Anyone who has a passion for birdwatching needs to consider visiting Arizona. There’s a reason why this state is one of the most popular places for birders. From small hummingbirds to majestic condors, Arizona provides a habitat for more than 500 species of birds. It’s home to lots of specially designated areas to observe birds in their natural environment. In terms of ecosystems, the state is known to offer a solid diversity including mountainous parts and desert lowlands.
If you wish to discover the bird attractions of Arizona, take a look at some of the most sought-after bird species of this destination. Don’t forget to complete your birding equipment with some essential gear such as:
- Smartphone Monocular
With the help of a smartphone monocular, you can gain some convenient functions when using the device’s camera. This model arrives complete with a phone holder so you can take photos using the powerful magnification of the monocular. It’s a portable setup that works great for birders who don’t want to carry a bulky spotting scope that’s usually more expensive as well.
- Arizona Field Guide
Written by a respected field ornithologist, the National Geographic Arizona & New Mexico field guide is a valuable resource to consider. This practical book is designed to meet the needs of birders with high-quality illustrations and maps for finding and recognizing all the essential birds in the area.
- Mosquito Repellent Camp Lantern
If you feel vulnerable to mosquitos during your birding trip, it’s important to stay prepared with a reliable insect repellent solution. There are many options to try but one of the best is to get a mosquito repellent camp lantern like this model from Thermacell. It’s great when camping in a specific location that requires shielding from pesky biting insects.
1. Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Hummingbirds can be commonly found in Arizona. Here’s a great species to look for if you’re going on a birding expedition in this state. The violet-crowned hummingbird has a pretty self-explanatory name considering the elegant purple crown on its head. It’s a beautiful bird that shows a particularly vibrant red bill. The violet head of the hummingbird creates a nice contrast with the white underparts. Another characteristic of this bird that helps you identify it is the brown back. Violet-crowned hummingbirds can be usually found in the southern parts of Arizona in riparian habitats.
2. Arizona Woodpecker
Although this woodpecker is more widespread in Mexico, its range extends to southern Arizona. The species can be recognized by the presence of a brown back and spotted black-and-white underparts. Arizona woodpeckers live in fairly high mountainous regions but you can find them in the state at middle elevations. This is a small insectivore bird that’s quite a rare find even if you visit its specific habitat. To increase your chances of spotting an Arizona woodpecker, it’s recommended to look for it during the breeding season when the bird is vocal.
3. Montezuma Quail
Montezuma quails show off extravagant looks and represent an important attraction for birders visiting Arizona. The game bird is more common in the oak woodlands of Mexico but its range extends to southeastern Arizona. The male can be easily identified by its round body and harlequin facial pattern. It also features an impressively patterned body appearance with white spots and tinges of chestnut. Finding a Montezuma quail isn’t necessarily a challenge. You just need to explore deeper parts of its habitat to encounter the bird as it likes to hide in dense vegetation.
4. Elegant Trogon
Southeastern Arizona is truly a treasure trove for birders. This small area of the state can give you the chance to see rare birds that can be usually seen in Central or South America regions. A good example is the elegant trogon that visits the state’s southeastern mountain ranges for breeding. It’s extremely rare to spot this bird anywhere else in the US. The species can be identified by its attractive red/green color mix and hunchbacked posture. Elegant trogons also feature long tails with fine barring and a square tip. Your best bet for finding this tropical-looking bird is to explore canyon forests of oak and sycamore.
5. Buff-breasted Flycatcher
The buff-breasted flycatcher is quite easily identified compared to similar species. The bird features cinnamon underparts, a brown back, and a white border around the eye. True to its name, this flycatcher shows a buff breast. It’s usually brighter looking compared to most dull flycatchers. The bird resides primarily in Mexico but it can reach southeastern Arizona during the breeding season. Periodic forest fires can be advantageous for the habitat of buff-breasted flycatchers as it contributes to better foraging.
6. Lesser Nighthawk
Found in the US only during the summer, the lesser nighthawk can be seen flying on buoyant wings in the search of insects through the air. This bird can be spotted in the western and southern parts of Arizona as it prefers desert habitats. Once the heat of the day starts to lose its intensity, the lesser nighthawk gets out of its camouflaged location and performs its characteristic aerial foraging acrobatics. These birds show off long wings and tails with an overall brown-and-gray plumage. Males can be distinguished from females through their white tail band.
7. Black Phoebe
An elegant flycatcher, the black phoebe can be found year-round in Arizona. This bird is known for building nests using mud in cliffs, and against walls or bridges. To recognize a black phoebe, you can check for its small and plump body with a dark sooty and white plumage. As they tend to hang close to water sources, black phoebes are not particularly hard to find. Just make sure you go looking for the birds within their range. Listen for their shrill chirps that guide you to their location.
A desert bird that lives in hot and dry environments, the verdin has a yellow head and small reddish shoulder patches. This mostly gray bird looks similar to a chickadee with the exception of its slenderer silhouette. Verdins are insectivores but will also include other foods in their diet such as fruits. It’s a known bird to be attracted by hummingbird feeders. You can find a verdin in southern and central areas of Arizona year-round. It blends well in its dry scrub habitat but you might be able to spot the pale plumage of the bird if you become familiar with its song.
9. Whiskered Screech-Owl
The whiskered screech-owl has a fairly restricted range in the oak woodlands of Mexico but it can also be found in the US. It’s another bird that can be observed by birders visiting southeast Arizona. Though it has a paler bill, the owl resembles the appearance of the western screech species very closely so it’s quite tough to distinguish it visually. The best solution is to listen to the characteristic call of the whiskered screech-owl to make a proper identification.
10. Blue-throated Mountain-gem
Among breeding species of hummingbirds in the US, the blue-throated mountain-gem boasts the largest dimensions. It’s quite an imposing presence when it searches flowers and feeders for nectar. As its name suggests, the male hummingbird shows a characteristic blue gorget that shines beautifully in the right light conditions. Blue-throated mountain-gems can also be recognized by their white outer tail feathers and striped eye appearance. Streamside flower banks and gardens in southeastern Arizona can be often visited by this attractive hummingbird. You can also explore the mountain ranges in the region to spot this bird.
11. Mexican Jay
The Mexican jay is a social bird whose range includes mostly mountainous areas of Mexico. It has an important presence in southeast Arizona where groups of birds reside permanently. Open oak woodlands are the preferred habitats of these jays. Adult birds can be recognized by a pale blue plumage and fairly long legs. Mexican jays show off hefty bills and gray underparts. They forage on the ground in groups with multiple breeding pairs. These are territorial birds and groups of jays will often tend to multiple active nests.
12. Greater Pewee
Arizona is a great destination for birders looking to observe flycatchers. The greater pewee represents a common sight in central and southeastern parts of the state during summer. This is a large, slightly crested bird with mostly gray plumage. One interesting feature is the dual-colored bill that shows an orange hue only on the lower part. The brown wings of the greater pewee stand out a little against the body thanks to the presence of white bars. Search for this bird in open woodlands and mountainous regions of southern Arizona.
13. Gila Woodpecker
Exploring the deserts of Arizona can be a good idea for birders hoping to see some unique species in the area. A solid example is the Gila woodpecker that’s widespread year-round in the southern half of the state. This bird is adapted for living in arid treeless deserts and relies on saguaro cacti for creating its nesting hole. The species has a barred back in typical black-and-white woodpecker fashion as well as tan underparts and head. Male birds are more distinguished due to a red crown patch that’s not found on females.
