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Birds Of Arizona: Top 10 Species To Watch Right Now

Arizona bird (Cardinal)

Last Updated: September 20, 2022

It's only practical for bird enthusiasts to keep Arizona on their list of places to visit for their extraordinary avian adventure. The state is well-known for its abundant habitats, like the Water Ranch and the Ramsey Canyon Preserve. 

Even the Cave Creek Ranch is a perfect location for spotting rare species such as the Arizona woodpecker during the spring or fall season.

Therefore…

A profound understanding of the various Arizona birds would come in handy to ensure a more enthralling birding experience. That being so, please read on as we explore more about our feathered friends in the state.

Different Species Of Birds In Arizona

Southeast Arizona is among the regions in the state that birders should never miss out on because of the place's abundant habitats. There are several species, although uncommon, you'd likely encounter in Southeast Arizona.

These birds are summer visitors, including the Elf Owl and White Winged Dove. The Spotted Owl and Whiskered Screech Owl are also uncommon residents, but you can occasionally find them in that region.

There are also regular residents in Southeastern Arizona, like the Acorn Woodpecker. The Canyon Towhee and the Great Horned Owl are familiar sights in the Sonoran desert. Let's not forget about the Mexican Jay with its ill reputation of scaring birds at feeders in Madera Canyon.

Even a simple hobby that starts with observing the birds feeding in your backyard can lead to a lifetime aspiration of bird identification. That's not surprising, since more and more people know how bird feeding can be so enjoyable, you can even enjoy doing so at your home. 

Here's a list of birds in Arizona so that the next time you encounter them, you have better chances of recognizing these feathered friends:

1. Mourning Dove

This bird is the most famous dove in North America. The mourning dove almost has the same size as the Northern flicker but is more sizable than the American robin. You can recognize this dove by its stocky, grayish-tan body with a faint rosy-colored breast and dark spots on its wings.

Males have gray patches on their heads, their necks with iridescence in shades of pink and greenish-blue, and a black spot behind their eyes. Females look similar except for the iridescent feature, and juveniles have streaked and spotted plumes.

It is among the birds of Southern Arizona that find sanctuary in the deserts around the region and the most hunted game bird in North America. 

The southern part of the state is an excellent spot to witness even the uncommon birds and plants you can only see in north Mexico. You will know when this bird flies over you, as you'd hear a distinctive whistle that this dove's wings produce when in flight.

Such a dove enjoys feeding on the ground, consuming the seed whole, storing it in its enlarged esophagus until complete. Only then will the mourning dove fly to the nearest perch, where it will digest its meal.

Mourning doves inhabit sheltered woodlands in winter but ignore vast forests. Furthermore, these birds create flimsy nests with no anchor; thus, strong winds often cause these nests to fall apart.

2. Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren
Cactus Wren

The Cactus wren is Arizona's official state bird and the largest of its kind in the north. It has a buff-brown plumage with casts of red on its wings and crest and mottled with white and black. This wren also has a long bill, prominent crest, white-tipped tail, and a heavily spotted breast.

In recent years, this species' population has decreased due to agricultural expansion and wildfires, which have destroyed its habitat.

It is a non-migrating bird, familiar in most backyards, and dwells in various habitats, including parks, deserts, thorny shrubberies, and dry hillsides. Quite hard to miss this wren's song, sounding like clamorous chitchat that resembles a car that will not start.

Some would mistake it for a thrasher due to its knack for foraging the ground; it often runs rather than flies when in danger. Such a wren creates extensive, ball-shaped nests in cholla and saguaro cacti, as those offer spiky protection from potential predators.

Most of the cactus wren's hydration comes from its diet, primarily feeding on insects, such as termites, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and spiders. You will likely find this bird in pairs or small flocks while foraging, sometimes visiting bird feeders too.

You can see cactus wrens in Arizona throughout all seasons; their plumes do more than help birders identify them but also keep them concealed from predators. A signature bird in Sonora Desert, you can expect to hear its loud, raspy vocals in the area or low creosote deserts.

3. Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker
Gila Woodpecker

The Gila woodpecker, together with the Northern mockingbird, Northern cardinal, and many other species, are some of the birds of Arizona you can find in the Desert Botanical Garden. The bird is mistaken for a thrasher due to its penchant for foraging on the ground for any insect.

It has an affinity for seasonal fruits and berries; the Gila also consumes bird eggs and corn crops, sometimes visiting hummingbird feeders for their sugary water.

The bird has an uncanny behavior of running rather than flying when in danger. Gila is among the birds of the Arizona desert that is adaptable with its habitat preference. Such woodpecker nests in urban trees and likes digging cavities in Saguaro Cactus' main trunk or side branch.

Additionally, despite being a treeless desert expert, it is a familiar woodpecker in the suburbs and parks in Tucson. This bird creates a nest cavity once it is ready to raise a family. This hole likewise serves as a nesting ground for purple martins and flycatchers.

Some have observed this woodpecker displaying aggression towards rival birds; once, the Gila pecked a house finch to its death. Even if such captive birds' have a lifespan of approximately ten years, it could be shorter when they live out in the wild.

You will identify the Gila woodpecker by its black and white streaks in its upper parts and wings. Its head and underparts have a rusty-tan shade with a red patch on its crown. Females have the same look except for the red patch on the head.

4. House Finch

House Finch
House Finch

House finches have extremely variable plumage colors. It is a small brown bird with males displaying bold streaks on its back with yellow wing bars. The females appear identical except for having a less significant yellow shade.

Among the birds in Arizona, a house finch is more common in winter, readily visible when out of its nesting season.

The house finch will come to your backyard bird feeder if you put out nyjer, sunflower seed, mixed birdseed, peanuts, fruit, suet, and sugar water. Consequently, this finch is a regular visitor at feeders, often in groups, since it is a friendly bird.

Originating in the ardent deserts and dry open habitats of the Southwest, house finches now occur in almost all landscapes and climates. You can hear this finch singing from a perch in high trees at any time of year with its diverse warble sounds.

You can spot it from the taiga edges to coastal and urban areas, making nests from natural materials in tree branches or houses. Such sites make good spots for nesting. Due to its fondness for open nests, you can place some hanging baskets to attract this finch. Better yet, take hold of some free bird house plans - if you're a DIY type - and build the best birdhouses to attract them more!

Put some natural nesting materials in your hanging basket, like twigs, feathers, and moss, so house finches will find your garden more inviting. Thanks to its winning strategy of adapting well to humans, such finches are less nomadic and do so well thriving in the cities.

5. Northern Cardinal

Among northern cardinals, males and females sing in turn as if responding to each other. Contrary to other birds that live in territories just for breeding season, cardinals sing year-round to keep other birds away from their habitat.

Males look more vibrant in their rich red color than the females' brownish-yellow plumage with a tinge of red on their tails and wings.

Cardinal males also have a black mark around their eyes, while both sexes have pronounced crests and conical reddish bills. These males can be very aggressive when repelling intruders, sometimes attacking their reflections in mirrors, windows, or shiny surfaces.

Moreover, a cardinal mainly feeds on seeds, buds, berries, and an insect in rare instances. Nonetheless, this species cannot resist a sunflower seed in a tube and trade feeders, especially in backyards with birdbaths, since it offers a freshwater supply.

Fun Fact: Cardinals love water and bathing, most especially. You can attract them to stay longer in your backyard by providing them with the best bird bath so you could enjoy their company more often!

The bird is common in open woods, parks, suburbs, thickets, and forest edges; you won't find such birds in dry, hot desert locations. It is easy to identify Northern cardinals because they neither migrate nor molt to a muted plumage. 

The eye-catching creature's fame inspired a professional football team's name, the Arizona Cardinals. A Northern cardinal is fiercely loyal, so such species mate for life; its song plays a vital role from socialization to courtship and nesting.

