This water-treatment facility in Tucson is where to go for Abert's Towhee, Harris's and Red-tailed Hawks, Cactus Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, Greater Roadrunner, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.
By Matthew Brooks | Published: 10/23/2009
The name may be a bit misleading, but the adjective sweet certainly applies to the birding opportunities at these water-reclamation ponds. The riparian habitat is important for wildlife in the absence of the cottonwood gallery forest that used to exist along the nearby Santa Cruz River. As such, it is a green jewel in an otherwise arid environment.
My favorite time to visit is in the evening just before the sun goes down, when activity peaks again after the warmth of the day. In winter, White-crowned Sparrows and Green-tailed Towhees join the resident Abert’s Towhees to scratch for food on the paths. The bulrush-filled ponds attract large flocks of noisy Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, which in turn attract the attention of sharp-eyed Cooper’s Hawks. Harris’s Hawks are often vocal while settling in for the night in nearby eucalyptus trees. The lower settling basins often vary in the amount of water they hold, so checking each one assures a great mix of shorebirds and waterfowl.
In my experience, no other locale in urban Tucson is as pleasant or as surprising to bird as Sweetwater. — Matthew Brooks
Matthew Brooks is the education outreach specialist for the Tucson Audubon Society. He also wrote about Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona, Hotspot Near You No. 34, Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, Juneau, Alaska, No. 41, and Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, Las Cruces, New Mexico, No. 103.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Open-water ponds, wooded ponds, marshes with bulrushes, thick riparian brush, a short stretch of manmade stream, and adjacent disturbed desert scrub.
Wide, level trails around most ponds. The main trail is paved for the first 200 meters to permit wheelchairs.
Resident: Abert’s Towhee, Harris’s and Red-tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owl, Cactus Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Greater Roadrunner, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Song Sparrow. Winter: many species of waterfowl, shorebirds, Marsh Wren, Green Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler. Summer: Lucy’s Warbler, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Tropical, Cassin’s, and Western Kingbirds. Rarities: Neotropic Cormorant, Tricolored Heron, Purple Gallinule, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Least Tern, Elegant Trogon, Least Grebe, and many vagrant warblers.
When to go
Fall, winter, and spring. Shorebird migration is protracted, with birds around most months. Summer is hot but can be good in the mornings. Desert species present all year.
Restrooms and a water fountain in the parking lot. Hotels and restaurants east on Prince Rd. or south on the frontage road along the interstate.
City water-treatment facility. No entrance fee. Hours are dawn until one hour after dusk from Tuesday to Sunday, and 8 a.m. until one hour after dusk on Monday.
Bring sun protection and water.