The home of the Sonora desert, Arizona is simply saturated with avian life if you know where to look. Today we’ll explore the birding world of Arizona by sharing some species information as well as geographical hotspots and feeder advice so that you can make the most of your birdwatching experience in the Grand Canyon state. Without further ado, let’s discuss the popular backyard birds of Arizona!
3 Categories – 551 Birds
People tend to think that areas with desert are dry, dead places where you won’t find anything but skeletons and dehydration. It might interest you to know that Arizona is not only the opposite of that (except for the desert being present, of course) but it has MUCH more of an Avian population than most other states. We can’t possibly list them all here so we’ve opted instead to give you a taste of what is out there by providing 5 birds for each of 3 seasonal divisions.. These divisions are as follows:
- Year-round Resident birds
- Birds of Spring, Summer, and Early Fall
- Fall and Winter Birds
We’ll share what know about these winged wonders, including coloration, diet information, habitat, and more. While we can’t guarantee that our feeder advice will draw them in like magnets (these birds can be shy sometimes) we are confident that our information is good and can MAXIMIZE your chances of earning a new houseguest or two. Give it a try and see for yourself!
Arizona’s Year-Round Resident Birds
These birds LOVE Arizona and in their dedication they stay all year, just waiting for you to catch a glimpse or to stock up a feeder to officially reuest their presence in your backyard. Take a look out at anytime to see if you can spot one of these lovelies:
- Gila Woodpecker
- Anna’s Hummingbird
- Lesser Goldfinch
- Gambel’s Quail
Gila Woodpecker – Melanerpes uropygialis
Coloration and Markings: The Gila Woodpecker is a pretty bird and quite easy to identify. They have black wings with white striping made up of dots which is present on the back, wings, and tail. Their upper breast and underbelly are a smooth grayish – brown which extends to their faces. Here the color deepens and with males you will notice a tiny red cap at the forehead. These birds have long, straight black bills.
Size: These birds measure in a 8.7 – 9.4 inches in length and have wingspans of 15.8 to 16.5 inches.
Habitat: You can find these birds in arroyos and around Saguaro cactus stands, though they do venture into inhabited towns as well.
Diet: The Gila Woodpecker will eat suet but they are most fond of fruits and nuts. Load up your feeder with mixed dried fruits and peanuts or pecans and you might just attract their attention.
Verdin – Auriparus flaviceps
Coloration and Markings: Verdins have gray wings with some minor black edging anda distinctive rust-red mark on each shoulder and long, gray tails with some white present. They have a white breast and underbelly and facially this birds shucks the gray in favor of bright yellow, with the exception of a small gray half-mask. It also has a small, conical black bill with some white seen on the bill close to the face on the upper and lower portion of the bill.
Size: These tiny birds measure in at 3.1 – 4.3 inches in length with wingspans of approximately 6.5 inches.
Habitat: These birds may be found where there are small trees or scrub brush.
Diet: These birds eat mostly insects in the wild, so dried mealworms are a good idea for your feeder. Fruit is also wel-received and these birds will sometimes visit Hummingbird feeders for a little sugar water.
Anna’s Hummingbird – Calypte anna
Coloration and Markings: Anna’s Hummingbird is a beautiful little bird. While their wings are gray, their backs are a shimmery purple, green, and yellow. The upper breast is gray and turns into greenish-yellow and darkens a little as it moves to the underbelly, where you may notice a white spot at its rump in front of a tiny, green and gray tail. Facially, thisbird has greenish-gray at the throat but most of the rest of the face is a reddish-pink. You may see some greenish-yellow masking around the eye which forks and extends to the back of the head and outlining the eye and it is not uncommon for the face feathers to be darker around the eye. These birds have the long, thin bills.
Size: From head to tail, these birds measure in at approximately 3.9 inches and they have wingspans of around 4.7 inches in length.
Habitat: These birds aren’t shy you can see them throughout the neighborhood when they aren’t investigating scrub or desert flowers. They love feeders and if you leave one out for them then they might become regular additions to the backyard!