14. Eared Grebe
A common winter visitor in Arizona, the eared grebe is a small waterbird with a particularly vibrant red eye. It’s a very abundant grebe that also has a solid summer presence in the northeastern parts of Arizona. You might be able to catch the eared grebe in its breeding season when the bird shows its characteristic golden feathers fanning out from the cheek. Breeding adults can also provide a delightful sight for birders through their elegant chestnut sides contrasting with the black head. Lakes and ponds are the preferred habitats of eared grebes.
Birders in Arizona can find a variety of bird species, and that includes rails like sora that live in wetland habitats. This is a secretive marsh bird that can be recognized by its bright yellow bill and short tail pointed up. Soras feature gray faces with a dark mask while the bodies are barred and spotted in a mix of brown, black, and white. Both the looks and the bird’s nature make it a fairly difficult discovery even if you’re searching through the right environment. This type of rail bird is easiest to observe if you rely on its distinctive whinny call to locate it.
16. Chihuahuan Raven
Here’s an interesting raven species that’s only found in dry scrubs and arid deserts. The Chihuahuan raven is a dark and large corvid that shows off distinctively long nasal bristles. This is a highly social bird that can be seen in its natural habitat in southeast Arizona. It’s a common bird but not particularly widespread so you need to inspect various tall perches and dry areas to spot it. Chihuahuan ravens are permanent residents of the state and can be seen roosting in flocks.
17. Flame-colored Tanager
Although it’s rare in Arizona, the flame-colored tanager is quite widespread in Central America. This attractive bird is a vagrant that sometimes visits the US when straying far from its typical oak and pine-evergreen forests of Mexico. The flame-colored tanager has a beautiful orange plumage that’s bright enough to aid in visual identification. As the bird tends to forage mostly in the canopy of the trees, birders can often miss it. We recommend investing high-performance binoculars to get a good look at this bird species.
18. Grace’s Warbler
Widespread in Arizona during summer, the Grace’s warbler is a beautiful discovery for any birder exploring pine forests. This tiny bird comes dressed in an ashy gray and yellow plumage with some patches of white and black. Skillful foliage gleaners, Grace’s warblers can be spotted when they hunt for insects through dense pine needles. Despite its size, this warbler is a highly energetic bird that can be tough to observe properly. It’s recommended to listen carefully for its trilling song to locate it.
19. Gray Hawk
Found usually only in Arizona and Texas (as far as its breeding range extends in the US), the tropical gray hawk is quite a sight for lots of birders. This bird of prey has short wings with a rounded shape. True to its name, this hawk species is predominantly gray. The tail of the bird is banded while the chest shows off elegant barring patterns. Gray hawks soar along lowland streams and various wooded regions in southeastern Arizona. It can only be seen in the summer breeding season where birders can rely on the raptor’s whistled calls to find it.
20. Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
The northern beardless-Tyrannulet won’t impress a lot of birders with its plain gray plumage but it will draw a lot of attention in terms of singing. This tiny flycatcher produces plaintive vocalizations that resemble sad whistles. These distinctive sounds will help you find it in its dense woodland thicket habitat. Northern beardless-Tyrannulets are much more widespread in Mexico but the bird’s range will reach southeastern parts of Arizona. Search for it at middle forest elevations and near streams.
21. Ruddy Ground-Dove
The ruddy ground-dove has an extensive range in Central and South America regions. In the US, this bird is mostly encountered in Arizona in open and semi-open areas. This is a small dove that’s very aptly named considering its ruddy color. Males are the colorful ones compared to the grayish-brown females but both sexes show off darker red tinges on the wings during flight. Birders in Arizona can admire the tropical look of the ruddy ground-dove mainly in fall but sometimes in the winter as well.
22. Sinaloa Wren
Another challenging bird to find in Arizona, the Sinaloa wren is usually seen in the lowlands and foothills of Mexico. The bird’s range extends to the US only through southern Arizona. Considering its mostly brown appearance, this wren species is quite easy to miss in its natural environment. Your best bet is to listen for the pleasant whistles of the bird. The song is similar to the one performed by a Happy wren but the scolding calls of the Sinaloa wren are much more varied in tonality. Visual identification can be done more easily when checking for a bold white eyebrow.
