Birding in Arizona 101

Gila Woodpecker on Saguaro Cactus Flower

Charles Babbitt, who grew up in Flagstaff, has been a birder since 1978. Babbitt is now sharing his avian expertise via his new book, “Birding Arizona – What to Know, Where to Go.” (The book is available at Changing Hands Bookstore, too.) Here, the expert shares his tips for birding in Arizona.

Invest in a good pair of binoculars. They are indispensable. Before you decide what to buy, do some online research, talk to other birders and try out several pair.

Prior to setting out, take some time to go through a field identification guide and a checklist of birds for your target area, if available, to familiarize yourself with the bird species you are likely to encounter.

Always have a field identification guide with you. There are many to choose from. Some guides cover large geographic areas with photographs or illustrations of hundreds of species. To make things easier, some field guides have editions that cover smaller geographic areas.

If you are a new birder, consider going on a field trip or bird walk. It’s a wonderful way to meet other birders and learn about new places to watch birds. These trips are usually led by experienced birders who can help you with information and techniques that will improve your identification skills. Arizona birders have many options from which to choose. Local Audubon Societies all have regularly scheduled trips to many parts of the state as well as favorite local birding spots. You can find a field trip just about any day of the week, any month of the year. In addition, botanical gardens like Desert Botanical Garden, and museums often have regularly conducted bird walks.

The secret to finding birds is the habitat. Different birds like different habitats. To find the habitats that are most likely to attract birds, it’s useful to learn to identify some common plants and trees. Birds are often found feeding on the fruits of plant species like mulberry, hackberry and pyracantha. Tube-shaped flowers like gilia and penstemon are famous for attracting hummingbirds.

Birds are most active during the early morning hours and again later in the afternoon. When birding, don’t forget to look up into the sky. Some species like hawks, eagles and swifts often fly and soar high overhead and can easily be overlooked if you don’t look up and scan the sky from time to time.

Get in the habit of keeping a list of the birds you see. Sightings of rare birds should be reported to the Arizona Bird Committee to alert other birders and increase our knowledge of Arizona’s birdlife.

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