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Birding in Phoenix and Arizona – Tips, Hotspots, and Guide

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flock of duks in wet land

Phoenix may be the capital of Arizona, but it is also one of the best spots for bird watching. The unique terrain makes Phoenix a great hot spot for birdwatchers who want to see a variety of different species.

In this article, learn about the 10 best hotspots for birding in Phoenix and Arizona, as well as tips for bird watching in the area.

Top 10 Birdwatching Hotspots in Phoenix and Arizona

1. Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area

Type of spot 600-acre restoration area
Difficulty Level Easy to moderate, depending on the trail
Common birds seen 250+ species; Loons, Grebes, Flycatchers
Website Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area
Fee Free

The Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area is just two miles south of downtown Phoenix. This area was once a dump site, but it has recently been renovated and now sits beautifully alongside the Salt River. It is even home to the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center.

This location is great if you want to birdwatch by yourself or grab some friends. From October through May, the area provides an organized Saturday morning bird walk.

Pros
  • Many trails of varying difficulty levels
  • Right outside of downtown Phoenix
  • Free
Cons
  • Open to the public
  • Noise might scare away birds

2. Desert Botanical Garden

Type of spot Desert botanical area
Difficulty Level Easy to moderate 
Common birds seen Quails, Hummingbirds, Owls, Flycatchers
Website Desert Botanical Garden
Fee $14.95–$24.95

The Desert Botanical Garden is a great way to experience Phoenix’s natural scenery while seeing birds. This Botanical Garden makes the most of the desert environment, all while providing walking trails and amenities that you can enjoy.

On Mondays, the garden provides a docent-led bird walk. During this bird walk, you get to spot unique birds in the area, but you also get to enjoy cacti and other desert fauna and foliage.

Pros
  • Beautiful desert scenery
  • Many trails and activities
  • Led bird walks
Cons
  • Expensive

3. Dreamy Draw Recreation Area

Type of spot Mountain trails
Difficulty Level Moderate to difficult
Common birds seen Desert species, like Quail or Roadrunner
Website Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Fee Free

If you are looking for a hiking adventure that also provides great access to birds, check out the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. This preserve is home to many different mountains and recreation areas. The Dreamy Draw Recreation Area tends to be the best for bird watching.

Because this bird watching takes place on mountain trails, accessibility to these sites is limited. Individuals who are looking for a good workout will most enjoy these sites and trails, though.

Pros
  • Great way to see desert birds in their natural habitat
  • Beautiful trails
  • free
Cons
  • not very accessible

4. Glendale Recharge Ponds

Type of spot Water retention basin
Difficulty Level Beginner
Common birds seen Shorebirds, Eagles, waterfowl, raptors
Website Glendale Recharge Pond
Fee Free

The Glendale Recharge Ponds are not beautiful, but they are a great place to see waterfowl and other water-related birds. Plus, the area’s open design means you will have plenty of viewing areas to enjoy easy access to birds.

Not to mention, these ponds are actually one of the few locations in the nation where you can actually view Bald Eagles in the wild. This spot is a must for bird watching in Phoenix, despite its slightly unsightly appearance.

Pros
  • Easy bird viewing
  • Free
Cons
  • Not attractive

5. Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Type of spot Education nature facility
Difficulty Level Easy to moderate
Common birds seen Over 200 species
Website Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
Fee Free

The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is one of the best places to birdwatch. This nature facility provides tons of natural resources and educational resources for individuals in the area. It specifically conserves scarce riparian areas.

Because this area preserves the natural wildlife, this riparian conservation is home to over 200 species of birds. It also has a variety of trails so you can select an option that matches your accessibility and skill level.

Pros
  • Conserve scarce riparian wildlife
  • Attracts over 200 species
  • Beautiful natural scenery
Cons
  • Fewer amenities than other hotspots

6. Tres Rios Wetlands

Type of spot Wetlands
Difficulty Level Moderate to difficult
Common birds seen Ducks, Ospreys, Grebes
Website Tres Rios Wetlands
Fee Free with permit

The Tres Rios Wetlands is one of the newest bird-watching spots in the area. This 700-acre area is home to over 150 species of birds. You will have to obtain a permit to visit, but the permit is free and easy to get.

This wetland area is especially great for avid bird watchers who are active and ready for an adventure. The secluded environment is not friendly for individuals who need additional accessibility, but the area is beautiful and a great spot for spotting unique birds.

Pros
  • Free
  • Beautiful wetlands that show nature in its wild form
  • Great for adventurers
Cons
  • Minimal accessibility

7. Granite Reef

Type of spot Picnic Site
Difficulty Level Easy to moderate
Common birds seen Songbirds, Warblers, migratory species
Website Granite Reef
Fee Free

Granite Reef is a beautiful picnicking site. It is located right next to Mesa and sits right on the lower Salt River. You can fish on the shoreline, watch birds, and enjoy the scenery.

