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Research

A strong and essential component of the Friend’s Education Program is the research that generates knowledge about the canyon and all of its diverse elements—geology, weather, plants, animals, birds, insects, and former human inhabitants. It is fortunate that Madera Canyon has been the focus of many research programs about the ecology, geology, and biology of the sky island habitats of southeastern Arizona.
At this time, there are several ongoing research programs in the Canyon, including work on hummingbirds, bats, and archaeology.

  • The Hummingbird Monitoring Network (link) is monitoring species diversity and populations of hummingbirds that use the canyon throughout the year. Read about the hummingbird project. (link to hummingbird below)
  • The Bat Program has installed 16 bat houses in the canyon and in the Santa Cruz valley. These will serve as breeding boxes and safe resting sites for the many species of bats that come through the canyon during migration. Read more about the Bat Project. (link to bat research below)
  • Exploration of the archaeology of Madera Canyon continues at the White House ruins and in other areas of the canyon that were occupied by or used by Native peoples in the past. Read more about Madera Canyon archaelogy.  (link to Passport In Time Project)


The Hummingbird Project

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 esquared@qwestoffice.net. If you would like to learn more about the national program, Hummingbird Monitoring Network, go to: www.HumMonNet.org.


Bat House Project

Despite extensive public education campaigns in recent years, misconceptions and unfounded beliefs about bats still persist. Perhaps more than any other nocturnal animal, bats remain targets of human suspicion, superstition, and fear. In 2003, the Friends of Madera Canyon initiated the Madera Canyon Bat House Project to promote bat awareness and conservation. Specifically, the project aims to provide additional bat roosting space in the canyon, educate visitors about the canyon’s many bat species, and to help raise public awareness and understanding of the vital role these animals play in southern Arizona’s natural ecosystems.

Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. They are nocturnal, sleeping during the day in protected places and emerging at night to hunt for food. Though most bats have excellent vision and a well-developed sense of smell, they rely primarily on sonar or “echo-location” to find food and avoid flying into objects. There are nearly 1000 species of bats worldwide and 35 species of bats in the United States. Seventeen species of bats have been identified in Madera Canyon and the Santa Rita Mountains, including the only Arizona record of Ghost-faced Bat. Some of these bats live in the canyon year-round; other species are “snowbirds,” residing here part time and migrating to other places with the seasons.

Different species of our southern Arizona bats prefer and utilize different habitats. Some, like California Leaf-nosed Bats, live and hunt down in the desert; others, like Silver-haired Bats, are only found high up in Sky Island mountain forests. A few species, like Big Brown Bats, are habitat generalists and utilize a variety of habitats. Mexican Free-tailed Bat and Pallid Bat are the most common species here in the southwest. For an idea of size, Mexican Free-tailed Bats have a 12 inch wingspan and weigh about as much as 4 pennies (4/10 of an ounce); the smallest bat in Arizona, the Western Pipistrelle, has an 8 inch wingspan and weighs 1/10 of an ounce (1 penny!).

The majority of our local bat species feed solely on insects and an individual is capable of catching more than 500 insects per hour! Mexican Free-tailed Bats from three caves near San Antonio, TX, consume up to a million pounds of insects a night! Such statistics illustrate the important role bats play in helping to control insect pests, such as mosquitoes. Two migrating local species, the Long-nosed Bat and Long-tongued Bat, are pollinators that feed on the nectar and pollen of saguaro, ocotillo, and agave blossoms; they are also famous for draining local hummingbird feeders at night. Pallid Bats often hunt on the ground, crawling and hopping about on the elbows of their folded wings to catch spiders, scorpions, and centipedes!

Over the past several decades, bat populations and numbers have declined in the U.S. due to pesticide use, habitat loss/fragmentation, and unjustified persecution. In a local response, the Friends of Madera Canyon researched and installed bat houses at five sites within the canyon, and also at La Posada and Continental School. A variety of bat house designs, built by Friends members Al Tozier, Bud Gode, Luis Calvo and U.S. Forest Service Ranger Don Marion, were tried and computerized data recorders were installed in the houses to monitor daily temperatures. Colorful, informative interpretive signs about canyon bats and the project were installed trailside at the Proctor and Whitehouse sites.
Following their installation, direct observation of the bat houses in the canyon and small accumulations of guano beneath, indicated that bats were using the two small, compact house designs at each site, but not the larger, flat rectangular houses. Subsequent analysis of temperature data corroborated these observations. Data showed that the large houses, with their direct, west-sun orientation, were often too hot for bats to tolerate during the spring and summer months when they are most likely to be in Madera Canyon. This design also had a tendency to act like a sail in high winds and blow over! As a result, all the large houses are being replaced by a smaller, cooler design with improved ventilation. A new adjustable mount also allows for precise sun orientation - the new houses will not only be cool enough for bats in summer, but warmer in the winter too! During routine maintenance in May 2010, Friends volunteers were very excited to find several Mexican Free-tailed Bats residing in the first of the new houses put up just last winter. The following chart lists the location and other data on the project’s Bat houses as of June 2010:
                       


    POSITION (Left to Right) ELEV. - HEADING - COORDINATES - DATE INSTALLED
1 2 3 4
Proctor N N1 R1 N
4501 ft. - 240° - N 34 44.364°, W 110 53.105° - 2004        
         
Whitehouse N N2 R2 Down
4627 ft. - 210° - N 31 44.119°, W 110 52.972° - 2004        
         
Kent Spring W5 - - W6
not determined to date - 2004        
         
Continental School W7 - - -
3025 ft. - 164° - N 31 50.588°, W 110 57.396° - 2004        
         
La Posada - N3 - -
2839 ft. - 194° - 31 51.785°, 110 58.731° - 2004        
         
Chuparosa Inn - N4 R4 W8
5265 ft. - 60° - N 31 42.972°, W 110 52.668° - 2003 & 2004        
         
Visitor Information Station - - R3 -
elevation, orientation, location, and date undetermined to date        
         

LEGEND:

(xx/xx/xx) = installation date
R = Rocket Box (two chambers)
N = Nursery Box (four chambers)
W = Wedge Box (one chamber); all wedges to be replaced by new 1 chamber Nursery Box by 2011
Notes: Symbol “W1”, “N2”, etc. from the above table is routered on the side of each corresponding bat house. The temperature data loggers were also identified accordingly.
Temperature monitoring of houses discontinued in 2006.
La Posada has taken over observation and maintenance of bat houses at La Posada

Bats are truly remarkable animals well-adapted to live in our Sky Island habitats. Evening picnics in Madera Canyon can be a great way to observe bats flying in their natural habitat. Proctor Ramada provides excellent open viewing over several habitats and the great sunsets are certainly an added bonus! Please visit the bat house sites in the canyon and check out the interpretive signs, but do not closely approach or disturb the houses. With all our help, bats will continue to be an essential link in the Madera Canyon’s web of life!

For more information you may mail Doug Moore by contacting him at our email address: info@friendsofmaderacanyon.org.