Diet: Hummingbird feeders will work with the standard fare. Mix up sugar water with a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Remember that this mixture can ferment and become toxic, so change it out regularly to keep your Hummingbirds happy and safe.
Lesser Goldfinch – Spinus psaltria
Coloration and Markings: The Lesser Goldfinch has adark gray to black back and wings with a small amount of white patches and short, generally unpatched tails. The breast and underbelly are a bright yellow which continues up the body to the face, where it frames the cheek and rises to a level even with the lower bill. The upper part of the bird’s head is the same color as the wings and resembles a hood on the bird’s head. This bird has a stout, short conical yellow bill. Females will have olive backs, with the same dark wings, and a more subdued yellow color on breast and underbelly.
Size: This bird measures in at 3.5 – 4.3 inches in length with a wingspan of 5.9 to 7.9 inches.
Habitat: Canyons, Oases, or simply just playing in some brush, these birds are diverse in where they like to forage and play. They are no strangers to towns, however, and more than happy to visit a feeder when they’ve been made to feel welcome.
Diet: Nyjer thistle and Black Oil Sunflower seeds are a quick and easy way to get the attention of the Lesser Goldfinch.
Gambel’s Quail – Callipepla gambelii
Coloration and Markings: Gembel’s Quails are pretty birds, with wings that are a smooth gray at the shoulder and descend into a mixture of rich brown with white streaks, with gray backs and tails. The upper breast is gray and then has a yellowish, broad band and then a black band at the lower belly, which then turns to gray. Facially, a curved white line frames a black face around eyes, check, and throat, and at the top a straight white line divides the face from the rufous crest and topknot. Females have more gray content in their coloration and lack the elaborate head-marking of the males.
Size: These birds measure in at approximately 9.8 inches in length and have wingspans of 13.4 to 14.2 inches.
Habitat: Cactus stands, Mesquite thickets, or dry, grassy areas are common places where you might see a Gambel’s Quail.
Diet: These birds like cracked corn, White Proso millet, and Black Oil Sunflower seeds but make sure that you use a ground-level feeder for the Gambel’s Quail.
Arizona’s Birds of Spring, Summer, and Early Fall
When spring comes to the desert things start to get lively and you can expect some new arrivals to start making appearances. Here are some birds to look for in spring, summer, and early fall:
- White-winged Dove
- Elegant Trogon
- Northern Mockingbird
- Ash-throated Flycatcher
- Yellow-headed Blackbird
White-winged Dove – Zenaida asiatica
Coloration and Markings: These birds have grayish – brown wings and tail and the bottom edge of each wing is marked with a distinctive white edge. The tail has black striping on the undersides as well. The breast and underbelly of this bird are a lighter gray and facially, you’ll notice a black mark at the bird’s cheek. The coloration is divided at the level of just under the eye, where the plumage becomes darker and there is blue skin around the (often red) eyes. These birds have short, slightly curved bills.
Size: These birds measure in at 4.4 – 6.6 inches in length with wingspans of 18.9 to 22.8 inches.
Habitat: When they aren’t hanging around cactus stands or brush you can find them visiting the city. They love feeders and birdbaths, so prepare well and you might just get a new visitor.
Diet: The White Winged Dove has a varied diet, you can tempt it with Safflower and Black Oil Sunflower seeds, cracked corn, milo, and they even like berries if you’ve got them.
Elegant Trogon – Trogon elegans
Coloration and Markings: These birds are quite colorful and a sighting will certainly get your heart to beating fast. The Elegant Trogon has a copper-verdigris green back and gray wings and a long gray tail. The underside of the tail has black lines accenting it, forming stunning mixtures of stripes and large squares. The lower belly and breast of this bird is rose-red with a large white band on the upper portion and a green band above this, at shoulder-level. Facially, this bird has a black head with a teardrop outline around the eye and a short, stout bill with a little curve to it.
