Marana, Arizona is fortunate to have a climate that’s inviting for many birds to maintain a year-round residence; including such familiar species as Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wrens, Gila woodpeckers, Lesser Goldfinches, Curve-billed Thrashers, Gambel’s Quail, Mourning Doves, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Verdins, Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s hawks.
But winter-time brings some new visitors who are fleeing the northern climes to our more moderate weather. Winters here are usually sunny enough to get out into nature and look for birds – and you don’t need to start quite as early on winter mornings since the birds become active a bit later in the day.
Winter Visitors (True Snow Birds)
At our wetlands the waterfowl become more numerous in winter, including the compact little Ruddy Ducks with tails that stick up sharply (a few males sporting their bright blue bills - too early to impress the lady ducks); sleek Pin-tailed Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks with their purple-black necks and heads that have a slight point at the back; and Northern Shovelers with their wide flat bills, to name a few.
Ruddy duck photo by Hollingsworth
In addition to the waterfowl, we have many interesting bird species that arrive or become more plentiful in the fall and winter, like the Lesser Goldfinches, and the Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds that swarm the agricultural fields in the fall and winter. Sometimes you can see a murmuration of blackbirds headed from the Marana agricultural fields to Sweetwater Wetlands in the evening.
Here is a photo of a mixed flock of blackbirds crossing the road near the Marana Municipal Complex
Photo by Ryan Mahoney
Raptors A’ Plenty
You will also find more raptors in this area during the winter, including Crested Caracaras, Merlins, Prairie Falcons, Peregrine Falcons, Ferruginous Hawks, Northern Harriers, and more. Overwintering sparrows are plentiful as well – you may see and hear White-crowned Sparrows, Brewer’s Sparrows and Lark Buntings.
The eager Red-tailed Hawk pair at the Marana Operations Center had already laid one egg in their nest as of December 2015. They have regularly returned to nest at this tower site for several years.
photo by Janine Spencer
If you head south from Marana to the Sulfur Springs Valley and Whitewater Draw near Willcox, you can see and hear thousands of impressively long-legged Sandhill Cranes, as well as many species of ducks and the occasional Great-horned Owl. Go to the Wings Over Willcox website for more information on the best places and times to see cranes.
If you are new to birding or to birding in Southeastern Arizona, you can find guided field trips through the Tucson Audubon Society’s website.
Bird’s the Word!
The birding is spectacular in Southeastern Arizona at any time of year, so don’t put your binoculars away just because winter is upon us – we have some great ”snowbirds” of the winged variety!
By: Janine Spencer, M.A. Wildlife Management