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Birdwatchers’ 15 favorite birding destinations in the U.S. and Canada

Painted Redstart at Cave Springs Campground, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona, by Gary Botello.

In 2002, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Birder’s World magazine (now known as BirdWatching), we asked our readers to share their favorite birding hotspots. We have been describing birding hotspots since our first issue in 1987 (Washington’s Skagit River Flats was our first), and the truth is that we’ll never run out of places to feature. The United States is home to 61 national parks and more than 350 other units in the National Parks Service, as well as 562 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts, and hundreds of state, city, and county parks. Canada boasts 39 national parks and another eight national park reserves. Countless other preserves, observatories, and sanctuaries offer abundant opportunities for birdfinding. The list of birdwatchers’ favorite hotspots is presented in order here.

1. Southeastern Arizona

With at least 24 notable birding hotspots in the southeastern corner of Arizona, it’s impossible to describe the entire region in a few words. But one thing is certain: Our readers adore Cave Creek Canyon, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Saguaro National Park, Madera Canyon, and the area’s other hotspots.

“The bottomless blue sky is my cathedral,” writes John Kelly of Glendale, California, of the San Pedro River area. “It’s like you have arrived as a birdwatcher and are walking on hallowed ground,” reports Charles Morris of Owensboro, Kentucky.

For Stan Lilley of Weidman, Michigan, it’s the lure of a red-bellied, green-headed Arizona specialty — the Elegant Trogon. A volunteer in Cave Creek’s trogon survey one year, Lilley will never forget his sighting. “I barely hear a rustle of wings above me. A hoarse, unmistakable coah-coah-coah brings me to full alert. I swallow hard, to get my pounding heart out of my throat. It’s right over my head! At first all I can see is a long gray-and-white-banded tail … then a brilliant red belly, a white band above it, and a deep jade green throat. There’s a bright yellow bill. He tilts his head back and belts out another coah-coah,then, with a little chuckling squawk, he’s off across the creek in a blur of feathers.”

Location: South of Tucson and east of Interstate 19 • Best time to visit: April through September • Birds: Elegant Trogon, Painted Redstart, Gray Hawk, Mexican Jay, a dozen hummingbird species • Contact: Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory: (520) 432-1388; Tucson Audubon Society: (520) 622-5622

“Like many, I have come, over the years, to revere the Chiricahuas. The birding is unparalleled in the U.S., and it is also a place to retreat from a hectic lifestyle, spending time with nature.” — “The Chiricahua Mountains” by Mary Ann Chapman, Birder’s World, October 1987, pp. 38-42

Originally Published

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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