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Papago Park - Phoenix, Arizona


Besides Papago Buttes and an extensive trail system, Papago Park also includes the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, Papago Golf Course, and a sports complex. The location is convenient to downtown Tempe and Phoenix and is just a few miles from Sky Harbor Intl. Airport.

The Papago Hills are derived from reddish siltstone and conglomerate. The dark green shrubs dominating the landscape are Creosote Bush.

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West Park Drive as shown in the map below has been converted to non-motorized use and connects to extensive bike and foot trails. In the area near the zoo there are urban fishing ponds that bring in plenty of ducks and other waterbirds with the most interesting species appearing during fall and winter migrations. Both the zoo grounds the botanical gardens are excellent places to study wildlife including many native, non-captive yet approachable species. The nature enthusiast can find much of interest in this oasis within the urban area. Picnic areas are concentrated in the area north of the zoo parking lot.


Mostly in order of abundance. Click on hyperlink for a detailed description and photo.

  1. Mourning Dove -- Zenaida macroura
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- Large numbers can be seen browsing in the lawn just in front of players on the driving range with balls wizzing over their heads!
  2. European Starling -- Sturnus vulgaris
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- Especially common on the golf course.
  3. Northern Mockingbird -- Mimus polyglottos
    -- S,F,W,Sp --
  4. Cliff Swalllows -- Sp,S -- abundant near canals and ponds by mid spring.
  5. Black-crowned Night Heron -- S,F,W,Sp -- quite a population of these birds inhabit the pond areas and can be seen heading to and from roosting areas at dawn and dusk.
  6. Verdin -- Auriparus flaviceps
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- Tiny birds, barely larger than a hummingbird. Gray/brown with a majestic yellow head.
  7. House Finch -- Carpodacus mexicanus
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- Males have conspicuous red on head and upper chest
  8. Mallard -- Anas platyrhynchos
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- the most common duck after the migrants have left.
  9. Great-Tailed Grackle -- Quiscalus mexicanus
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- common on grassy areas and near water.
  10. Anna's Hummingbird -- Calypte anna
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- Common. Green back; forehead and throat of males magenta.
  11. Loggerhead Shrike -- S,F,W,Sp -- all year, but more common in winter than in summer
  12. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher -- Polioptila melanura
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- so tiny and so animated!
  13. Black-throated Sparrow -- