Broad-billed Hummingbird, in Madera Canyon.
Ah, Arizona. I’d never been to Arizona, until about 8 years ago, when we went on a family vacation. It’s such a diverse state, with mountains, deserts, the Grand Canyon, and the very large metro areas of Phoenix and Tucson. For me, vacation is about seeing the natural world, and Arizona certainly offers some amazing experiences. While I love the Grand Canyon, the forested mountains of the east, and the Sedona area, nothing for me can touch far southern Arizona, with the Sonoran desert habitat and the forested “sky islands”.
Anna's Hummingbird, on the outskirts of Tucson
We found a wonderful bed-and-breakfast on the outskirts of Tucson, nestled up against the eastern edge of the city and the eastern unit of Saguaro National Park. Hacienda del Desierto is an acreage with natural Sonoran desert habitat surrounding it, with a pair of small ponds literally offering an oasis in the desert to the animals of the region. We’ve seen coyotes, javelina, bobcats, jackrabbits, tarantulas, lizards, and snakes on the grounds of the B&B, but of course for me, it’s the birds that are the attraction. And when I think birds in Arizona, I think hummingbirds.
May 7th. Within a day or two, that’s the time our one resident hummingbird comes back for the summer in South Dakota. It’s wonderful having Ruby-throated Hummingbirds around our house in the summer, but they’re the only species found in eastern South Dakota, and they’re only here from May through September. A spring visit to Arizona on the other hand offers the chance to see a dozen or more species of hummingbirds, with several species found throughout the year. Costa’s, Black-chinned, Anna’s, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Rufous, and Calliope Hummingbirds are some of the more common species to be found in the state at times, but lurking in the sky-island canyons of southern Arizona, and in nearby locations, a birder may also run across Magnificent, Allen’s, Blue-throated, Lucifer, White-eared, and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, with yet rarer finds including a Berylline Hummingbird or Plain-capped Starthroat,
Magnificent Hummingbird, on Mount Lemmon
After a long, very cold winter in South Dakota, we made plans for a week-long trip to the Tucson area around Easter. We again stayed at Hacienda del Desierto, and as always, the birding in the area didn’t disappoint. My wife and son aren’t birders, so to maximize my birding time on vacation, I’ve gotten into a habit at getting up at dawn and birding until they’re ready for breakfast. The B&B is wonderful for desert birding, but even with a few feeders up and a lush, flower-filled landscape, I’ve never found all that many hummingbirds around. The exception is a wonderful Broad-billed Hummingbird female who annually builds a nest on the vines that cascade over the roof and trail down into the B&B’s courtyard. She didn’t disappoint on this trip either, as once again she built a new nest, and had two young that appeared to be about ready to fledge.
Black-chinned Hummingbird in Madera Canyon
Within the city of limits, there are a number of parks that are wonderful to visit, with our favorite being Tohono Chul park on the north side of Tucson. It’s a botanical garden with a wide variety of micro habitats, and a vast array of flowering plants, and I’ve always had wonderful luck finding hummingbirds. It seems to be a “hotspot” for Costa’s Hummingbirds, a species I’ve found without fail at the park. Tohono Chul also has a wonderful cafe, where you can dine in the courtyard and enjoy the wonderful vegetation and birds. On this trip, a Costa’s Hummingbird had built a nest in a light fixture on the courtyard wall, with a mother feeding 2 young and seemingly oblivious to the diners and servers continually walking by.
Saguaro National Park has two units, one on both the east and west sides of Tucson. Hummingbirds can always be found there, foraging on blooming Ocotillo and plants, but they tend to be quite dispersed. Sabino Canyon and Mount Lemmon are two very popular destinations on the outskirts of Tucson, for both tourists and residents alike. Family hikes through both have yielded Hummingbirds. On this trip, a feeder at the visitor’s center near the top of Mount Lemmon attracted many Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, but a gorgeous Magnificent Hummingbird would also occasionally fly in.
Female Anna's Hummingbird feeding young at the nest
However, for both the sheer number of hummingbirds, and variety of species, nothing can touch the sky-island canyons. Names like “Ramsey Canyon“, “Madera Canyon“, and “Miller Canyon” are famous among birders, as rarities from Mexico are often found here, and nowhere else in the United States. The same holds for hummingbirds, with the canyons attracting an incredible number of hummingbird species. Destinations such as the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, or The Nature Conservancy center in Ramsey Canyon, further enhance the excitement, with feeder complexes that attract large densities of hummingbirds. On this trip, we visited Santa Rita Lodge. While no rarities were seen, an hour at the Lodge feeders turned up a number of Black-chinned, Anna’s, Broad-billed, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, and a Magnificent Hummingbird also made an appearance.
A week-long vacation interspersed with casual birding, and 7 hummingbird species were tallied (Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Costa’s, Anna’s, Black-chinned, Magnificent, and Rufous). Arizona never disappoints, and for hummingbird lovers, nothing can top a spring trip to the southern part of the state.