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Madera Canyon - BirdForum Opus

Brewing thunderstorm
Photo by Blanca
August 2011

United States, Arizona


Located in southeast Arizona, Madera Canyon is a world-famous birding destination. It is located in the Santa Rita mountains, a relatively moist area for southern Arizona due to altitude; snow collects on the higher peaks to form streams and create a mixed oak and pine woodland. Its popularity results not only from the number and variety of birds that gather here, but undoubtedly from the fact that it is just across the border from Mexico, and thus is home to many species more common to the south. Americans who might hesitate to travel across the border can find excellent birding here in a more familiar culture. The Tucson area is a magnet in winter for migrating retirees escaping the cold to the north. There are other canyons in the Santa Rita Mountain Range that attract many the same birds, but this one is the most popular, with easy access, accomodations catering to birders, and excellent trails and public facilities managed by the US Forest Service. Also, most of the other canyons are heavily grazed by cattle.


The summer months bring by far the widest array of species, with many migrants from Mexico seeking the cooler temperatures in the mountains. The elevation at the Santa Rita Lodge, roughly halfway up the paved road, is 5000' (1525m). Hummingbirds are at their peak in summer, although some of the more desirable species are resident. In the winter, temperatures are still very comfortable for birding, but there may be snow at the highest elevations, and many of the more attractive birds have migrated south.


Notable Species

Birds that can be found here that are rare or absent to the north include: Arizona Woodpecker, Painted Redstart, Hooded Oriole, Red-faced Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco, Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. This is one of the best spots to find several hummingbird species more common in Mexico, including the White-eared Hummingbird, Berylline Hummingbird, and Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Night birding is a highlight, especially in May, when the screech-owls, Spotted, and Flammulated owls can be heard or possibly seen. Please note that playing tapes of bird calls to attract birds is prohibited.


Merlin, Prairie Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Townsend's Solitaire, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-breasted Chat, Flame-colored Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Painted Bunting, Black-chinned Sparrow, Cassin's Finch, Purple Finch, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Red Crossbill.


Birds you can see here include:

Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Flame-colored Tanager, Gambel's Quail, Scaled Quail, Montezuma Quail, Wild Turkey, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Cooper's Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Golden Eagle, Gray Hawk, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon, Inca Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great Horned Owl, Western Screech-Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl, Elf Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Spotted Owl, Flammulated Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Common Poorwill, Mexican Whip-poor-will, White-throated Swift, Rufous Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, Blue-throated Mountain-gem, Rivoli's Hummingbird, White-eared Hummingbird, Berylline Hummingbird, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Elegant Trogon, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Williamson's Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Black Phoebe, Say's Phoebe, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Western Wood Pewee, Greater Pewee, Western Kingbird, Cassin's Kingbird, Hammond's Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Plumbeous Vireo, Hutton's Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Bell's Vireo, Cassin's Vireo, Mexican Jay, Steller's Jay, Common Raven, Chihuahuan Raven, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bridled Titmouse, Bushtit, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Verdin, Cactus Wren, House Wren, Bewick's Wren, Canyon Wren, Rock Wren, Winter Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Western Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher, Phainopepla, Cedar Waxwing, Olive Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Virginia's Warbler, Lucy's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Grace's Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, Painted Redstart, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Olive Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Western Tanager, Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Black-headed Grosbeak, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Varied Bunting, Green-tailed Towhee, Canyon Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Botteri's Sparrow, Cassin's Sparrow, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-eyed Junco, Chihuahuan Meadowlark (Lillian's), Western Meadowlark, Hooded Oriole, Bullock's Oriole, Scott's Oriole, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bronzed Cowbird, Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch, Pine Siskin.

Other Wildlife

  • Mammals: Black Bear, Mountain Lion, Mule Deer, Coyote, Javelina, and many small mammals.
  • Reptiles: typical southwestern U.S. species of lizards and snakes.

576 total species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are listed for the Coronado National Forest.

Site Information

Location and Access. Only readable at full scale - click on image.

Location and Access

Drive south from Tucson, Arizona, on Interstate I-19 for 25 miles, or north from Nogales for 39 miles to the exit for Continental (Exit 63). Turn east under the Interstate and drive 1.1 miles to Whitehouse Canyon Road. A sign should direct you to turn southeast, after which it is about 8 miles to the Forest boundary at the mouth of Madera Canyon. The road continues up canyon for about another 4 miles to a turnaround at the Roundup Picnic Area. Many birders will park at the bottom and hike the trails along the stream, covering all the elevation zones from open grassland to pine forest. All roads are paved, but rather narrow; large vehicles are discouraged from going further than the mouth of the canyon, and parking in the canyon can be a problem on weekends.

History and Use

Madera is the Spanish word for wood, and the name resulted from its early use as a timber source by settlers in the Tucson area.

Areas of Interest

The area along the creek from the mouth of the canyon to the end of the road (about 7 miles) is the prime birding area, with good (even paved) paths allowing access on both sides of the creek for most of its length. To see higher altitude species such as Elegant Trogon and Red-faced Warbler, one must start at the Roundup Picnic Area and hike one of the upper trails. Also of interest are hummingbird feeders at the lodging sites, notably at the Santa Rita Lodge, which maintains a large array of feeders, including seed feeders which attract passerines and ground feeders such as turkeys and doves.

Access and Facilities

  • Bog Springs Campground is administered by the U.S. Forest Service. Appropriate for tents or small Recreational Vehicles. Fee area.
  • Several commercial lodging enterprises (see links below)
  • Excellent trail system along both sides of the creek and from the end of the road into the mountains.
  • Picnic areas and public toilets (Forest Service).
  • Interpretive displays at parking areas (fee) and along trails.
  • No food service in the canyon.

Contact Details

Coronado National Forest (link below)


  • Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona, Clark Blake, Ed. Tucson Audubon Society, (August 1, 2007). ISBN 978-0964503144
  • A Birder's Guide to Southeastern Arizona (Lane/Aba Birdfinding Guide #102). American Birding Association (August 1995). ISBN 978-1878788061
  • The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, David Allen Sibley. Knopf; 1 edition (April 29, 2003). ISBN 978-0679451211

External Links