Even their young can sing as early as three weeks old, although they can only adapt to an adult's phrases after their second month.

6. Northern Mockingbird

The Northern mockingbird is among the birds in Arizona that display extreme learning in mimicking the songs and calls of other species. It is the most distinguished of other birds’ songs, sometimes singing throughout the night, and continues learning new songs in its lifetime.

The bird mimics a phrase repeatedly until it drops it and moves on to the next. In addition to imitating other songbirds, they can also sound like frogs, crickets, and dogs. More so, mockingbirds do not need a reminder as they remember phrases for at least several months.

Such a bird is the type that defends its feeding territories year long, even expressing more of this territorial behavior during mating season.

Most of the time, it tends to be solitary. So, don't be surprised if you see it atop an oak tree, as this creature supposedly keeps a watchful eye on everything. Also, this bird is one of the ground-feeding species and is highly tolerant of humans and their habitats.

Northern mockingbirds feed on different insects, fruits, and berries, dwelling primarily in open and semi-open habitats. However, its fondness for crops, particularly sweet-tasting fruits, can jeopardize this bird's safety. Farmers often kill such birds to protect their valuable crops.

You will recognize Northern mockingbirds by their dull-looking plumage, somewhat gray upper parts, long tails with white edges, slender bills, and long feet. Both the beaks and feet are black-colored, and the white patch on its wing feathers is more prominent when in flight.

7. Lesser Goldfinch

Like the black-chinned hummingbird and white-winged dove, the lesser goldfinch is among the most familiar Arizona birds you'll get to see in summer. It takes the place of the American goldfinch in most backyards around the state.

Lesser goldfinches have similar seed preferences to the Eurasian collared dove and song sparrow; these birds feast on black oil sunflower and Nyjer seed.

In addition to these seeds, this bird species shares a similar fondness for thistle as the house finch. The bird has striking yellow plumage from the chin to the base of its tail and a black cap with its back and rump greenish. Likewise, its white wing bars are also noticeable.

The highly vocal goldfinch likes inhabiting gardens, suburbs, and farmlands, whether alone or in small flocks. You can differentiate the males by their distinctively brighter colored breasts and bellies than the females.

Despite the common sunflower's abundance of seeds, this lesser goldfinch picks aphids from its leaves to eat. Such a bird is also a regular feature at backyard feeders. Mostly the resident type of bird, but this goldfinch moves to warmer regions in winter to forage seeds and tree buds.

8. House Sparrow

Like what Stan Tekiela would say in most of his writings, one strategy in bird identification is comparing the sizes. For instance, house sparrows are among the Arizona backyard birds that appear stockier than the sparrows in North America.

Once you know that such a sparrow measures about 15 cm, and the American robins are way smaller, you can use this knowledge for comparison. 

Hence, the next time you see a species unknown to you, you may ask, "Is the bird more sizable than a sparrow but smaller than robins?" Such a technique may help you narrow your selection of similar-sized bird species.

A house sparrow's range extends from the north to southern Canada through Central America; it prefers inhabiting farms, suburbs, and cities.

The males have bold streaks, brown-colored backs, a single white wing bar, and a large black patch extending from their throats to their chests. In addition to such features, the males' bellies and caps are gray, while females are slightly smaller and have drab plumage.

Such sparrows consume a wide variety of food, including grains, insects, and berries. These birds even consume crumbs from a local cafe. House sparrows are cavity nesters, non-migrating birds but sometimes move around to find food.

9. European Starling

The European starling is the best-known in the Sturnidae family in North America. The species successfully infiltrated most habitats across the region; the bird's a year-round resident in the state's rural fields, gardens, dumps, and urban parks.

Such starlings compete with the house sparrows for bad-bird status at feeding stations; the bird is likewise famous for robbing nest cavities from native birds.

The stocky, aggressive bird features glossy black plumage with a greenish or purplish luster. When breeding, starlings show more significant iridescence with yellowish bills; the birds have plain-looking black plumage, with black bills and several white spots in winter.