Size: These large birds measure in at approximately 11 – 12 inches in length with wingspans of 18 to 22 inches.
Habitat: These birds love pine and oak trees and are fond of Juniper as well. Look for them around upland oak stands.
Diet: The Elegant Trogon eats mostly insects and lizards in the wild but also some fruit, so add some dried mealworms or dried crickets to your feeder and try a mix of dried fruits and some fresh, such as chopped apples and you might just get their attentions.
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Coloration and Markings: The Northern Mockingbird has gray-brown back and wings, with the wings bearing a distinctive 2 wingbars on each. The gray on the gets darker as you work your view from the shoulder down so that the attached feathers look almost black and this bird has a long, thin tail of the same gray and dark gray combination. The breast and underbelly of this bird have touches of gray on white giving it a ‘dirty white’ appearance and facially the chin and cheek are white, while the upper portion of the head matches the soft gray of most of the body. Some birds may have a black line going from the small, curved black bill to the eye as if an incomplete mask, as evinced by a lighter gray continuation of the line after the eye which curves down and outlines the cheek (but you won’t notice this unless the bird is very close or you are using your gear to magnify).
Size: This bird measures in at 8.3 – 10.2 inches in length with a wingspan of 12.2 to 13.8.
Habitat: These birds love open areas so you can find them just about anywhere in Arizona. They aren’t shy about residential areas, so keep an eye out and watch fences and telephones poles as Mockingbirds like to perch there.
Diet: These birds love fruits but are a little feeder shy. If you have a garden with some fruiting vines or trees then this will greatly increase your chances of a visit, otherwise try some sliced apples, raisins, and some assorted dried fruits and you might get lucky.
Ash-throated Flycatcher – Myiarchus cinerascens
Coloration and Markings: The Ash-throated Flycatcher has brown wings, back, and tail with two distinct wingbars on the cinnamon-tipped wings and a broad portion of the tail being cinnamon as well, up until a point just beyond the tip. This cinnamon is bordered in gray to fabulous effect. The breast of this bird is white with some gray peppered in which continues up to the throat (thus the ashy nomenclature) and the underbelly is an olive to yellowish-green. Facially, the ashy white from the throat continues up until a point where it is thick towards the back of the head, framing the cheek, and thinning out as it contuse upward to level with the bottom of the medium-sized, conical black bill. The eye and cheek portion of the face is a smooth, gray band which terminates at a lovely brown crest.
Size: Roughly Robin-sized, this bird measures in at 7.5 – 8.3 inches with a wingspan of 11.8 to 12.6 inches.
Habitat: Dry scrub and cactus stands are common grounds for this Flycatcher to hunt, though they will tend to move towards streams or rivers whenever possible as the hunting is much better in such locales.
Diet: These birds are chiefly insectivores but they have a sweet tooth when it comes to fruit. In the wild this means Mistletoe berries or Saguaro cactus fruit, but you can try some assorted chopped and fresh fruits along with a pinch of mealworms or dried crickets and you might just get their attention.
Yellow-headed Blackbird – Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Coloration and Markings: Who says Blackbirds are boring? The Yellow-headed Blackbird thrashes that myth with its signature style. The wings of this bird are are black with white patches noticeably visible just below the shoulders and they have black backs and long, black tails. The underbelly and breast of this bird are black as well, with the exception that the upper breast is a shiny yellow that extends up to the head and looks as if the bird got into some paint! The throat and face of the bird have this yellow coloration, with the exception of a black mask in front of a long, sharp bill. Females will be brown and will not have the wingbars that are present in the males.
Size: These Robin-sized Blackbirds measure in at 8.3 – 10.2 inches in length with wingspans of 16.5 to 17.3 inches.
Habitat: Dusty fields and oases are common haunts of the Yellow-headed Blackbird. Like all Blackbirds, they are bold, so keep a watch on telephone wires and fences and you might just catch a glimpse of one.
