Madera Canyon Birds: Spring 2014 – March 1 to May 31
A complete checklist of Madera Canyon birds is available for download here and in print at the Visitor Information Station as you enter the canyon and in brochure boxes attached to trail map panels in the canyon. To learn what unusual species are being seen in the canyon and in southeast Arizona generally, go to the local birding hotline on the web at: http://birding.aba.org/maillist/AZ.
Summary: The past winter was particularly dry with no significant moisture until the first of March. And with spring being a generally dry period do not be surprised at fire restrictions and closures in Madera Canyon later this spring. Birds and other wildlife will be concentrating in areas where they can find water. The few pools of surface water along Madera Creek will be attractive.
Red-tailed Hawks may be found along roads in the Santa Cruz River valley and in smaller numbers up towards Madera Canyon. Their numbers drop rapidly throughout early spring as the bulk of the wintering population migrates north, leaving a few nesting pairs to remain through summer. Cooper's Hawks, year-round canyon residents, will be setting up territories to nest in the canyon. A few Northern Goshawks remain all year in the Canyon at higher elevations, though rarely seen. Sharp-shinned Hawks are rare migrants through the canyon in spring. Swainson's and Zone-tailed Hawks may be found over the grasslands in spring, but they are uncommon. Golden Eagles may occasionally be seen soaring high over the Canyon; more likely to be found in nearby more remote canyons. Northern Harriers may be seen over the grasslands at the base of the canyon. Rarely all four of the local falcons, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon and Prairie Falcon, may be found on the road up to the Canyon.
Three species of quail can be found in and around the canyon. Gambel's Quail are common in the desert scrub at lower elevations (more common towards Green Valley). Scaled Quail also inhabit the lower elevations, though very uncommon, a few utilize 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. If you know their calls, 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. Wild Turkeys can be found throughout, from the canyon bottom to the higher elevation oak covered slopes and occasionally out on the grasslands. This re-introduced population is flourishing, particularly near bird feeders.
Mourning Doves are present year round around the canyon frequenting feeding stations and are common in spring. White-winged Doves have returned and may be in the canyon from now through the summer. You might find singles or flocks of Band-tailed Pigeons along trails at higher elevations. Inca Doves and Common Ground-Doves are rare in the washes below the canyon at any season. Greater Roadrunners are regular all year around Proctor and down into the desert though not commonly seen; they rarely may be encountered at higher elevations. Yellow-billed Cuckoos do not arrive in the canyon until June.
Now is a good time to listen for Great Horned, Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, and Northern Pygmy-Owls. They are in the canyon but are very hard to find except when they are calling. Elf Owls will arrive in late March and several pairs usually nest from Whitehouse Picnic Area up to the Mt. Wrightson parking area. A few Spotted and Flammulated Owls are in the forests in the upper canyon but are very hard to locate. Barn Owls may be encountered at dusk and dawn along less traveled roads in the desert below the Canyon.
By April Lesser Nighthawks may be seen between dusk and dawn along Whitehouse Canyon and Madera Canyon Roads; easily seen around the lights along the entrance road to La Posada. Common Poorwill can be heard in the evenings below Proctor and in the lower portions of the Canyon. Mexican Whip-poor-wills can be heard from the Mt. Wrightson parking area and up the Canyon. Vaux's Swift is an uncommon migrant over Madera Canyon, while White-throated Swifts are often seen high over ridgelines but more commonly in Box Canyon.
The spring hummingbird migration is from March through April. Broad-billed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds return to breed. Most of the Broad-tailed and all of the Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds will move through to more northern mountains. The few Anna's, Magnificent, and Blue-throated Hummingbirds, that overwinter, become more numerous. The hummingbird monitoring research program that once took place in Madera Canyon will begin in March over in nearby Florida Canyon. For details and the 2014 schedule, consult www.humbander.net.
Several Elegant Trogons overwintered in nearby Florida Canyon and one in Madera Canyon. The main population of trogons should return to the Canyon in late March and early April followed by nesting in May. They can be heard along the stream beds from the Amphitheater Parking Area up canyon on the Carrie Nation & Super Trails and at Bog and Kent Springs.
Ladder-backed, Arizona, and Acorn Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers are common. Hairy Woodpeckers are uncommon in the forested area high on the mountain. The wintering population of Red-naped and any other Sapsucker species will be moving north by the end of March. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers are common around Green Valley but not in the canyon.
Eighteen species of flycatchers have been recorded for the canyon and all are here in spring. Some come early and others, like the Sulphur-bellied will not arrive until late May. Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet may be found around Proctor. Olive-sided Flycatcher is usually at higher elevations but passes through quickly in spring. The most common species in spring are Greater Pewee, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond's, Dusky, Gray, Cordilleran, Pacific Slope, Dusky-capped, Ash-throated, and Brown-Crested Flycatchers, Black and Say's Phoebe, and Cassin's and Western Kingbirds.