This site is great because it is secluded but it is still accessible for most people. In other words, it offers the best of both worlds in terms of secluded and urban bird-watching spots.

Pros
  • Secluded but easy to access
  • Free
  • Great spot for fishing
Cons
  • Not many amenities

8. Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo (Image Credit: Jedijoe82, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Type of spot Zoo
Difficulty Level Easy
Common birds seen Rails, Coots, Stilts
Website Phoenix Zoo
Fee $19.95–$29.95

If you enjoy birding but want something fun that your children will enjoy, check out the Phoenix Zoo. The Phoenix Zoo attracts many different birds, but you will get to enjoy other animals and wildlife at the same time.

To make the zoo even better, it is right next door to the abovementioned Desert Botanical Garden. So, you might be able to try out both destinations if you are up for it.

Pros
  • Great activity for the whole family
  • Easy trails
  • Right next to the Desert Botanical Gardens
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not secluded

9. Watson Woods Riparian Preserve

Type of spot Riparian preserve
Difficulty Level Moderate to difficult
Common birds seen Nuthatch, Woodpecker, Scrub-Jay
Website Watson Woods Riparian Preserve
Fee Free

The Watson Woods Riparian Preserve is a great place to check out birds while sitting back in the shade. This 126-acre reserve has tons of Cottonwood and Willow trees that birds and humans love alike.

This preserve has a wide range of birds. They provide homes to the Mexican Vole, water birds, shore birds, warblers, ducks, and more. The only drawback is that it is incredibly secluded and offers minimal accessibility.

Pros
  • Preserves natural wildlife
  • Can spot different species year-round
  • Free
Cons
  • Not very accessible

10.Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

WHITEWATER DRAW WILDLIFE AREA

WHITEWATER DRAW WILDLIFE AREA (Image Credit: ALAN SCHMIERER, Wikimedis Commons CC0 1.0)

Type of spot Wildlife preserve
Difficulty Level Moderate to difficult
Common birds seen Cranes, Doves, Harrier
Website Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area
Fee Free

The Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is one of the best places in the nation for spotting Sandhill Cranes. You can spot 20,000 sandhill cranes each winter. This area offers a great home environment to other waterfowl and wetland birds as well.

This wildlife preserve is great for bird watching during the day, but you can also camp. Camping is free, though there are no utilities available. Much like some of the other wildlife preserves on this list, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area lacks accessibility.

Pros
  • See 20,000 cranes every December
  • Home to hundreds of species
  • Free with free camping
Cons
  • Not very accessible

What Birds Can I See in Phoenix?

Phoenix is home to hundreds of bird species. Some of the most popular species to look out for include:

  • Mockingbird
  • Orange Crowned Warbler
  • Verdin
  • Sparrow
  • Thrasher
  • Woodpeckers
  • Costa’s Hummingbird
  • Phainopepla
  • Towhees
  • Wrens
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Greylag Goose
  • Mallard
  • Grebe
  • Blue Herons
  • Crested Ducks

This is just a brief look at some of the most popular birds in the area. There are dozens upon dozens of more birds to look out for, as well as subspecies to the birds above.

northern mockingbird

Image Credit: Bishnu Sarangi, Pixabay

Arizona Bird Watching Tips

Bird-watching in Arizona can be a bit confusing. You have to consider a wide range of factors, such as season, location, and local regulations. Here are some bird-watching tips when checking out birds in Arizona.

Watch Based on Season

Arizona is home to beautiful bird species year-round. For this reason, you will want to know which birds you are looking for based on the time of year. Looking up Arizona bird species by month can help you know which birds to look out for.

Study Habitat

You will need to study the habitat around you. Certain species prefer the open terrain, whereas others prefer staying in the trees. By studying the habitat, you will be able to anticipate where certain species are based on the area around you.

Dress Appropriately

Whenever you are bird watching, you always want to dress in a way that you blend in with nature. Try to blend in with the environment as best you can. Avoid bright, unnatural clothes so you are less noticeable and threatening to the birds.

man watching birds

Image Credit: Piqsels

FAQ

What month is best for bird watching in Arizona?

Wintering birds leave the lowlands in late December and wild desert birds start nesting in March. For these two reasons, most people agree that bird watching is best between mid-April and mid-May.

What is the state bird of Arizona?

The state bird of Arizona is the Cactus Wren.

Are there any protected birds in Arizona?

Many birds in Arizona are protected. The state has a documented 534 species and about 480 of them are considered nongame species. You can learn more about nongame bird conservation programs by reading up on the Arizona Bird Conservation Initiative or Raptor Management.

birds flying in winter

Image Credit: Marijs, Shutterstock

Conclusion

If you are a birdwatcher, you have to check out the tin bird-watching spots above. Most of these spots are in or around Phoenix, but a few are scattered throughout the rest of Arizona. By checking out multiple of these sites, you will be able to spot a variety of species, ranging from songbirds to Eagles.


Featured Image Credit; Steve Oehlenschlager, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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