Diet: These birds are easy to please. You can make a Yellow-headed Blackbird happy with just about any seeds or grain. Try Black Oil Sunflower seeds, millet, wheat, or oats in your feeder if and you might just make a new friend.
Arizona’s Fall and Winter Birds
If you’ve never visited a desert before you might not know that they aren’t hot all the time. At night the temperature does a little dance that can give you a surprise chill if you are not ready. When winter arrives this is a bit of a double-whammy, but these tough birds will be there for YOU during these tough winter times:
- Say’s Phoebe
- Abert’s Towhee
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- House Sparrow
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
Say’s Phoebe – Sayornis saya
Coloration and Markings: The Say’s Phoebe has brownish-gray back, wings, and tail, while the breast is gray and the underbelly is a smooth orange-brown to cinnamon color. Facially, there is a lightening in the gray at the bird’s throat which frames the cheek, while the rest of the head is the same brownish-gray as the body. If the bird is close you may notice that the gray darkens to create a barely-visible eyebrow line but you may not always see it. This bird has a long, straight black bill.
Size: This bird measures in at 6.7 – 7.5 inches in length with an average wingspan of 13 inches.
Habitat: These are desert birds and they love canyons, the desert’s edge, and good ol’ sagebrush.
Diet: These birds mostly eat insects but they can be tempted with fruit (especially in the winter months). Try some dried fruits but add a little chopped apple, cherry, or strawberry if you’ve got it just to increase the odds of getting this bird’s attention.
Abert’s Towhee – Pipilo aberti
Coloration and Markings: The Abert’s Towhee has gray back and wings with a long, gray tail. The breast is gray but includes a tiny amount of pink and sometimes a little blue spot or two may be seen. The underbelly and rump are rust colored and facially this bird has a grayish brown head with a half-mask which encircles the stout, small yellow bill and becomes a thin line just behind the eye.
Size: This bird measures in at 8.3 – 9.1 inches in length with a wingspan of 10.4 to 11.6 inches.
Habitat: These birds are fond of mesquite and cottonwood and prefer areas of dense vegetation, where they may forage in the relative safety of the brush.
Diet: When it’s not eating insects the Abert’s Towhee forages for seed. Black Oil Sunflower seeds in your feeder is an easy way to make these little guys happy.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Coloration and Markings: The Ruby-crowned Kinglet has a gray back with wings which are gray and black with an olive-green cast that continues into its short, perky tail. These wings have white wingbars accented by black bars underneath as well as gray and white throat, breast, and underbelly. The underbelly will also have some splashes of olive in it. Facially, the bird has lighter gray underneath the eye then you you will see on top and a distinctive white eyering in front of a medium-sized, slightly curved black bill. Male Kinglet’s will display their namesake, a small but attention-getting red crest.
Size: This little bird measures 3.5 – 4.3 inches from tip to tail and has an average wingspan of only 6.3 to 7.1 inches.
Habitat: These birds prefer dense vegetation for cover as they forage so you can find them anywhere that the vegetation thickens.
Diet: These birds eat insects, seeds, and fruits. Try a little Black Oil Sunflower seed and some chopped apples and raisins to get their attention.
House Sparrow – Passer domesticus
Coloration and Markings: House Sparrows have buff-brown backs and wings with black streaking and the same coloration continuing into the tail. They have gray underbellies and the breast is gray with black in the center, which thickens as it reaches the throat and continues until it terminates at the chin. Facially, there is a tri-color combination, with the cheek up to just under the eye and down to the neckline being a bright white. At the bill, a black mask begins, reaches and half-outlines the eye before becoming a rich brown which goes to the back of the head and curls down to frame the cheek. On top, the bird’s head is silver, and the look is completely with a short but stout, slightly curved black bill.
Size: These birds measure in at 5.9 – 6.7 inches in length with wingspans of 7.5 to 9.8 inches.
Habitat: These are suburb birdies (subbirdies?) as they have lived around people long enough to make themselves comfortable. Not only will they visit feeders but they are liable to stick around and they’ll take advantage of nesting boxes if you are inclined to provide them.
