Ferruginous Hawk. Photo by Raven Bifrost
Southern Arizona has some of the best bird-watching areas in the world. People come here from all over the world to see many rare species found in few other places.
The following are our suggestions for where to find the best birding spots. Most of these areas have confirmed sightings of more than 300 species of birds. Generally, they are located along streams & rivers or in forested mountain canyons.
Just to get you started, you might want to watch the short video we created featuring John Ashley’s fine bird photographs.
Note: Birding hotspots are generally located in wild places. Some will have nearby lodging, but few if any will have nearby restaurants or grocery stores. So plan accordingly. TAKE YOUR OWN FOOD & DRINKS!
Great Horned Owl. Photo by John Ashley
Chiracahua National Monument is located southeast of Willcox on the west side of the Chiracahua Mountains, just one portion of the greater Coronado National Forest. When you go, we suggest you stop at the visitors center for a map and other information about trails, camping, & current conditions. The rangers there can point you to the best locations for bird-watching given the season. Camping in Bonita Canyon Campground is a good experience, but there is no other lodging here. Nor are there any restaurants, grocery stores or gas stations. The closest are in Willcox.
Portal is a tiny community on the eastern slope of the Chiracahuas and is a very popular birding area. In fact, there are places of lodging that cater specifically to the needs and interests of birders. Click here to go to our feature on Portal and the Forest Service Road 42 over the mountain to Chiricahua National Monument, about a two hour drive if you don’t stop to watch for birds & critters.
Southwest Research Station in Cave Creek Above Portal, AZ.
Cave Creek Ranch is one of those places that caters to birders. So far, we have only stayed at the Portal Lodge, which was OK, (small, sparse rooms but clean) and convenient for our road trip in April 2012. Portal Lodge has a small store and restaurant, the only ones in this area for miles. But, there is no gas station nearby, so plan accordingly. And no, the pumps at Rodeo down the hill across the New Mexico border are not always operational either.
The most important item you can purchase at the Portal Store is a Xerox copy of a local area map for $0.25. Very handy.
Five miles further up Cave Creek is the Southwestern Research Station, a working research center that offers accommodations and classes certain times of the year.
We have not stayed here overnight yet, but we’ve been by it and it looks like a great place to make our headquarters for a couple of days.
Located at 5400 feet elevation in the heart of the Chiricahua Mountains, the immediate area is famous for its nesting Elegant Trogons, many hummingbird species, and other spectacular birds that migrant from Central and South America.
The Center offers cabin accommodations, cafeteria dining, a reservoir for swimming, a hummingbird area, and gift shop. Here you will find many hiking trails within walking distance or a short drive. Individuals may make reservations from March 1st to June 15th and from September 1st to October 31st.
All rates include three full meals (vegetarian option) in their cafeteria where you have the opportunity to chat with other visitors and share birding experiences. On those days you wish to travel to more distant areas to bird watch, they will provide you with a sack lunch.
For more information: Southwestern Research Station.
During its short but lively heyday, Paradise had saloons, a barbershop, mercantile stores, hotels, a jail, and a red-light district. Almost everyone left when the mines failed, pulling down their homes and businesses and taking the lumber with them. The Walker house, built by George and Lula Walker at the turn of the century, is one of the few original structures still standing. The Paradise Cemetery, one mile from the house, is a walk through history.
The George Walker House is a 100-year-old two-bedroom abode in Paradise. We have not stayed here but we have a good friend who has many times and she raves about this place.
The owners live nearby and we hear they are exceedingly knowledgeable about the history and wildlife of this area. This former boom town now boosts a year-round population of twelve, who enjoy the serenity provided by the surrounding national forest.
Click HERE for more information about Camping and RV Parks near Portal.
Ramsey Canyon Preserve is located a little south of Sierra Vista. This area is owned by the Nature Conservancy and is one of the most beautiful wild places anywhere.
Among many others bird types here, including the Elegant Trogon, you can find 15 species of hummingbirds.
Not only will you find a wide range of birds, but also many critters, such as black bear and coatimundi. Liz Sackness runs the bookstore at the visitors center and has taken some great photographs of this unique area. You can see our slideshow of her pictures by clicking HERE.
Calliope Hummingbird. Photo by Liz Sockness
Just before the visitors center is Ramsey Canyon Inn B&B. It’s by far the most convenient for hiking in the Canyon. I’ve seen it from the outside and it looks ideal.
However, it gets mixed reviews and I don’t know why. We have not stayed there, but hope to do so sometime over the next 6 month. Will let you know. In the meantime, do some homework before making a reservation.
Ramsey Canyon Preserve is about 90 miles southeast of Tucson, near the city of Sierra Vista. Take I-10 east to Highway 90 exit. Go south to Sierra Vista. Take Highway 92 south from Sierra Vista for six miles and turn right on Ramsey Canyon Road. The preserve is at the end of Ramsey Canyon Road, four miles west of the highway. (520) 378-2785
For more Baja Arizona Birding Hotspots, click HERE to go to Southern Arizona Guide.