Top 5 Birding Hotspots in Southeast Arizona

Updated: Jan. 03, 2024

This is Rob's list of the best birding hotspots in Southeast Arizona from the remote Chiricahua Mountains to Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson.

When you first think of going birding in Arizona, especially during the summer months, you tend to think of an extremely hot place that might not be where you would want to go out on a hike and look for birds. In reality, Arizona, and specifically the southeastern part of the state, offer incredible birding and a way to get out of the heat if you do it right. Since this area is part of the “Sky Islands”, you can spend the early morning birding in the lowlands before heading up the mountains later in the day to escape the heat. These are my top five birding hotspots in Southeast Arizona that you must visit!

1. Madera Canyon

This area, about an hour south of Tucson, is well-known by birders due to the great diversity of species you can see here as the habitat changes from desert grasslands to pine-oak forest as you gain elevation. The area has a list of over 250 species including 15 hummingbirds! Some of the highlight species are Elegant Trogon, Elf Owl, Varied Bunting, and occasionally Flame-colored Tanager.

Top 5 Birding Hotspots in Southeast ArizonaRob Ripma
Varied Buntings are beautiful birds!

2. Sweetwater Wetlands

This park, located just west of Tucson, offers some of the best birding in the city. The wetlands attract a large number of waterfowl in the winter and has a great list of resident species including Cactus Wren, Abert’s Towhee, Harris’s Hawk,  Pyrrhuloxia, Greater Roadrunner, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

3. The Chiricahua Mountains

The Chiricahua’s might be remote but the birding is absolutely fantastic. Most birder’s access the area from the small town of Portal close to the New Mexico border. Some of the highlights you might find in the area are Elegant Trogon, Mexican Chickadee, Red-faced Warbler, Olive Warbler, Red Crossbill, Zone-tailed hawk, and Juniper Titmouse.

Top 5 Birding Hotspots in Southeast ArizonaRob Ripma
Elegant Trogon is one of the most sought after species in Southeast Arizona.

4. Patagonia Lake State Park

The Patagonia area has incredible birding and this is one of the best spots in the region. Some of the birds you might find here include Vermilion Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Gila Woodpecker, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Phainopepla. It’s a great place to find rarities as well so always keep that in mind. While in the area, don’t forget to visit these other birding hotspots, Patagonia Roadside Rest Area, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, and the Paton Center for Hummingbirds.

Spring is a Great Time to Join a Local Bird HikeRob Ripma
If you live in parts of Arizona or New Mexico, you might be able to see this Red-faced Warbler!

5. Carr Canyon

This is just one of the many places to bird in the Huachuca Mountains but it happens to be my favorite. This is a great place to escape the heat of the day while enjoying wonderful birding. Some of the species you could see include Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Red-faced and Grace’s Warblers, Yellow-eyed Junco, and Steller’s Jay. The link included for Carr Canyon also describes the other birding hotspots in the Huachucas.