When to Go: Great Birding in All Seasons

What is the best time to be in Southeastern Arizona? The answer to that question depends on what you most want to see. Timing is everything. Some of our specialities are here year-round, but most are seasonal, and it pays to know when the ones you most want to see are here.

People often ask , “When is the very best time to be here?”  There are two months that I regard as “magical months” which coincide with the peaks of spring and autumn migration.  It is hard to beat being here between April 15 and May 15 in spring, and between August 15 and September 15 in autumn.   If your travel plans have serious time constraints, you will want to know what you might expect to see during the time you will be here. Some guidebooks offer bar graphs showing the likelihood of a given species being in the area at any given time of the year, but locals with real-time knowledge should be your primary source of information when planning your birding holiday. This information is available from several sources: area listservs, birder/guide blogs, local Audubon chapters, and personal contact through email with guides and lodging providers.  Spring migration (the end of March through to the middle of May) provides the opportunity of seeing the greatest number of species in the Sky Island mountain ranges and in the riparian habitats, including late-departing winter birds, migrants passing through, summer-breeding species, and our year-round resident species. June is the hottest and driest month with an average high of 90 degrees F (32.2 C).  Autumn migration begins in the second half of July, bringing the first of the southbound migrants, and runs well into November. There is an overlap of the fall migrants heading to Mexico and Central America and the return of Southeastern Arizona’s winter species — raptors, sparrows, and waterfowl, to name but a few — which begin to arrive in late September. Wintering birding here is some of the best birding in the US. From October through to mid-March, tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes winter in the Sulphur Springs Valley, and more than a dozen species of raptors and two dozen sparrow and longspur species can be seen in the valley on a given day.

Richard Fray has complied checklists (PDF files you can print) of SE AZ birds by month on his web site www.arizonabirder.com.  See them here.