Diet: Black Oil Sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and millet are a triple-temptation for these birds that will keep them coming once they’ve noticed that your feeders keep filling with it.
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Coloration and Markings: The Yellow-rumped Warbler has a blue-gray back and the wings are the same color as the shoulders, though as you look down the wing white vertical striping often accents the wings. They have gray, black tipped tails with a with a mostly black breast and a white underbelly, with yellow splotches just under each wing. The ‘yellow rump’ can be seen during the winter but may not be present during the summer. Facially, the bird is gray just above the throat but this turns into yellow, going straight up to the bill and terminating horizontally just around the cheek. The rest of the head is a smooth blue gray, with the exception of a curved white line both above and below the eye and its stout, straight black bill.
Size: These little guys measure in at 4.7 – 5.5 inches in length with a wingspan of 7.5 to 9.1 inches.
Habitat: Open areas are preferred by the Yellow-rumped Warbler. They are fond of Sagebrush and other dense vegetation for cover as well, so look for them there or in your backyard (especially if you have some local brush).
Diet: These birds have a sweet tooth. Try raisins, Black Oil Sunflower seeds, peanuts and peanut butter, and add a Suet cake. You’ll like what happens.
Supporting cast (Other Backyard Birds Of Arizona That Might Pay You a Visit)
Our Seasonal Stars are wonderful but don’t underestimate the Supporting Cast! These birds are playing and performing for you in your backyard or locations nearby. So load up those feeders and keep your eyes peeled, these birds will be performing and present all year-round:
- Great-tailed Grackle
- Curve-billed Thrasher
- White-crowned Sparrow
- Mourning Dove
- House Finch
Great-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus mexicanus
Coloration and Markings: The Great-tailed Grackle is a shiny black with purples and blues that shimmer if you see them up close. These Gracdkles are distinctive for their long, often fanned-out tails and their bright yellow eyes in front of the long, slightly curved bills. Females actually have the more varied coloration, as they are brown on the upper body with more subdued color on the breast and underbelly as well as a tan throat and a stripe that is present above each eye. The females have dark eyes instead of yellow ones as well.
Size: These are big ol’ birds, measuring in at 15 – 18.1 inches in length with wingspans of 18.9 to 22.8 inches.
Habitat: These birds are largely urbanized and you’ll see them most often on telephone poles and fences in your neighborhood, as they scout around for lunch and dinner.
Diet: These birds will eat just about anything but milo and cracked corn will earn you a special place in their Grackly hearts.
Curve-billed Thrasher – Toxostoma curvirostre
Coloration and Markings: The Curve-billed Thrasher has grayish-brown wings, back, and tail. The breast and underbelly, by contrast, are white with dim brown speckling present. This continues straight up the neck until it becomes almost a straight bar up to the bill. The face is gray, with a barely visible darker gray line crossing the eye from the bill to the back of the head, and a curve white line goes from the bill and under the eye, framing the cheek. A small white line that terminates at the front of the eye is often present at the upper bill. These birds have orange eyes and long, curved black bills.
Size: Roughly the size of a Robin, these birds measure in at 10.6 – 11 inches with wingspans of 13.4 to 13.6 inches.
Habitat: Anywhere you find brushes and thorns these birds are right at home. They are especially fond of Cholla cactus stands as well.
Diet: Black Oil Sunflower seeds and assorted berries are a simple way to tempt the Curve-billed Thrasher to your feeder.
White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys
Coloration and Markings: The White-crowned Sparrow has a gray back with indigo spotting towards the head but turning to plainer gray towards the tail. The wings are gray with some ‘scale’ patterns around the outer edges, composed of indigo centers framed with white and gray. They have medium-sized gray tails with some feathers of indigo providing accents. The breast of this bird is gray with a little white and towards the underbelly there is some noticeable indigo blue flanking around the gray. Facially, the chin is white but the face is a mix of indigo and white with stripes. Often this consists of one stripe from the back of the eyes and one at the top of the bill to the center of the head. This bird has a short, conical yellow bill.