23. Thick-billed Kingbird
As the name of the bird implies, the thick-billed kingbird stands out due to its particularly hefty bill. The bird has a gray-brown appearance but its underparts show off yellow-white for a contrasting color mix. The range of this kingbird is quite limited in the United States but the bird reaches various southern and central parts of Arizona. It’s found in other US regions but this is pretty much the best state to search for it. Thick-billed kingbirds can be distinguished from similar species due to the bill’s dimensions.
24. Zone-tailed Hawk
A sleek raptor that’s often encountered by Arizona birders in the summer, the zone-tailed hawk can be easily confused with the Turkey vulture. It takes some more experience to be able to identify a zone-tailed hawk properly, especially considering how you’re likely to spot it soaring high in the sky. The hawk has a large white band on its tail that allows birders to differentiate it from Turkey vultures. You can find this raptor in arid foothills, canyons, and waterways in forests. It’s recommended to get your hands on some powerful binoculars to get a good view of a zone-tailed hawk.
25. Greater Roadrunner
One particularly interesting attraction for birders visiting Arizona is the greater roadrunner. This is a unique cuckoo species that runs very fasts while boasting elegant mottled plumage. The bird spends most of its time in arid grasslands and low deserts. Due to its fast movement, you might not get a proper view to identify it. The bird’s silhouette during running is quite unmistakable though. Greater roadrunners keep their bodies parallel to the ground and rely on long tails for steering. Adults birds can showcase blue-black crests.
26. Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed thrashers are quite common in the arid deserts and canyons of southwestern Arizona. These birds are skilled insectivores that rely on their long bill to forage on the ground or among cacti. You can find curve-billed thrashers year-round in the state. Although its grayish-brown plumage won’t attract too much attention, this long-bodied bird can stand out through its distinctive whistle-like calls. Northern mockingbirds will often imitate the vocalizations of a curve-billed thrasher so make sure you get a good look at the bird before confirming its identity.
With silky black plumage and an eye-catching crest, phainopepla is often sought by Arizona birders. It’s a particularly beautiful sight during the flight where you can also notice white tinges on phainopepla’s wings. These birds are easiest to find in desert dry washes but can also be seen in the oak woodlands of Arizona. Phainopeplas prefer a diet of fruits but will also sit perched looking for insects. Keep in mind that this bird can only be found in the summer breeding season in the US.
28. Painted Redstart
The painted redstart is a type of warbler that’s more widespread in Mexico yet it can be frequently seen in the US as well, particularly Arizona. The bird has a fairly large body for a warbler and features a red belly and black overall plumage. A notable characteristic is the presence of white wing patches that can be observed better when the bird is foraging. Painted redstarts can be differentiated from other warblers without too much effort just by listening for their unique vocalizations. Compared to similar species, these birds prefer foraging more conspicuously.
29. Elf Owl
Birders looking for owls in Arizona won’t be disappointed. They might be lucky enough to spot some uncommon species like the elf owl. This is considered one of the smallest owls on the globe and can be regularly found in brushy woodlands and desert regions nearby. Elf owls are nocturnal so can’t be found easily unless you’re listening for their characteristic whiny chuckle calls. This owl species can be confused with the flammulated owl but there are some key differences to keep in mind. The most notable are the white eyebrows and small dimensions of the elf owl.
30. Ash-throated Flycatcher
Ash-throated flycatchers live in open woodlands and scrub habitats. They’re commonly seen throughout Arizona in the summer. The bird is very well adapted to dry conditions and doesn’t require water as it covers all its hydration needs through its food. Aside from its ashy gray face and throat, this flycatcher can be recognized by its peaked crown and pale yellow belly. Its overall plumage appearance makes it blend quite effectively with the surroundings so it’s worth paying attention to the ash-throated flycatcher’s distinctive call to localize it.