Madera Canyon Birding – 250+ Amazing Species of Birds

Kids hiking Mt. Wrightson in Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon Birding, located in Southeastern Arizona, is some of the best in the country. With fifteen species of hummingbirds, Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Flame-colored Tanager, 36 species of wood warblers, and over 256 species of birds documented, it is a “required” site for all serious birders.

It is also a great stop for the not-so-serious or new-to-the-world-of-birding crowd. We have been visiting the canyon every year for well over 20 years. Each trip we are continually amazed at the beauty of the mountains and the abundance of wildlife.

So grab your binoculars, put on some sunscreen and get ready to catch a glimpse of everything from Mexican Jays and Yellow-eyed Junco to Ladder-backed Woodpecker and White-Breasted Nuthatch.

Other highlights include Black-headed Grosbeaks, Acorn Woodpeckers, Great Horned Owl, Whiskered Screech Owl, Zone-tailed Hawk, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Cactus Wrens, and so much more.

Madera Canyon Birding – All About the Canyon

Madera Canyon Birding - View of Madera Canyon from Green Valley, AZ
View of Madera Canyon and Mt. Wrightson (Left) from Green Valley, AZ

Madera Canyon is a north-facing valley in the beautiful Santa Rita Mountains. It is part of Coronado National Forest. The canyon is located outside of Green Valley, Arizona, about an hour south of Tucson, AZ.

The habitat is largely riparian woodland along an intermittent stream, bordered by mesquite, juniper-oak woodlands, and pine forests at higher elevations. It is also home to Mt. Wrightson, which is a wonderful hike if you are up for it.

Madera Canyon and Madera Creek cross four different habitats, from the desert floor to snow covered mountaintops. You’ll see everything from Prickly-Pear cactus in the lower canyon to Quaking Aspen and Douglas Fir on Mt. Wrightson!

If you are lucky, in addition to over 250 species of birds, you also might see White-tailed and Mule Deer, Wild Turkeys, rabbits and squirrels. Other animals, such as Black Bear, Coati, Gray Fox, Ringtail, Raccoon, Bobcat, and Mountain Lion live in the area but are rarely seen.

Madera Canyon birding also changes with the seasons. You are likely to see very different activity depending on whether you are there during breeding season, or have the unfortunate luck of visiting in the peak of summer.

Luckily, the canyon is often 10 degrees F cooler, or more, than the desert floor. That altitude difference, shade, and cooling effect produced by the plants, can help tame that Arizona sun!

Key Takeaway: 
Madera Canyon is a birding hot spot. With over 250 species of birds known to visit the valley, there is something for everyone.

Madera Canyon Birding – All about the Birds

Madera Canyon Birding - Image of hummingbird
Image: iStockPhoto.com

Madera Canyon is home to over 250 species of birds, including 15 hummingbird species. Visitors from all over the world arrive in search of unique birds such as the Elegant Trogon, Elf Owl, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Red-faced Warbler and Painted Redstart. Sixteen species of bats have been recorded in the Canyon.

Night birding is also popular, so make sure you bring your flashlight. It’ll be hard not to check off some amazing new birds from your Life List as you wander the trails that crisscross the valley.

Below are some resources that Friends of Madera Canyon has put together to help you on your adventure.

Birds of Madera Canyon 2020 checklist (PDF)

Madera Canyon Hiking Trail Map (PDF)

Madera Canyon Hiking Trail Descriptions (PDF)

Madera Canyon Birding – Where to go?

Hiking Old Baldy Trail while birding in Madera Canyon
Old Baldy Trail – A good hike with awesome birding opportunities

Madera Canyon is large. We’ve broken it down into four sections to help guide you to your style of birding.

Road to Madera Canyon

The road that winds up Madera Canyon covers multiple habitats, from desert grasslands at the base of the mountains to montane conifer forest towards the top of Mt. Wrightson. The latter part is accessible only via hiking trails, and you have two options: the Supertrail or Old Baldy Trail.

The variety of birds is staggering and changes as you move up the mountain. For example, you’ll find Summer Tanagers starting at Proctor Road, Hepatic Tanagers starting at Madera Picnic Area, Western Tanagers up the trails in the conifers, and Flame-colored Tanagers mixed throughout.

You are also likely to see hummingbirds, owls, flycatchers, and Montezuma Quail.