Size: These birds measure in at 5.9 – 6.3 inches in length with wingspans of 8.3 to 9.4 inches.
Habitat: Sagebrush and other places where the vegetation is dense are the areas preferred by this bird.
Diet: Any kind of seeds (but especially Black Oil Sunflower) will bring this bird about. Be sure to scatter some around the base of the feeder as well as these birds like to forage on the ground.
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Coloration and Markings: The Mourning Dove has some color variance in different regions but in general you want to look for gray and tan wings with black spots followed by a gray tail. The breast of this bird is a creamy tan that grays a bit at the underbelly and facially, this bird has a distinctive white eyering. The face will have the richest concentration of tan coloration and this bird has a short, straight black bill.
Size: These birds measure in at 9.1 – 13.4 inches in length with wingspans of approximately 17.7 inches.
Habitat: These birds like open spaces and high perches, so in town look for them around telephone wires and in the country the bare ground or dry fields are good places to look for a foraging Mourning Dove.
Diet: Millet and Black Oil Sunflower seeds are a winning combination with this bird. Load the feeder liberally and you’ll have a happy, yet ‘Mourning’ Dove.
House Finch – Haemorhous mexicanus
Coloration and Markings: The House Finch has a gray back with brown streaking. The wings are gray and often present striping patterns with white lines edging on horizontal black ones and a mostly-gray tail with a touch of white. The underbelly of this bird will have streaking present while the breast, throat, and head will be a rosy red. Facially, this bird has some gray around the eyes and may have some zigzag gray markings on the face as well that start behind the eye, but the majority of the face will be red. This bird has a stout, silvery bill with a slight curve. Females will be brown and gray with streaking but no red present and muffled facial markings.
Size: These finches measure in at 5.1 – 5.5 inches in length and have wingspans of approximately 7.9 to 9.8 inches.
Habitat: While just about any Arizona tree or Chaparral is game for these birds they are largely urbanized. You are much more likely to see them flitting about town and visiting backyard feeders.
Diet: Small Black Oil Sunflower seeds will attract these birds but be warned, they like to travel in flocks, so you may want to overstock a little on the seed if you see some nearby so that you can sit back and enjoy the feeding frenzy that follows.
Arizona Bird Buffet
If you’ve like to make your own buffet to tempt the local birds the University of Arizona has a few tips that you can read here: https://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/archive/backyardbirdfeeding.html
We’re including some highlights as well as some recommendations of our own for maximizing the efficacy of your bird feeder. Try adding the following to attract the most diverse collection of birds.
- Black Oil Sunflower
- Nyjer thistle
- Fruits (dried and fresh)
- Peanut butter
Arizona Birding Hot Spots
The Chirparazzi spends a lot of time taking photos of the Celebrity birds that visit. With such a large count of bird species it’s hard to miss out when it comes to birdwatching but we do know some hotspots located at the compass points and in central Arizona that can get you some unparalleled and unexpected viewings if you are lucky. Try a day trip to one of these locations:
- Northern hotspot – Honey Bee Canyon Park
- Eastern hotspot – Agua Caliente Park
- Southern hotspot – Silverlake Park (Quincie Douglas Park)
- Western hotspot – Saguaro National Park West
- Central hotspot – The Loop
Detailed descriptions of each location as well as information regarding visiting and what birds you can see at these locations may be found at https://tucsonaudubon.org/go-birding/visiting-southeast-arizona/where-to-bird-in-southeast-arizona/
Today we’ve talked about the popular backyard birds of Arizona and boy, are there a lot of them! If you are newly arrived to Arizona be sure to make yourself a checklist and if you are a veteran birdwatcher, then make yourself a bigger one. With so many diverse species present Arizona is the place to be. Take advantage and be sure to have your binoculars handy because you’ve got a lot of birds out there just waiting. Happy birding, we wish you the best!