Birding in Wickenburg

Vermillion Flycatcher, photo by Karen Martin

Wickenburg is becoming a not-so-well-kept secret area for birding in Arizona – with over 280 species of birds confirmed! The jewel in our birding crown is undoubtedly the Hassayampa River Preserve, owned by Maricopa County Parks & Recreation, and stretching five miles along the Hassayampa River. For most of its course through the desert, the Hassayampa runs beneath the surface and is invisible except for the cottonwoods and willows tracing its flow; however, through the Preserve, the water is forced above ground by the granite bedrock.

There are also natural springs and a small man-made lake at the Hassayampa River Preserve. Water in the midst of the Sonoran Desert is the draw for many of those 280 species: bitterns and herons (7); geese and ducks (19); raptors (20), with probably 7 species nesting including the first-ever recorded nesting of red-shouldered Hawks in the state; hummingbirds (6); “flycatchers” (17); warblers (21); sparrows (21) blackbirds and orioles (11).

A short trip up the Hassayampa River puts you in Box Canyon, often showing surface water to draw many species, including Peregrine Falcons.

Wickenburg’s three golf courses have become an oasis for many species of desert wildlife, certainly for many birds. The Wickenburg Country Club, Wickenburg Ranch Golf Club, and Los Caballeros Golf Club course are home to resident Harris’ Hawks, the Los Caballeros course also is blessed with resident Vermilion Flycatchers. Late spring and summer bring Orioles and Zone-tailed Hawks to the courses.

Last, but certainly not least, Wickenburg is surrounded by thousands of acres of Arizona Uplands sub-division of the Sonoran desert. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers nest in the saguaros, and their abandoned nests provide homes for at least a dozen species of secondary cavity nesters, including Kestrels, Elf Owls, and Ash-throated Flycatchers. Phainopeplas are abundant, with plenty of Canyon and Abert’s Towhees.

With more and more people birding, sightings of “rare” birds are on the increase, the last couple of years have brought us Ruddy Ground Doves, a Rufous-backed Robin, and Lawrence’s Goldfinches.

Bring your binoculars and enjoy the beautiful outdoors birding “Out Wickenburg Way!” The Hassayampa River Preserve also hosts fun guided bird walks in the cooler months. Visit the Maricopa County Parks & Recreation website for a full calendar of events.

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