Birding in Madera Canyon, Arizona

The beautiful Madera Canyon, located in the Santa Rita Mountain Range in southern Arizona, is considered by many to be a bird-watcher’s paradise. The terrain on the approach to Madera Canyon is grasslands, which gives way to mountain forest. The area is renowned for its abundance of bird species and the relatively easy access to watch and photograph birds that are generally not seen elsewhere.

In the grassland area it is not uncommon to see the occasional roadrunner as well as several species of hawks. Western and Cassin’s Kingbirds have also been spotted. Approaching from north to south, the first recommended bird-watching area is the Proctor Road Trail which follows a creek bed with plentiful bird life, especially when it has rained and there is water in the creek.

The very best area for bird-watching and photographing is the Santa Rita Lodge, with a wide variety of species attracted to the platform feeders set up in various areas. All year round residents include the Mexican Jay, Acorn Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch, with an Elf Owl as a long-time permanent resident of a utility pole near the highest cabin. Birds that are prevalent in summer include Black-headed Grosbeak, Bridled Titmouse, Lesser Goldfinch and Scott’s Oriole. More than twelve species of Hummingbirds have been sighted, with the Black-chinned, Broad-billed and Magnificent Hummingbirds being the most abundant. In the winter months the Dark-eyed Junco and Yellow-eyed Junco, as well as Cassin’s Finch take up residence in the area.

Regular bird-watchers in the area recommend getting an early start, especially for photography. The sun arrives in Madera Canyon about an hour after daybreak and this is the hour that affords the best photography opportunities. If you miss this hour, however, even in full sunlight there are shaded areas which are good bird-watching vantage points. It should also be noted that the sun leaves the canyon an hour or two before sunset.

Visitors to Madera Canyon are advised to bring their own food and refreshments and plenty of drinking water. Also, bearing in mind that exposure to the Arizona sunshine can quickly result in sunburn, it is recommended to use a minimum SPF30 sunscreen at all times. Sunglasses and a sunhat are also recommended. Bird-watchers who have visited Madera Canyon generally agree that a visit to this popular birding area is a very rewarding experience.