Tucson Sky Islands IBA

Tucson Sky IslandsSize: 511 sq miles, 1325 sq kilometers.

Elevation: 2803 to 8189 feet.

Identified: 3/20/2017

Visiting the IBA: From Tucson: There are several good access points for the public, notably Catalina Highway travels up Mount Lemmon to access the higher elevations of the Santa Catalinas and Cactus Forest Loop Road is excellent access within Saguaro National Park for the Sonoran Uplands habitat within the IBA. Happy Valley Road gives access into Paige Creek and other areas of great sycamore and oak riparian habitat of Happy Valley. Virtually all of this land is open to the public and there are some very well-known recreation areas favored by birders such as Catalina Highway, Happy Valley and many trails in Saguaro National Park. There are also areas in the Rincon Mountain and Catalina Mountains that are difficult to access because of road scarcity but they are not closed to the public.

Ownership: National Park, National Forest, State Park, County Park and very limited private.

Rincons by Grant Montgomery

Rincons by Grant Montgomery

Site Description: This IBA contains a rich assortment of habitat types due to varied elevations that are united in their excellence of habitat and proximity to Tucson: Sonoran Desertscrub and grasslands, Riparian Areas/Corridors and Tinajas, Mixed-conifer forest and Madrean pine-oak woodlands.


Year-round: Gilded Flicker, Costa’s Hummingbird, Black-chinned Sparrow, Band-tailed Pigeon, Montezuma Quail, Gambel’s Quail, Gould’s Wild Turkey, Arizona Woodpecker, Gila Woodpecker, Abert’s Towhees, Canyon Towhees, Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Yellow-eyed Junco, Cactus Wren, Greater Roadrunner, Rufous-winged Sparrow.

Breeding: Mexican Spotted Owl, Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Lucy’s Warbler, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Elf Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl, Western Scree-Owl, Flammulated Owl, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Magnificent Hummingbird, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Bell’s Vireos, Buff-breasted Flycatchers, Desert Purple Martins, Lucy’s Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, Olive Warbler, Grace’s Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Varied Bunting.


Spotted Owl by Tony Morris

Spotted Owl by Tony Morris

Migration: Olive-sided Flycatchers, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Virginia’s Warblers, Rufous Hummingbird.

Winter: Brewer’s Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee.

Conservation: This area is used for many purposes and its proximity to Arizona’s second largest city has caused it to be used heavily for recreation. The National Forest portion of the IBA is used for recreation and logging. The small portion of BLM land does have some grazing, but the main use of this entire IBA is habitat preservation and recreation. Land use is approximately 80% recreation, 10% logging, 5% transportation and 5% grazing.

The main threats to this area are fire, recreation, invasive species and urban impacts. Fuel buildup is a concern in this portion of the Coronado National Forest and in 2003 the Aspen Fire burned 84,750 acres of forest in the Santa Catalinas. Recreation and road disturbance also have a notable impact on this habitat.

Conservation Steward: Friends of Saguaro National Park.


Maps of this Important Bird Area:

Tucson Sky Islands Topological Map

Tucson Sky Islands Topological Map

Tucson Sky Islands Imagery

Tucson Sky Islands Imagery





For an interactive map and habitat and land ownership analysis of this IBA visit the National Audubon IBA Map and select “Arizona” and then the name of this Important Bird Area. To access analysis graphs, click on the map boundary of the IBA.

State of the IBAs 2017 Baseline – More Technical info about the status of this Important Bird Area

Location: Lat: 32.36525287290646  Lon: -110.65731009705925

County: Pima

Site Status: granted IBA status 3/20/2017.

Criteria: D1: Site important to Special Status Avian Species.

D3: Rare, Unique, or Exceptional Representative Habitat/Ecological Community – Madrean Occidental Sky Island and Sonoran Uplands.

Site Description: This IBA consists of the following public lands: Santa Catalina Mountains Forest Service, Saguaro National Park (Rincon Mountain District), Catalina State Park.

Ornithological Summary: This IBA is qualified for Global status for Mexican Spotted Owl and could qualify for Continental status for Gilded Flicker, Elf Owl and Black-chinned Sparrow.

Red-faced Warbler by Tom Benson

Red-faced Warbler by Tom Benson

A species of high significance in this area is Mexican Spotted Owl (16 breeding territories reported in Santa Catalinas) which would qualify this area as a Global IBA. There is an impressive assortment of bird species of conservation concern that use this IBA as habitat. Raptors found in significant amounts and with regularity include Peregrine Falcon (eBird high count: 3), Golden Eagle (eBird high count: 2), Northern Goshawk (eBird high count: 3) and many other raptors not of conservation status, including Sharp-shinned Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk and many others making this entire IBA a significant and large area of habitat with different elevation zones important for these large birds. This also a very important area for owls and nightjars, including: Elf Owl (eBird high count 10), Whiskered Screech-Owl (eBird high count 3), Flammulated Owl (eBird high count 5), Mexican Spotted Owl and Mexican Whip-poor-will (eBird high count 6) with Elf Owls occurring through much of the IBA.

Magnificent Hummingbird by Anita Gould

Magnificent Hummingbird by Anita Gould

This area is also significant for Gould’s Wild Turkey (eBird high count 15) and in lesser abundance Montezuma Quail (eBird high count 4) and Band-tailed Pigeon (eBird high count 30). This IBA has very high hummingbird diversity including Costa’s Hummingbird  which is found abundantly in the saguaro uplands habitat but also documented very high up in the Santa Catalinas portion of the IBA. Other hummingbirds include: Broad-billed Hummingbird, Magnificent Hummingbird (eBird high count 5) and Blue-throated Hummingbird (eBird high count 1). Gila Woodpecker and Arizona Woodpecker (eBird high count 5) along with Gilded Flicker are significant woodpecker species that are residents in this IBA. Flycatchers present include: Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet and Bell’s Vireos in the lower elevations, Olive-sided Flycatchers on migration (eBird high count 3) and Buff-breasted Flycatchers (eBird high of 6) to the delight of Tucson area birders. Desert Purple Martins (eBird high count 30) favor the saguaro upland habitat and use cavities in the cacti made by woodpeckers as nest holes.

This IBA is excellent habitat for many species of warbler including Lucy’s Warbler and Yellow Warbler (eBird high count 20) in the desert habitat and mesquite habitat that spans up into medium elevations. The higher elevations of the IBA are excellent for the charismatic Red-faced Warbler and SE AZ specialty birds, the Olive Warbler and Grace’s Warbler. Other warblers found within these different life zones include Black-throated Gray Warbler in many habitats, MacGillivray’s Warbler breeding at high elevations and migrating at all elevations and Virginia’s Warblers (eBird high count 26)  in the oak habitat. In the lower zones there are Abert’s Towhees and in several different elevational zones there are Canyon Towhees. This area is also great for sparrows including Rufous-crowned Sparrows on rocky slopes and SE Arizona’s specialty sparrow, the Rufous-crowned Sparrow  and in the winter significant numbers of Brewer’s Sparrows in different elevation zones.