You may look for the starlings' shiny dark feathers to distinguish them well from a brown-headed cowbird. It is smaller than the American robin but more sizable than the white-crowned sparrow. Furthermore, these birds are excellent singers, mimicking bird songs and even a human's voice. 

Many people often see such a bird with disgust for displacing cavity-nesting birds, such as chickadees and woodpeckers. Starlings are also not among the birds native to Arizona; they feast on insects, seeds, and fruits, visiting backyards sometimes for suet feeders.

10. Black Phoebe

Black phoebes are similar-sized to the white-crowned sparrow, more sizable than house finches, and smaller than the starlings. The bird is the only flycatcher with a black-colored throat and breast; its belly and outer tail feathers are white, sit upright, and wags its tail.

Phoebes primarily feed on insects, sometimes consuming fruits; they dart to the ground to pluck their prey and can snap insects off a swimming pool's surface.

While phoebes mainly feed on insects in areas near water where you'll often find them, these birds forage insects from the ground during the colder months. You might even notice the males' aerial song with a slow descent when attracting mates.

Despite being primarily insectivorous, phoebes sometimes catch fish, dive into ponds to catch small minnows or other tiny fishes, and even feed them to their young.

The sooty-black bird with a short bill and white belly frequent open woodlands near water, and yes, that also includes swimming pools. Its distinctive black-and-white plumes offer easy identification for birdwatchers, as well as the bird's rapidly wagging tail when perched.

You'll likely hear this resident bird's song throughout its pervasive range, sounding like a high-pitched whistle. Such a flycatcher can range from a partial migrant to a non-migrating species, typically moving after the breeding season to look for food.

Such a creature breeds nearby water. Its nesting sites include a bridge girder, down the well, trees, cliffs, and buildings. Black phoebes also enjoy perching on a low, shaded branch hanging over pools and streams. You may likewise spot the phoebes near fountains too.

During its breeding season, males show their mates potential nesting grounds by hovering in front of the spots. However, the females decide where to place their nests: an open cup of mud mixed with grass. The bird is also well-adjusted to humans.

Birdhub Talk: If you think Arizona has your bird list covered, think again! We have another state to visit so hang on and here we go -- Birds in Alabama: 22 Common & Rare Species To Spot Daily.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the birds of prey in Arizona?

Several birdwatchers spot a turkey vulture with some sizable kettles in a few areas around Maricopa County. Even the golden eagle is one of the two eagle species residing in the state. Besides these two raptors, you can also find the peregrine falcon, hawks, and several owls.

Most of these owls in Arizona hunt at night, except for the burrowing owl. Such owl is one of the few birds of Arizona that is more active during the day and mimics a rattlesnake's rasp to warn off predators. You can see burrowing owls in prairies and plains, sometimes perching in fences.

What woodpecker species is rare in Arizona?

Although you have chances of spotting a hairy woodpecker in Arizona, this bird species is less common, especially in the Southwestern region. Nevertheless, being a primary cavity excavator, it is a familiar sight in mature forests with dead and dying trees in its southeastern part.

Does Arizona host any tanager species?

You can expect tanagers to have a marginal presence in the Sonoran Desert, but they are very noticeable with their bright colors when they do. There was a Western Tanager sighting in the riparian vegetation somewhere in the arid Southwest.

The bright, colorful bird enjoys catching flying insects midair, belting a song similar to that of a robin, except for that hoarse and low-pitched sound. Ants remain this creature's favorite meal and eat wood borers, caterpillars, cicadas, termites, and grasshoppers.


Conclusion

Studying wildlife allows you more knowledge of the natural world, allowing you the opportunity to spend many hours surrounded by nature.

Hopefully, you find this article helpful in Arizona birds identification. Hence, the next time you go on a birding trip, it will be so much more than a fun adventure.

Now you can embark on an enriching journey that gets you closer to the fascinating wildlife. Such will probably inspire you to support its conservation, so many generations will continue to enjoy them.

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