Without a doubt, Cave Creek Canyon is a premier birding location in North America. In fact, the Chiricahua Mountains, which surround the canyon, were highlighted by the King Penguin himself, Roger Tory Peterson, in the 1980 book Roger Tory Peterson’s Dozen Birding Hot Spots.
I have been coming to Cave Creek for 20 years to bird, hike, backpack, and take photos. What initially attracted me was that the Chiricahuas are the northernmost section of a chain of mountains that extends south to Mexico’s Sierra Madre; birds and other wildlife that are found in the Sierra Madre and other areas south of the border can possibly make their way to the Chiricahuas.
Target species for many birders, such as Elegant Trogon, Mexican Chickadee, Montezuma Quail, Elf Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl, Painted Redstart, and Red-faced Warbler are found here. And Slate-throated Redstarts have been spotted in recent years.
In 2014, I bought a house in Portal, so I could be at the gateway to this amazing place. Make a trip to the canyon this coming spring, summer, or fall. You won’t regret it.
Extensive forest, upper elevation pine-oak woodland, and a perennial creek on the canyon floor creating a riparian zone.
A paved road runs along flat canyon floor. Hiking trails on both sides of road; plenty of turnouts, for access and to observe birds from your vehicle. Handicapped parking spots at campgrounds and visitor center, but most walkways and trails unsuitable for wheelchairs.
Around 400 species. Residents: Yellow-eyed Junco, Montezuma Quail, Arizona Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse, Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, Northern Pygmy-Owl. Migrants: Virginia’s, Wilson’s, and Townsend’s Warblers, Lazuli Bunting. Summer: Lucy’s Warbler, Elf Owl, Rivoli’s and Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Elegant Trogon, Greater Pewee, Buff-breasted and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Grace’s and Red-faced Warblers, Painted Redstart, Hepatic Tanager, Scott’s Oriole. Uncommon: Violet-crowned and Lucifer’s Hummingbirds, Plain-capped Starthroat.
When to go
Best from about April 15-May 31 and in September and October. Summer for breeding birds such as Elegant Trogon.
Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Information Center, open 9-4 daily, has restrooms, area info, WiFi, and a list of recent bird sightings. Many Portal residents’ yards with bird feeders are open to the public. Restrooms also at campgrounds.
National forest. Fees at improved camp sites.
Spring and autumn temperatures moderate, and July brings welcome rain. Bring sunscreen and insect repellent.
Approximately 10 miles southeast of Portal, off State Line Rd. An impoundment of water one acre in size that is one of the few places east of the Chiricahuas to look for waterfowl. Bendire’s Thrasher is resident.
About 11 miles west of Portal, off the dirt Trans-Mountain Rd., at 8,000 feet elevation. Mexican Chickadee, Olive and Red-faced Warblers, and Zone-tailed and Short-tailed Hawks.