Santa Rita Experimental Range

The Santa Rita Experimental Range, which sits below Madera Canyon, is full of desert grassland birds. Common sighting include Costa’s Hummingbird, Varied Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Scaled Quail, Phainopepla, Botteri’s, Cassin’s, Black-throated, Brewer’s, and Rufous-winged Sparrows. That’s a lot of sparrows!

Proctor Road

At Proctor Road, a good bet is to walk the first section of trail up to Whitehouse Picnic Area. Here you’ll find Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Varied Bunting, Summer Tanager, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Lucy’s Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, and sometimes Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Madera Picnic Area

Madera Picnic Area, which is one of our favorite picnic areas to sit and relax, is also a great spot. In addition to Zone-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures, you are also likely to see an Acorn Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, and Dark-eyed Junco, Three Myiarchus flycatchers, Western Wood-Pewee, and Hepatic Tanager.

Old Baldy Trail

Old Baldy is one of our favorite hikes, which you can read all about in our article on the 15 BEST Madera Canyon Hikes For Hikers of All Abilities. In addition to great hiking, it is also a great Madera Canyon birding spot.

The first birds you’ll run into are likely the Elegant Trogons. Along the trails, you’ll likely see Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Plumbeous Vireo, Painted Redstart, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Yellow-eyed Juncos are known to breed up near Josephine Saddle.

Hike up to the Saddle and/or Mt. Wrightson and you may even catch some views of Mexico across the border.

Madera Canyon Birding – Night Birding

Night Birding is a special activity in Madera Canyon, and the best time is May. You are likely to hear Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, Elf Owls, and possibly the rarer Flammulated and Spotted Owls.

Whip-poor-wills and Common Poorwills are likely to be heard, as are Lesser Nighhawks, Barn Owls, and Great Horned Owls.

If you really want to experience night birding in Madera Canyon, we recommend spending at least a night in the canyon.

Key Takeaway: 
Madera Canyon offers a diverse range of birding habitats. Teh bridging is excellent, whether you are exploring the desert floor or hiking the tallest peak, Mt. Wrightson.

Where to Stay in Madera Canyon?

Birdfeeders at Santa Rita Lodge. Image: Santa Rita Lodge

You have a couple of lodging options in Madera Canyon proper. If all are full, or none fit your needs, there are hotels on the freeway in Green Valley, AZ.

  • Santa Rita Lodge – Enjoy a relaxing weekend full of yoga, wellness, Madera Canyon birding, and wonderful Madera Canyon hikes!
  • Bog Springs Campground – 13 campsites suitable for tents or RVs (although no RV hookups are available)
  • Madera Kubo B&B – Rustic cabins with wood-burning fireplaces, birding, hiking, and more.
  • Chuparosa Inn B&B – Traditional bed and breakfast in the hearth of Madera Canyon

Of the four, Santa Rita Lodge is the most well-known for birding. Known as the Doorway to Madera Canyon, it is a well known B&B that is great for escaping the summer heat of the desert.

They have a wonderful bird-viewing area with a ton of bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders. You’ll often see retirees from Green Valley sitting on the benches watching the birds come in to feed.

The hummingbirds are the highlight, with the following frequently spotted:

  • Broad-billed Hummingbird
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Rufous Hummingbird
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  • Magnificent Hummingbird
  • Black-chinned Hummingbirds
  • Rivoli’s Hummingbird
  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Violet-Crowned Hummingbird (rare)
  • Blue-Throated Hummingbird (rare)
  • Calliope Hummingbird (rare)
  • Plain-Capped Starthroat Hummingbird (rare)

Good hotels to try in Green Valley are the Best Western Green Valley Inn, Canoa Ranch Golf Resort, Amado Territory Inn (Bed and Breakfast), and the Green Valley Ranch Resort. All are good hotels and most offer either a swimming pool or hot tub.

Green Valley is also home to plenty of good restaurants, from fast food to high quality Mexican food.

Key Takeaway: 
There are four lodging option in Madera Canyon proper and plenty of hotels in Green Valley, AZ, which is about 15 miles away. You can even stay up in Tucson and come down for a day of hiking and adventure.

Madera Canyon Birding – Conclusion

Southern Arizona is one of the top 3 birding destinations in the US, and Madera Canyon is the heart of the area. Whether you are just heading up to the canyon to hike or a professional birder, we hope you will slow down and see what you can find.

There is a reason Madera Canyon is one of our family’s favorite hiking destination, and it’s not just the view and the challenge. The wildlife plays a significant role too.

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We are the Quills! An ordinary family sharing our extraordinary travel experiences. 

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