Common Sonoran Desert Birds

The birds listed here are those that are likely to be seen in areas away from ponds, streams, rivers, cities and agriculture, i.e. the desert proper. Virtually all birds seek water for drinking and bathing and so these birds will also move into riparian and other areas with water. Desert birds tend to be much more abundant where the vegetation is lusher and thus offers more insects, fruit and seeds as food. Washes, canyons and bajadas tend to be birdier than desolate creosote flats. Where the Arizona cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson and Mesa adjoin desert washes or foothills these birds can be common as well. Drought forces more desert birds to move into moister, man-altered habitats. Birds more likely to be seen in and near water or riparian zones are shown on Riparian and Wetland Birds. Editing suggestions were kindly provided by Carol Anderson.

Auriparus flaviceps
 © by Mike Plagens

Common, year-round along desert washes, riparian streams and in cities. Yellow head and small maroon patch on shoulder. Overall light gray. More info

Gambel's Quail
Callipepla gambelii

Forages and runs on ground. Top feather on head curves forward. Rufous cap and black face. More info

Greater Roadrunner
Geococcyx californianus
 © by Marc Borom

Terrestrial and avid runner. Long tail and conspicuous crest. Red and white eye brow. More info

Cactus Wren
Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

Highly vocal wren of foothills and washes. Large by wren standards. White eyebrow and dark bib breaking into spots on belly. More info

Gila Woodpecker ♀
Melanerpes uropygialis

Conspicuous woodpecker associated with Saguaros. Adobe brown head; black & white banded back. Female w/o red on head. More info

Phainopepla ♂
Phainopepla nitens

Male is glossy black, with distinct crest and red eyes. White patch in wing visible in flight. Common near mistletoes. More info

Phainopepla ♀
Phainopepla nitens

Female phainopepla appears solid gray when perched; white patch in wing visible in flight. Distinct crest and red eyes. Common near mistletoes. More info

Northern Mockingbird
Mimus polyglottos

Musical singer and common in many habitats. Largely gray color with bold black and white in long tail and wings. More info

Gilded Flicker
Colaptes chrysodes

Large bird with heavy bill and a black bib. Chest and belly are boldly spotted. Usually near saguaro cactus. Fantastic singer! More info

Ladder-backed Woodpecker ♀
Picoides scalaris
Ladder-backed Woodpecker © by Mike Plagens

Smallest of the desert woodpeckers. Mostly black and white with fine barring on the back. Female has no red on head. More info

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Polioptila melanura

Sprite little birds, sharply gray, white and black with a long tail. Tail black on underside. Black cap fades in winter. Common near desert washes. More info

Anna's Hummingbird ♂
Calypte anna

When sunshine is behind the observer, head and throat appear magenta. Common in cites, desert washes and riparian habitats. More info

Anna's Hummingbird ♀
Calypte anna

A few speckles of magenta possible on throat. Females of Costa's, Anna's and Black-chinned v. similar. More info

Costa's Hummingbird ♂
Calypte costae

Except when lighting is from behind observer, head and throat of males appear black. Otherwise head and gorget is violet/purple. More info

White-winged Dove
Zenaida asiatica

Larger. White patch in wing. Tail squared off. Spring and summer, rare rest of year. More info

Mourning Dove
Zenaida macroura

Common year-round esp. near agric. and cities. Long, tapering tail. Blue skin around eyes. More info

Curve-billed Thrasher
Toxostoma curvirostre

Almost uniformly gray-brown bird with very faint speckles on chest. Long curved bill, long tail, yellow-orange eyes. Fantastic singer! More info

Bendire's Thrasher
Toxostoma bendirei

Ever so slightly smaller than curve-billed thrasher, with bill that is usually shorter and less curved. Brushy desert slopes and canyons. More info

Leconte's Thrasher
Toxostoma lecontei

Uncommon. Restricted to low salt bush covered desert habitat. Very pale, w/o breast spotting. Dark malar stripe. More info

Rock Wren
Salpinctes obsoletus
 © by Mike Plagens

Small, active, common wren of rocky tops and hillsides. Eye line faint. Underside pale with a bit of rust towards lower belly. Hunts on ground scrambling between rocks. More info

House Finch ♂
Carpodacus mexicanus
 © by Robert Shantz

Males have red on upper chest and head. Brown streaking lower belly. Common to abundant along washes, in cities and at feeders. More info

House Finch ♀
Carpodacus mexicanus
 © by Mike Plagens

Females are brown with a white belly. Heavy streaking on chest and belly. Common to abundant along washes, in cities and at feeders. More info

Canyon Towhee
Pipilo fuscus

Mostly brown. Thick bill. Rusty cap and faint necklace of darker spots below throat. Common in foothills but wary and often unnoticed. More info

