Tuscan, Arizona is home to America’s largest type of cacti- the giant saguaro. Known as the universal symbol of West America, these plants are only found in a small corner of the United States and are protected by Saguaro National Park. Lying east of the city of Tuscan, in Pima County, southeastern Arizona. This national park provides the opportunity to observe the giant cacti, experience the desert sunset, and the 92,000-acres of Sonoran Desert landscapes, fauna, and flora.
Major Attractions at Saguaro National Park
The park is divided into two areas, the Tucson Mountain District and Rincon Mountain District. Although the eastern mountain section has less growth of the iconic cacti, it provides beautiful backdrops for photographers. This area is dedicated to activities like camping and hiking with a lot of backcountry trails to explore.
The western district of the Tucson Mountain District has a much denser population than the Saguaro cacti. The surface is formed of volcanic rocks which greatly differs from the geological landscape of the Rincon Mountain District.
The Bajada Loop route is popular among tourists to drive along the 6-mile graded dirt road and experience the desert. The Valley View Overlook Trail stretching about 0.8 miles in a round trip is probably the shortest and easiest hiking path for all age groups to walk on and get up close to the saguaro cactus, prickly pears, and ironwood trees. The rock art or petroglyphs of the Hohokam people can be seen on the Ignal Hill route, which was drawn over 800 years ago. Overall, the Saguaro National Park offers a ton of outdoor activities and opportunities to integrate into the desert and wildlife of Arizona.
GET KIDS BIRD WATCHING
Bird Watching at Saguaro National Park
Arizona is one of America’s birding paradises. Saguaro National Park sees several species that are rarely found in other parts of the United States like the Vermilion Flycatchers and Screech Owls. The habitat types range between lowland desert up and pine forests. The ecosystem diversity supports a surprising collection of birdlife inside the park grounds. A recorded 200 bird species live or migrate throughout the year in Saguaro National Park.
Some common desert-based birds such as Greater Roadrunners, Gila Woodpeckers, and Gambel’s Quail can be easily seen anywhere in the park. Others like the Northern Goshawks, Yellow-eyed Juncos, and Mexican Jays prefer higher elevations zones.
To begin your birdwatching journey in Saguaro National Park, start by focusing your binocular on the stems of the saguaros where many bird nests can be found. The best time for sightings is usually early morning and early evening.
In the Rincon Mountain District travel down the Desert Ecology Trail for birdwatching where you may find Rufous-winged Sparrows, Verdins, and Cooper’s Hawks. Canyon Wrens and Black-chinned Sparrows can be observed near the Javelina picnic area. In the western area of the park, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Say’s Phoebes, Curve-billed Thrashers, and Gila Woodpeckers can be seen near the visitor center buildings. In the winter season, neotropical migrant species including Hummingbirds, Swallows, Orioles, and Warblers can be seen.
10 Birds to See at Saguaro National Park
Vermilion Flycatchers have an orange-red body with a brown mask and wings. They also have an orange-red cap on their head. Vermilion Flycatchers can be found in southwest North America and also in Central and South America. Their population has slightly declined, especially in Texas. They make their homes in the savanna, on ranches, and along streams. Vermilion Flycatchers like to perch around water and eat flying insects. Vermilion Flycatchers migrate from higher elevations in the winter.
Northern Goshawks are mostly gray with white stripes and orange-red eyes. They have short, but broad wings with long tails that help them fly. Northern Goshawks can be found in the northern region of North America. Their population in the north has seen a recent increase; however, the birds in the southern mountains are threatened. Northern Goshawks are secretive birds that live in forests, which makes them hard to see. Their diet consists of small
mammals and birds. They lay 2 to 4 eggs in platform nests high up in trees. Not all Northern Goshawks migrate, but the birds that do, migrate south in late fall and early spring.
Cooper’s Hawks are blue-gray with reddish-brown underparts. They are smaller than most Hawks, but are still just as fast. They are a woodland Hawk found throughout North America. There was a small decline in their population, but has since recovered and is stable. This Hawk lives in mature forests and along the woods’ edge. Cooper’s Hawks feed mostly on small birds and sometimes consume chipmunks and squirrels. They lay 3 to 5 eggs in an old nest high up in
pine trees. Cooper’s Hawks migrate during the day moving south for the winter.
Greater Roadrunners have a dark brown body with a deep blue-black crest. They can grow to be two feet tall. They can be hard to find as they travel in the open country and desert of the southwest. Greater Roadrunner’s population has declined, but they are not at risk of being endangered. They make their homes in the desert and near scattered brush. Greater Roadrunners are born to run and can out run a human! They eat insects, rodents, birds, and reptiles. They lay 3 to 5 eggs and defend their nesting area all year long. Their nests are built from leaves, sticks, feathers, snakeskin, and
sometimes pieces of manure. Greater Roadrunners are not a migratory bird.
Black Phoebes are found in the western United States. They have a stable population and are not at risk of being endangered. Black Phoebes have a black body and white underbelly. They make their habitat near shady streams and towns near water. Black Phoebes eat mainly insects, but sometimes will grab a minnow from the surface of a nearby pond. They lay about 4 eggs and build their nests out of mud. Black Phoebes are mostly permanent residents, but do leave the high elevations in the fall.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds are small green-backed Hummingbirds with a thin strip of purple on their black chin. These birds are found throughout the western U.S. Their population is stable. They make their homes in river groves and near the suburbs. Black-chinned Hummingbirds make a low-pitched sound with their wings and enjoy feeding on nectar and small insects. These birds lay 2 eggs in small cup shaped nests 4 to 8 feet off the ground. They are migratory birds; they spend winters in Mexico.
California Scrub-Jays have a deep blue body with a white and gray underbelly. They are found along the Pacific Coast of the United States. Their population has increased in recent years and are not at risk of being endangered. California Scrub-Jays make their homes in oak woodland, scrubs, and in riverside woods. They enjoy sunflower seeds and peanuts and can be seen at bird feeders. They lay 3 to 5 eggs and build their nests low to the ground. California Scrub-Jays have a raspy call. They are a permanent resident, but will travel within their range.
Greater Yellowlegs are shorebirds with black and white plumage and of course, yellow legs! They are found throughout North America. Their population is stable and they are not at risk of being endangered. They make their homes in marshes and other wetlands. Greater Yellowlegs are nicknamed the “marsh piper” since they will wade in deeper waters to eat. They make their nests on the ground near water and lay about 4 eggs. Greater Yellowlegs migrate in small flocks in the fall.
Northern Cardinals are a vibrant red color with a crest. They also have a short thick orange bill. They can be found mainly in the eastern half of the United States. Their population is steady and has seen an increase during the last century. Northern Cardinals live near thickets, gardens, and woodland edges. They are known for a sweet song, which can be heard early in the morning. They like to visit bird feeders and eat sunflower seeds. Northern Cardinals are the state bird of seven states! They make their nests lower to the ground and lay 3 to 4 eggs. They are not a migratory bird and like to stay in the same area.