You might find a Loggerhead Shrike on your drive up to the canyon but they are not common. The resident Hutton's Vireos will be joined by migrating Cassin's Vireo and nesting Plumbeous and Warbling Vireos. Bell's Vireos are easily heard, not so easily seen, from Proctor down through the brushy grasslands.
Mexican Jays may be found in flocks throughout the Canyon. Steller's Jays are uncommon in the fir forest higher on the mountains, not likely to be seen near any road. The Common Ravens are the more common of the two ravens in the canyon with some flocks of Chihuahuan Ravens in the mesquite grasslands and pecan groves along the Santa Cruz River. Western Scrub-Jays are rare along Proctor Road down from the Canyon.
White-breasted Nuthatches, Bridled Titmice, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are common in the juniper-oak woodlands. The numbers of kinglets diminish as they migrate to breeding grounds to north but this is the time of year that we get to see their bright red crowns. There may be a few Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches high in the canyon near Josephine Saddle. Flocks of Bushtits are common in the juniper-oak habitats. Brown Creepers may be anywhere in above 5,000 feet. Verdins are permanent residents, found in the mesquite grassland around Proctor.
You can find five wrens along the roads to and in the canyon any time of year: Cactus at lower elevations, and House, Bewick's, Canyon, and rarely Rock in the Canyon. Eastern Winter and Pacific Wrens are rare. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers migrate through the mesquite-grasslands near Proctor and breed in the juniper-oak habitats along the Four Springs Trail. Black-tailed Gnatcatchers might be found in the mesquite grassland (below Proctor) while the rare Black-capped Gnatcatcher has not been reported for some time around Madera Canyon.
American Robins are common migrants in the Canyon. Bluebirds of any type are usually uncommon in the Canyon. Eastern Bluebirds are rare residents in the juniper-oak habitats and may breed near the Bog Springs Campground. Townsend's Solitaire is a rare find in the canyon. Hermit Thrushes are common all year; their beautiful songs can be heard in the upper reaches of the Canyon in the spring. Swainson's Thrush is an uncommon spring migrant.
Northern Mockingbirds and Curve-billed Thrashers can be found along Whitehouse Canyon Rd. Resident Crissal Thrashers can sometimes be found in the mesquites along Proctor Rd. Phainopeplas are common in the mesquite grassland all year where they feed on mistletoe berries. Flocks of migrating Cedar Waxwings may be found in the Canyon.
Migrating wood warblers will increase in number through May and some will remain to nest. Migrants include Orange-crowned, Nashville, Townsend's, Hermit, Wilson's, Black-and-white (rare), MacGillivray's (uncommon), and Northern Waterthrush (rare), while breeding species include Virginia's (uncommon), Lucy's, Yellow (rare), Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Gray, Grace's, Red-faced, and Olive Warbler along with Painted Redstart. Yellow-breasted Chat is rare in the canyon. Thirty-four species of warblers have been documented in Madera Canyon. The following warbler species are very rare in Madera Canyon (and Arizona), don't count on seeing them: Crescent-chested, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Yellow-throated, Prairie, Cerulean, Hooded, Fan-tailed, and Slate-throated Redstart.
A few Hepatic Tanagers overwintered in the canyon and will be joined by Western, Summer, and more Hepatic Tanagers in April. A few Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias can be found in the mesquite grasslands on the way up to the canyon. Black-headed Grosbeak is an abundant migrant throughout the canyon and remains through the summer to breed. Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a rare spring visitor, most often seen around one of the feeding stations. Beginning in May Blue Grosbeak and Varied Bunting can be found in the mesquite grasslands below Madera Canyon up to Proctor. Lazuli Buntings compete for feeder space as they migrate through to more northern breeding areas. The few wintering Green-tailed Towhees will soon depart while Canyon Towhees will become more evident around Proctor. Spotted Towhees move from the lower Canyon up to the pine-fir and scrub oak habitats high in the Canyon. This has been a slow year for wintering sparrows (Chipping, Brewer's, Black-chinned (rare), Vesper, Lark, Lincoln's, Fox (rare), Savannah, and White-crowned Sparrows, & Lark Bunting), their numbers will be declining as spring progresses and they migrate northward. Botteri's and Cassin's Sparrow will be returning to the grasslands below the canyon but will be mostly silent & difficult to find until June. Rufous-winged, Rufous-crowned, & Black-throated Sparrows are resident in the grasslands and lower portions of the canyon. Dark-eyed Juncos and Yellow-eyed Juncos are still at feeders from Santa Rita Lodge to the Chuparosa Inn. The Dark-eyed will migrate north and the Yellow-eyed will go up higher in the canyon to nest.
Eastern (Lilian's) Meadowlark is common in the grasslands. Sometimes Western Meadowlarks may be heard in the grasslands but most leave for their breeding grounds to the north. Scott's Orioles will be common in the canyon by May and Hooded and Bullock's Orioles, while more common in Green Valley, are also found in the canyon.
Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, and Pine Siskins dominate the feeders in the canyon in early spring but the Siskins will soon depart for the north.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.