Important Bird Areas

How Important Bird Areas are Helping Arizona’s Most Vulnerable Species

The Arizona Important Bird Areas (IBA) program (checkout our interactive IBA map here) wrapped up another 12 months of work and accomplishments that included bird monitoring, research, habitat improvement projects and developing plans for future efforts, all with the goal of ensuring these vital landscapes continue to provide habitat to native bird species like Pinyon Jay, Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Elegant Trogon, Lucy’s Warbler, and many others.

None of our work is possible without the help of a long list of volunteers who donated 6,194 hours and 23,528 miles with an estimated value of $129,650 in 2023. As our partner in managing the IBA program, Tucson Audubon plays an instrumental role in these efforts statewide, while our seven other chapters throughout the state work to conserve the IBA closest to them. And of course, outside groups like Friends of the Verde River and The Nature Conservancy are integral to the management of these special places. Keep reading to learn about some of the accomplishments the IBA program has achieved this year.

Lower Salt and Gila Rivers Ecosystem IBA:  Significant Federal and state of Arizona funding has jump started tamarisk management and native plant restoration on the Lower Salt and Gila Rivers Ecosystem IBA west of Phoenix. Audubon volunteers survey for birds at two winter Christmas Bird Counts and scheduled IBA surveys. Birds that will benefit from this work are the Yuma Ridgway’s Rail and Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Tucson Audubon Society has tackled removal of invasive buffelgrass at Santa Rita Mountains and Tucson Mountains IBAs and riparian forest enhancement at Patagonia Sonoita Creek TNC Preserve IBA and Tanque Verde Wash/Sabino Canyon IBA.

Anderson Mesa IBA: Northern Arizona Audubon has been a leader in launching the Pinyon Jay community science survey project in Arizona. Anderson Mesa IBA, globally recognized for Pinyon Jay, is their focal area for the effort.  Located southeast of Flagstaff, this IBA and surrounding pinyon and juniper forest is in the center of Pinyon Jay country in Arizona. As a note—over 125 Audubon Southwest Pinyon Jay volunteers have submitted over 1,000 records in Arizona and New Mexico.

Agua Fria, Lower Salt/Gila, Upper Verde, Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch, and Watson/Willow Lakes: Our Yellow-billed Cuckoo surveys in 2022 complimented a multi-state survey effort. Audubon volunteers and student interns from two chapters (Sonoran and Prescott Audubon) contributed 750+ volunteer hours, surveyed 5 IBAs, 116 individual detections, 19 breeding patches identified, and was the second year of Sonoran Audubon's YBCU Intern Crew. A new crew of interns are at it again this summer!

A special project led by Tucson Audubon Society in this region is the building and placement of nesting boxes for Lucy’s Warbler. This petite bird likes to build her nest behind the bark of large mesquite trees. The idea is to encourage Lucy’s Warblers to nest in locations with younger trees. It seems to work and is a great community outreach project. The boxes are an open sided triangle, easy to build and install. Installed nest boxes are registered and the nesting success is tracked by Tucson Audubon Society. Arizona Illustrated ran a segment that can be seen online here. The video features Lucy’s Warbler Screech owl, and American Kestrel boxes.

Tucson Mountains IBA and Tucson Sky Islands IBA: The hesperia subspecies of Purple Martin – aka Desert Purple Martin, is an IBA priority bird with a focus on Tucson Mountains IBA and Tucson Sky Islands IBA.  During their monsoon nesting season volunteers “adopt” nesting saguaros and record observations. 2022 was year 3 of the study with over 150 documented nesting saguaros and successful capture of 8 adult Desert Purple Martins that were outfitted with GPS migration tracking devices. As a note—year 4 is underway and one of the tracked birds has returned.

Chiricahua Mountains IBA, Huachuca Mountains IBA, Patagonia Mountains IBA, Santa Rita Mountains IBA, and the Atascosa Highlands IBA: My favorite is the Elegant Trogon surveys every May with routes in the mountain and highland IBA’s in the southeast part of the state. 2022 was a tough year as the severe drought resulted in dry streams throughout the region and Elegant Trogon detections were way below the previous year high, so we were very pleased to see a return to a good number of detections, 160, in 2023. 

The Arizona IBA program has played an instrumental role in conserving bird populations in Arizona. We are grateful to our co-manager, Tucson Audubon Society, and the support we receive from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

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