Mount Ord is a favorite of Phoenix-area birders for two reasons: A daytrip up Ord during breeding season gets them out of the low-desert heat, and it is the only place in central Arizona where geography and habitat concentrate all of the state’s mountain warblers — Virginia’s, Black-throated Gray, Grace’s, Olive, and Painted Redstart.
Arizona’s high-desert specialty species, Gray Vireo and Black-chinned Sparrow, along with Scott’s Oriole, are almost guaranteed at the beginning of the drive, and Western and Hepatic Tanagers, Band-tailed Pigeon, and Northern Pygmy-Owl inhabit the pine/oak forest near the top.
Most birders make two stops on Ord. The first is at Forest Service Rd. 1688, about halfway up. Don’t even consider driving up this 4×4 trace; hike it. An early-morning walk will produce the vireo and the sparrow along the southwest-facing chaparral slopes. The second is near the top. Continue on the main road around the backside of the mountain to the locked gate. A hike to the lookout should give you warblers and tanagers; overhead watch for Golden Eagle, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Northern Goshawk. — Jim Burns
Steep mountain grades, dirt roads, and 4×4 trails.
Late spring into summer: Turkey Vulture, Golden Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Zone-tailed and Red-tailed Hawks, Band-tailed Pigeon, Greater Roadrunner, Barn Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Common Nighthawk, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Cordilleran and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Gray and Plumbeous Vireos, Bridled and Juniper Titmouse, Verdin, Bushtit, Brown Creeper, White-breasted, Red-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches, Blue-gray and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Western Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Crissal Thrasher, Virginia’s, Black-throated Gray, Grace’s, and Olive Warblers, Painted Redstart, Hepatic and Western Tanagers, Canyon and Spotted Towhees, Rufous-crowned, Black-chinned, and Black-throated Sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Scott’s Oriole, and Red Crossbill. Fall migrants: Townsend’s, Hermit, MacGillivray’s, and Wilson’s Warblers. Winter: Lewis’s Woodpecker and Red-naped Sapsucker.
When to go
Mid-March through October.
None. Dispersal camping (camping outside of designated campgrounds) allowed if you can find a flat spot.
National forest. No fees.
Don’t try driving Forest Rd. 626 in snow or heavy rain. It has some one-lane stretches with pullouts and a few rutted and rocky sections, but it’s passable for all but the lowest-clearance passenger cars. Drive cautiously; bring sunscreen and water; dress in layers.
Jim Burns is an outdoor writer and photographer and the author of four books illustrated with his photos: A Beginner’s Field Guide to Phoenix Birds (Maricopa Audubon Society, 2004), North American Owls: Journey Through a Shadowed World (Willow Creek Press, 2004), Jim Burns’ Arizona Birds (University of Arizona Press, 2008), and Owls Rock (e-book, 2012). In the October 2016 issue of BirdWatching, he described a close encounter with an Elegant Trogon, and in our April 2017 issue, he wrote about toucans and barbets in Costa Rica.
Jim Burns on social media
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