Lesser Goldfinch ♀
Carduelis psaltria

In canyons and along rivers with plenty of seeds. Yellow belly, darker head, conical beak. Melodious singer. More info

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Myiarchus cinerascens

Upright posture for sallying out to catch bugs mid-air. Pale gray throat, pale yellow belly, rusty-brown on tail and wings. More info

Brown-crested Flycatcher
Myiarchus tyrannulus

Upright posture for sallying out to catch bugs mid-air. Similar to Ash-throated, but bill is heavier and lower belly yellow usu. brighter. More info

Say's Phoebe
Sayornis saya

Upright posture. Sits in open 1 to 2 meters above ground. Pale salmon color on chest/belly. Fields and open areas near river flood plains. More info

Western Kingbird
Tyrannus verticalis

Spring and Fall migrant. Tends to avoid driest areas. Likes farming areas and pastures. Pale gray with yellow belly. More info

Black-throated Sparrow
Amphispiza bilineata
 © by Mike Plagens

Commonly in groups foraging near ground. Year-round. Bold black bib and white lines above and below eyes. More info

White-crowned Sparrow
Zonotrichia leucophrys

Sharply contrasting black and white crown. Seed-eating bill orange-pink. Common to abundant in winter months. More info

Brewer's Sparrow
Spizella breweri

Small, gray-brown sparrow with finely streaked crown and clear, pale breast. Winter resident. Pale bill with dark tip. More info

Savannah Sparrow
Passerculus sandwichensis

Small, streaky, winter sparrow found in open habitats where there are some grasses/seeds. Yellowish eye stripe. More info

Chipping Sparrow
Spizella passerina

Noticeably smaller than white-crowned sparrows. Crown is reddish brown which is more red in breeding males. Black line through eye. More info

Lark Sparrow
Chondestes grammacus

Relatively large sparrow with boldly marked face, black stick-pin on clear chest/belly, and long tail. Winter resident. More info

Rufous-winged Sparrow
Peucaea carpalis

From Tucson area south look in mesquite bosque - grassland areas. Rusty crown and two whisker marks. More info

Lucy's Warbler
Vermivora luciae

Small, active bird found especially in mesquites. Spring-summer only. Gray and white with rufous patch on crown and rump. Fine bill. More info

Loggerhead Shrike
Lanius ludovicianus

Predatory song bird. Hefty bill with hook. Gray and white plumage with black mask. Perches high in open. More info

Western Scrub Jay
Aphelocoma californica

Margins of Sonoran Desert where it meets chaparral. Azure blue back and gray-white throat and belly. Long tail. More info

Western Meadowlark
Sturnella neglecta

Medium sized bird with yellow chest marked with black 'v'. Winter bird mostly of agric. fields in Sonoran Desert. More info

Lesser Nighthawk
Chordeiles acutipennis

Crepuscular and nocturnal. Acrobatic flights chasing insects in sky. White bands near wing tips. Cryptic plumage for daytime resting. More info

Turkey Vulture
Cathartes aura

May appear entirely black soaring in distance. With better light red head and two-toned plumage visible. More info

Common Raven
Corvus corax

Soaring all-black bird. Often flying in pairs that croak loudly to each other. More common towards mountains but ranges widely. More info

Harris's Hawk
Parabuteo unicinctus

Nearly black plumage contrasting with rich rusty-brown on shoulders and thighs. Bright white patch at base of tail in flight. Year round. More info

Red-tailed Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis

Very common soaring bird with pale tail reddish on *top*. Black feathers on wrists. Most common in winter and near agric. fields. More info

Ferruginous Hawk
Buto regalis

Winter reident. Rusty legs form a 'V' against white belly when seen overhead. More info

Swainson's Hawk
Buteo swainsoni

Migratory soaring bird - appearing in Sonoran Desert only briefly in spring and fall. Light bands on tail. Dark chest bib. More info

American Kestrel
Falco sparverius

Small raptor but clearly heavily built. Coppery and steel-gray upper mantle. Sharp beak and talons. Common on wires, utility poles and tops of trees. More info

Prairie Falcon
Falco mexicanus

Sleek bird with pointed wings, spotted chest and with a dark gray whisker marks. More info

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Accipiter striatus

Mostly only in winter in the Sonoran Desert. Hangs around feeders and other concentrations of small birds it eats. More info

Burrowing Owl
Athene cunicularia

Long-legged, ground dwelling owl, often crepuscular or diurnal in habit. Prefers open terrain such as agricultural areas. Hides and nests in abandoned rodent burrows. More info

Barn Owl
Tyto alba
 © by Marc Borom

Nocturnal. White face and dark set eyes. Roosts in mine shafts, old buildings and under bridges. More info

Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus

Large bird with big yellow eyes and two feather-horns off head. Mostly nocturnal but commonly seen by day. More info

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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, 1999-2011, updated 21 Jan. 2019.