A New Book Celebrates Arizona’s Diverse Bird Population
As more people flock to the pastime of birdwatching, a new book celebrates Arizona’s wealth of avian diversity and beauty.
Birdwatching has been enjoying a revival that began during the COVID-19 pandemic and is still growing. It’s perfect timing, then, that Richard Cachor Taylor has just released his comprehensive new field guide, “Birds of Arizona.”
Taylor, a lifelong Arizonan who has been watching birds for more than half a century, says our state has the greatest species diversity of any land-bounded state in the country. “Texas and California have more,” he says, “but when you compare our size with theirs, it’s really saying something that we’re in the hunt, even without a coastline.”
Among the book’s 500-plus species are some of Arizona’s rarest. See if you can spot any of these unusual birds.
Arizona is the only place where these beautiful medium-large tropical birds breed. Both males and females have a yellow bill, while the male has feathers of emerald green and scarlet red. They’re found in mountain canyons, especially those with sycamore groves.
If you spy this 32-inch-tall wading bird you’ll know it’s the roseate spoonbill because it’s the only large pink bird in Arizona. Up through the 1970s, these birds with a distinctive spatula-like bill were fairly common, but with the decline of waterbird habitats, they’re becoming a rarer sight.
This bird may be more notable for its loud call than for its plumage, although the male does have a pretty, pale yellow underbelly. First sighted in our area in 1858, the almost 10-inch-tall fly catcher has become a bit more common in recent summers. It favors sycamore and cottonwood groves near water and in the warm months can be found at elevations up to 5,400 feet.
A small gray bird distinguished by the white bands on its head, the five-striped sparrow is only rarely glimpsed from mid-April through September, and virtually never seen the rest of the year. It’s also never found in the U.S. outside of Arizona. Look for this shy bird among the dense thorn-scrub in the foothills of the southeastern part of the state.
Just 7 inches tall, this smoky-gray bird with a pink throat likes to hang out in areas with permanent water and plenty of sycamore and cottonwood trees. After the first one was discovered in the Huachuca Mountains in 1888, none were seen again for decades. Over the past five years, however, the Santa Cruz River near Tubac has hosted multiple nesting pairs.
Arizona has more hummingbird species than any other state, but glimpsing a Lucifer hummingbird is a rarity. The first recorded sighting was in 1874, and reportedly no one saw another one until 1963. The male Lucifer has a bright purple gorget (the patch of feathers on the throat or upper breast), while the female sports iridescent green tail feathers. Look for them in foothill canyons, hillside agave and ocotillo stands at elevations from 3,000 to 5,800 feet.
Want to let your own curiosity about our feathered friends take flight? Richard Cachor Taylor offers a handful of simple tips for the beginning birder.
Start with a good guidebook.
No surprise, Taylor recommends his own “Birds of Arizona,” a pocket-size book chock-full of information, photos and maps intended for birders at every level, from first-timers to professionals. “Throughout my own evolution as a birder, this is the book I always wanted,” he says. $27 (rwmorse.com)
Buy a pair of binoculars.
Any binocular will enhance your vision, Taylor says, so you don’t need to spend a fortune. Still, he advises, “The more you pay, up to around the $300 point, the better the quality of the piece will be.”