Fall Migration of Birds in Southeast Arizona

Migrating Yellow Warbler, Catalina State Park, September (photo Bob Bowers)

Home to some of the best watching in the country, southeast Arizona actually has four birding ‘seasons’.  Our resident birds, like Cactus Wrens, Curve-billed Thrashers and Northern Cardinals, live here year-round and give us a continuous ‘season’ of birding.  A second ‘season’ consists of birds that come here to breed, nest and fledge their young, arriving in spring from Mexico or further south and then returning to their winter grounds, usually by the end of September.  These locally nesting birds include Hooded Orioles and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, among others.  A third birding ‘season’ is the reverse of the second:  some species, like White-crowned Sparrows, winter here.  They arrive from their more northern nesting areas around the end of September, and then head back north in the spring.  Finally, a fourth and a fifth ‘season’ of birding consists of birds that pass through our area as they migrate between their northern nesting areas and their southern wintering grounds in Mexico or Central America.  The spring migration is short-lived, and birds like the Rufous Hummingbird and American Robin are rarely seen in SaddleBrooke in the spring, if at all.  Understandably, they are rushing north to their breeding grounds, and those who snooze, lose.  Fall migration, though, is a different story.  When bird families pass through on their way back south, they sometimes hang out for weeks, gorging on monsoon bugs and flowers.  These southbound migrants, combined with summer nesters and our year-round residents produce a perfect storm of birding in August and September, my two favorite birding months in Arizona.

The Birds of August and September

Hummingbird activity, which drops off in July and early August, picks up significantly around mid-August and remains strong through September.  Our year-round Costa’s practically own the feeders in July, but the competition heats up by August 15th.  Black-chinned Hummingbirds, who nest along nearby washes, return to home feeders to stock up for their trip to Mexico.  Migratory Anna’s join those that didn’t leave in the summer, and hang around to nest in winter and spring.  Rufous Hummingbirds, returning to Mexico from their summer breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest, arrive in swarms and stay through September, joined by occasional Broad-billed and the more rarely seen Broad-tailed.  This is a good time to hang additional feeders and to try hand feeding hummers.

Male Summer Tanager, Peppersauce Campground, Arizona (photo Bob Bowers)

Brightly-colored Western Tanagers, Yellow Warblers,  Wilson’s Warblers, Nashville Warblers and MacGillivray’s Warblers sometimes stop briefly in SaddleBrooke, but can be seen reliably in Catalina State Park or Catalina Regional Park.  Slight increases in elevation bring more species into the mix.  Visit Peppersauce Canyon for Painted Redstarts, Black and White Warblers, Summer Tanagers and Hermit Warblers, and the higher elevations of Mt. Lemmon for a large variety of warblers, including Grace’s, Red-faced, Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray and Olive.

Familiarize yourself with these ‘opportunity’ birds and give more than the usual passing glance at backyard visitors.  Visit Peppersauce, Catalina Regional Park, Catalina State Park and Mt. Lemmon.  August and September might become your favorite birding months, too.

(This article originally appeared in the September, 2012 Saddlebag Notes newspaper, Tucson, Arizona.  Text and photographs copyright Bob Bowers.)

About Bob

A lifelong naturalist, Bob's avocation is birding, including field observation, study, photography and writing. He spent a career in computers and consulting, but his free time has been spent outdoors backpacking, fishing and enjoying nature firsthand. Bob has traveled extensively, exploring and photographing above and underwater in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Egypt and throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Now retired, as an amateur ornithologist Bob studies, photographs and writes primarily about birds of the Western Hemisphere. Formerly the Feature Writer for Latin America and Caribbean Travel at Suite101.com, he has been Suite101's Feature Writer for Birds and Birding since January, 2010, and has received seven Editor's Choice awards, which are listed below. Bob also writes a monthly birding column for a newspaper in Arizona, and his work appears in the travel magazine, Another Day in Paradise, published in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. His blog, Birding the 'Brooke and Beyond, discusses birding, travel and other topics in Southeast Arizona and beyond. Bob is a member of the National and Tucson Audubon Societies, Western Field Ornithologists, Arizona Field Ornithologists, the American Birding Association and other birding and conservation organizations. Bob and his wife, Prudy, live in the Santa Catalina Mountain foothills near Tucson, Arizona. To date, Bob has received Suite101 Editor's Choice awards for the following articles: • Birding by Cruise Ship in the Caribbean • The Xantus' Hummingbird, Baja California's Only Endemic Hummer • Birding the White Mountains in and Around Greer, Arizona • The Greater Roadrunner, New Mexico's State Bird • Where to Find Steelhead on the Lower Deschutes River in Oregon • Birding La Bajada near San Blas, Mexico • The 2008 Christmas Bird Count at Estero del Yugo in Mazatlan
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