to the Canyon and around Proctor. The rest of the grosbeaks and buntings should have moved south.

Green-tailed, Spotted, and Canyon Towhees can be found throughout the Canyon, particularly along the Canyon bottom. There should be lots of sparrows in the grasslands below the Canyon. The first few hours after sunrise between Florida Wash and Proctor Rd can be productive for sparrows. Possibilities include: Cassin's (rare), Rufous-winged, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, Brewer's, Black-chinned (rare), Grasshopper (rare), Vesper, Lark, Black-throated, Savannah, Lincoln's, and White-crowned Sparrows, and Lark Bunting. Dark-eyed Juncos (of several subspecies) are common throughout particularly around feeders and Yellow-eyed Juncos that nested high on the mountain come down to feeders in winter.

Eastern (Lilian's) Meadowlark is common in the grasslands; sometimes Western Meadowlarks may be found. Scott's Orioles rarely overwinter.

Lesser Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, and House Finches dominate the feeders in the Canyon. Other cardueline finches are typically rare in the Canyon but there appears to be an irruption of Cassin's Finch throughout southeast Arizona and Madera Canyon. Lawrence's Goldfinches are rare in the Canyon, more common in the valley in winter. Let us know if you spot an Evening Grosbeak, possible in winter.

To view or print the Madera Canyon bird checklist, go to:

If you see an unusual bird or one not on this bird checklist – please let us know by writing an email to:

To learn more about hummingbird research near Madera Canyon, go to:

To learn what unusual species are being seen in the Canyon and Arizona in general, go to:

Laurens Halsey
For the Friends of Madera Canyon

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.

Editor's Note: Additional birding information is available at Laurens' birding and nature guiding site, Desert Harrier.