Wing It With the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival

Your guide to the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival, and birding hotspots in and around Marana!

The Southeast Arizona Birding Festival, hosted by Tucson Audubon Society, takes place August 9-13, and is headquartered at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Tucson - Reid Park. From there, you can experience bird photography and art workshops, free talks, a vendor expo, and guided field trips all around Southern Arizona, led by expert birding guides.

Southeastern Arizona is positioned along several bird migration routes, and contains a variety of habitats, including riparian areas, wooded sky islands, rocky peaks, mountain foothills, and wide expanses of pristine desert. These combine to make it an ideal environment to see a wide diversity of bird species. The Arizona Monsoon Season in July and August leads to a rejuvenation of life in the desert, with birds being no exception. Many species are much more observable during the monsoons.

Southern Arizona is home to several species that can't be found anywhere in the US, which make unique additions to your birding checklist! 

  • Elegant Trogon
  • Lucifer Hummingbird
  • Red-faced Warbler
  • Arizona Woodpecker
  • Montezuma Quail

For a complete schedule of events, tours, FAQ's, and to book lodging accommodations, visit the Festival Website.

Marana-Area Birding Hotspots

Marana and the areas around it are home to several birding hotspots that are known the region over for their interesting terrain and diversity of bird species. Tour several of these sites with expert-guided tours during the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival, or, take a self-guided birding tour any other time ot the year! The festival's selection of locations are some of the most iconic in Southern Arizona, and put the geographic diversity and biodiversity of the region on full display. Here are some highlights:

El Rio Preserve and the Santa Cruz River

Tours offered Thursday, August 9 at 6:30 AM-9 AM and Friday, August 11 6:30 AM-9 AM.

The El Rio Preserve protects 104 acres of riparian area along the Santa Cruz River, and is one of the top birding spots in the Tucson area. Egrets, vireos, herons, comorants, warblers, mallards, and hummingbirds are just a few of the 227 species that have been documented at the Preserve. The Santa Cruz River has supported human agriculture for thousands of years, and was lined by lush, riparian ecosystems. Due to large-scale diversions for irrigation, the once-free-flowing river was transformed into an intermittent stream. As a result of efforts made in the past two decades to restore the ecosystem with discharged effluent, water once again flows constantly in the Santa Cruz through northwestern Marana. The course of the river is a great place to see a variety of bird species, especially during monsoon season, which coincides with the August bird migrations.

The El Rio Preserve can be easily accessed by foot or bike via The Loop Shared Use Path, or by car, a short distance from the Twin Peaks & I-10 Interchange. 

Saguaro National Park West and the Tucson Mountains

Tours offered: Thursday, August 10 5:30 AM-11:30 AM, Friday, August 11 7 AM - 12:30 PM (Beyond Birds: Lizards of Saguaro West) 

Running along the western edge of the Tucson area, the rugged Tucson Mountains overlook Saguaro National Park West, which is home to the largest cactus forest in the United States, striking sunsets, and of course its namesake, the majestic Saguaro Cactus. These cacti can only be found in Arizona and parts of northern Mexico. The saguaros act as "motels" of sort - many bird and mammal species (including bats) shelter within the cacti. The saguaro flowers and ripe fruit attract many birds and insects throughout their annual lifecycles. Gila woodpeckers, elf owls, rock wrens, and cactus wrens are just a few of the bird species you can see. 

Mount Lemmon and the Sky Islands

Towering more than 9,000 feet above the desert below, ascending Mount Lemmon or any of the region's other Sky Islands (since their climate is so different from the surrounding area, it's as if they were an island), takes you into a whole different world. At the base, you still have the look and feel of Southern Arizona, but near the top, you may think you're in Colorado, Montana, or British Columbia more than Arizona. In fact, driving up Mount Lemmon is the climatological equivalent of driving from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, and it can be done within an hour. The drastic changes in geography lead to an equally drastic variety of bird species. 

Catalina and Oracle State Parks

Located within the Catalina Mountains, both Oracle and Catalina State Parks contain a variety of vegetation, from the savanna-like grasses and scrubland of thhe mountain foothills, to a variety of tree species in the intermittent stream valleys. Both parks offer miles of hiking trails and panoramic mountain views. Catalina State Park is known for its soaring granite ridges, and Oracle State Park is known for its dark skies and spectacular stargazing conditions. Both parks are year-round birding destinations with a variety of Sonoran Desert species. 

Tohono Chul

A top-rated botannical garden containing beautifully-kept gardens of plant species native to the Sonoran Desert, including the legendary Queen of the Night, which only blooms once a year. The park's knowledgeable docents are sure to be able to let you know about the ways that birds interact with the various species and the desert as a whole. 

Also, don't miss the Tucson Audubon Society’s Mason Nature Center, near Marana, which offers bird walks during the fall, winter, and spring, November through April.

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