A tucked-away gem that attracts hawks, warblers, hummingbirds, and more.
By Jennie MacFarland | Published: 10/19/2015
When I bird in the Tanque Verde Wash, the convenience of metropolitan Tucson is close at hand, but I feel like I am far off the beaten path. You won’t find marked trails through the sandy bottom, or signs that indicate this is an excellent place to walk with binoculars and peer into the thick canopy of the cottonwood trees. Yet a quick check of eBird shows that many birders have managed to find this tucked-away gem.
Anyone who watches the Southeast Arizona Rare Bird Alert knows the wash has hosted Broad-winged Hawk, Gray Catbird, and Northern Parula — all extremely rare in the Tucson area. In vegetation made lush by seasonal rains, I have watched a female Lesser Goldfinch settle into her snug cup nest. I’ve seen large groups of wintering Western Bluebirds and flocks of Cedar Waxwings gobbling berries, and I’ve watched puffed-up male Vermilion Flycatchers perform their courtship flight in spring. Other highlights include nesting Gray Hawk, Abert’s Towhee, and Yellow Warbler.
The Tanque Verde Wash is an excellent example of how a corridor of good habitat threading through an urban area can support many species of birds. — Jennie MacFarland
Jennie MacFarland is the conservation biologist for the Tucson Audubon Society and the coordinator of the Arizona Important Bird Areas Program and the Tucson Bird Count. She also wrote about the Patagonia Mountains, Hotspot Near You No. 237, in Patagonia, Arizona.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Lush desert wash with a sandy bottom that is dry most of the time. Water flows only after a heavy rain. Though temporary, the water supports large cottonwood trees and native willows.
Flat but very sandy. Can be birded from road shoulder, but it’s not a developed site so not wheelchair-accessible.
204 species. Year-round: Abert’s Towhee, Harris’s Hawk, Cactus Wren, Great Horned Owl, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Anna’s Hummingbird. Spring: Lucy’s Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Vermilion Flycatcher, Gila Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Bullock’s Oriole. Summer: Gray Hawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Purple Martin, Inca Dove, Blue Grosbeak, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Winter: Green-tailed Towhee, White-crowned and Brewer’s Sparrows, Cedar Waxwing, Western Bluebird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers. Migration: Wilson’s and MacGillivray’s Warblers, Lazuli Bunting, Vaux’s Swift. Rarities: Northern Parula, Red-shouldered Hawk, Harris’s Sparrow, Magnolia Warbler.
When to go
Year-round. Rarities seen most often in winter. In spring and summer, mornings are best.
None. This is wild urban birding.
Municipal storm-water drainage. The sandy bottom is public property. Stay off the banks and out of nearby yards. No fee.
Wear sturdy shoes for walking in sand. Bring water and snacks. Spotting scope not critical.
For more info
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Hotspot Near You No. 34
About 12 miles from wash on N. Sabino Canyon Rd. Excellent desert birding and breathtaking views.
Mount Lemmon, Hotspot Near You No. 166
About 34 miles north of wash via E. Catalina Hwy. Red-faced, Grace’s, and Olive Warblers in spring and summer.