Site Status: Identified 04/2003, Recognized 05/2011
Ownership: Coronado National Forest,
Area: 217 square miles, 138,760 acres
Criteria: B3 (Potential) – Assemblage of individuals/species concentrated in a Bird Conservation Region
D1: State: Species of Conservation Concern
Site Description: The Santa Rita Mountains are 35 miles south of Tucson, and span from near 5000 feet to 9453 feet at the top of Mount Wrightson, the highest peak in the range. The IBA boundary is the National Forest boundary around the mountain. The range has numerous drainages with riparian habitat, but few are perennial, and of those only sections above 6000 feet typically are year-round perennial. Access is easiest from Green Valley, Arizona. Encompassing the entire mountain range, including the world famous birding hot spot of Madera Canyon, the Santa Rita Mountains Important Bird Area (IBA) is one of the Sierra Madrean Occidental “Sky Islands.” The distinct forest, oak savannah, grassland, and riparian habitats found here provide essential habitat for significant populations of a number of bird species of conservation concern.
Ornithological Summary: The Santa Rita Mountains IBA contains a number Species of Conservation Status of Sierra Madre bird community that extends far south into central Mexico. The species include: Northern Goshawk, Gray Hawk, Mexican Spotted Owl, Whiskered Screech-owl, Montezuma Quail, Elegant Trogon (within 7 canyons), Arizona Woodpecker, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Lucifer Hummingbird, Costa’s Hummingbird, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and Varied Bunting. Other species of concern that occur within the IBA include: Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Band-tailed Pigeon, Elf Owl, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Greater Peewee, Gray Flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Bridled Titmouse, Virginia’s Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Lucy’s Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Grace’s Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, Cassin’s Sparrow, and Botteri’s Sparrow. Buff-collared Nightjar, a rare species in Arizona, is also present. Winter brings Red-naped Sapsucker to the IBA.
This mountain range provides essential habitat for the Sierra Madrean Occidental “sky island” bird community in Arizona. This IBA occupies distinct forest, oak savannah, grassland and riparian habitats. It is this transitioning elevational gradient of many different vegetation communities that makes this IBA so important to so many different bird species.
Some of the ecotypes that provide habitat for bird species of conservation concern are:
Mixed conifer: Mexican Spotted Owl, Band-Tailed Pigeon, Red-faced Warbler
Pine:Northern Goshawk; Olive and Grace’s Warbler
Pine/Oak: Greater Peewee; Buff-breasted and Cordilleran Flycatcher; Whiskered Screech-Owl; Magnificent Hummingbird.
Madrean Oak Woodland: Montezuma Quail; Arizona Woodpecker; Bridled Titmouse; Virginia’s Warbler.
Pinyon pine/Juniper Woodland: Black-throated Gray Warbler.
Semiarid grassland: Lucifer Hummingbird; Rufous-winged Sparrow; Cassin’s Sparrow.
Sycamore/Oak/Juniper Riparian: Elf Owl; Elegant Trogon; Costa’s, Broad-billed, Violet-crowned, and Blue-throated Hummingbird;
Cottonwood/Willow/Ash Riparian:Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet; Bell’s Vireo; Yellow and Lucy’s Warbler; Varied Bunting.
Thorn Scrub: Black-capped Gnatcatcher; Five-striped Sparrow (both very rare).
Peregrine Falcons may also nest on cliffs. The Tucson Audubon IBA team is documenting the surprisingly rich bird life found in the lesser known canyons.
Conservation Issues: Illegal immigrant traffic can be significant through the range, which leads to trampling of vegetation, and accompanying trash. Campfires have potential for starting forest fires if they are not properly put out, but due to the remoteness of this area there is little border patrol. Birder overuse of lower Madera Canyon trail may be disturbing nesting birds in this confined stream reach. A stewardship organization, Friends of Madera Canyon assists in advancing historical, scientific, educational, and interpretive programs in Madera Canyon, in the Nogales Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest. Their goals and objectives are to: heighten public interest in conservation; assist the Forest Service and its operations; and assist in data gathering and public feedback. More information can be found here.