Common Birds of the Sonoran Preserve

Greater Roadrunner 

Greater Roadrunner

The most famous bird in the Sonoran Desert and our largest cuckoo, this bird is characterized by a long tail, streaked appearance, frequently erected shaggy crest, and a blue and orange bare patch of skin behind the eyes. It is capable of running very rapidly across the ground (15 mph) and rarely flies. However clown like it may appear to human eyes, the Roadrunner is a very effective predator. Its speed on foot is not just for show: it captures not only snakes and large insects, but also fast-running lizards, rodents, and various small birds. Often it seems curiously unafraid of humans. Trotting up close to peer at us, raising and lowering its mop of a shaggy crest, flipping its long tail about expressively, it looks undeniably zany. It comes as no surprise to learn that the Roadrunner is a member of the cuckoo family. Like all cuckoos, the Roadrunner is a zygodactyl bird (it has 2 toes pointing forward and 2 toes backward).^^ ^^^^^ (to see close-up of the Roadrunner above click on the image)

Great Horned Owl Parent and Owlet

Great Horned Owl

With its long, earlike tufts, intimidating yellow-eyed stare, and deep hooting voice, the Great Horned Owl is the quintessential owl of storybooks. This powerful predator can take down birds and mammals even larger than itself, but it also dines on daintier fare such as tiny scorpions, mice, and frogs.  A large, thick-bodied owl with two prominent feathered tufts on the head, the wings are broad and rounded. In flight, the rounded head and short bill combine to create a blunt-headed silhouette. ^^ ^^^^ (click on the image at left to see this Great Horned Owl parent with an owlet in nest perched in a saguaro in the Sonoran Preserve)

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren fluffed

The Cactus Wren has a dull rusty colored crown, streaked back, heavily spotted breast, with tawny colored sides and belly; wing and tail feathers are barred black and white. The Cactus Wren primarily eats insects, including ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and wasps. Occasionally, it will eat seeds and fruits. The Cactus Wren has been the state bird of Arizona since 1931. ^^ ^^^^ (click on the image at left to seen an enlarged image of a Cactus Wren seen fluffing itself on a fence post in South Mountain Park)



Gambel's Quail

 Gambles Quail Gambles Quail in flight

Gambel's Quail are pear shaped birds with short legs and roundish wings. They eat seeds of grasses, shrubs, trees, and cacti as well as fruits and berries. They are ground feeders, generally seeking food in the morning and afternoon. These birds often join together in groups known as coveys, which may total 20 or more individuals in fall and winter. Natural predators include bobcats, hawks, rats, king snakes, and coach whips. ^^^^^ (to see details of a Gambel's Quail in flight and up close- click on images above)

Harris's Hawk

Harris Hawk

Mature adults are medium-sized to large hawk. Dark overall. White rump and under tail. White tip to dark tail. Chestnut-red thighs and shoulders. Legs and bare face skin yellow. A handsome hawk of the arid Southwest, the Harris's Hawk hunts cooperatively in pairs or trios. The hawks surround their prey, flush it for another to catch, or take turns chasing it. ^^ ^^^^^ (Click to enlarge image at left for up close detail)



Mourning Dove

The Sonoran Desert would have a very different sound if it were not for the doves. The cooing songs of four species are among the classic bird voices here for much of the year. Mourning Doves are among the most numerous birds in the desert year-round. Other common doves include White-winged Dove, Common Ground-Dove, and Inca Dove. Dove nests are haphazard platforms of sticks, so flimsy that the eggs or young sometimes fall through them; as if to make up for this, the birds may make repeated nesting attempts, raising several broods per year. Doves love water, and it is only through their strong powers of flight that they are able to thrive in the desert; they may fly long distances to get to reliable sources of water. Flocks of doves hurtling overhead are a characteristic sight on desert evenings. ^^^^ ^^^^^^ (Click to see detail of this mourning dove foraging freshly sprouted seeds at Phoenix' South Mountain Park)




Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker watching for ants in the hummingbird feeder

To Gila Woodpeckers, saguaros serve in place of trees: these woodpeckers go hitching their way up the sides of the giant cactus, and give voice to strident calls when they reach the top. The holes that they excavate for nesting sites, which may riddle the arms of some ancient saguaros remain to serve as natural birdhouses for a variety of other birds. In the desert, these birds must be resourceful. Gila Woodpeckers eat cactus fruits, mistletoe berries, and many other items in addition to insects. Highly adaptable, they make themselves at home in southwestern U.S. cities, where they will visit hummingbird feeders and steal dog food from back porches. They also have been known to  make themselves unpopular at dawn by hammering out brash wake-up calls on metal pipes and other echoing objects. ^^^^^(Click on image to enlarge the detail of this hummingbird feeder ant thief)




Anna's Hummingbird

Arizona is unique for its large number of different hummingbirds! Costas Hummingbird is the only true desert hummer here, but several others live along the desert's edges. Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds nest in streamside woods in summer, while Anna's Hummingbird, a recent invader from California, nests in the same areas (and in residential neighborhoods) in winter. Our region hosts the greatest variety of hummers in late summer, when several species are on their way south. Rufous Hummingbirds, southbound from nesting grounds in the northwest U.S., may appear in the Sonoran Desert by July, along with lesser numbers of other species, to joust for space around the blooms that follow the summer rains.

The "flame-throated" Anna's hummingbirds are iridescent green above and grey below. In addition, the male's throat and forehead iridescent crimson rose in good light; in poor light, these areas appear to be velvety black. The females generally lack these iridescent rosy patches, but may have a few rose feathers on the throat. ^^^^^^^ (click on the Anna's hummingbird at right for a close-up view of this hovering little desert gem)

Costa's Hummingbird

Another "flame-throated" hummingbird, the Costa's hummingbird is iridescent green above and grayish white below. The males in good light have an iridescent amethyst purple forehead and throat. The iridescent throat patch extends into an elongated "mustache." In poor light, these patches appear velvety black. The female completely lacks these patches. A desert hummingbird, Costa's breed in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts of California and Arizona. It departs the desert in the hottest days of summer, moving to chaparral, scrub, or woodland habitat. ^^^^^^ (Click to see a close-up of the iridescent amethyst purple of the Costa's head and throat)

 * Listing of Arizona Hummingbirds according to the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory:

Allen's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Beryline Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Blue-throated Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Bumblebee Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Cinnamon Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird
Lucifer Hummingbird
Magnificent Hummingbird
Plain-capped Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Violet-crowned Hummingbird
White-eared Hummingbird

References and Related Links:

^ Maricopa Audubon Society 

^^ Audubon Society

^^^ Sonoran Audubon Society

^^^^ Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory

^^^^^Arizona Naturalist  Common Sonoran Desert Birds 

^^^^^^Sonoran Desert Naturalist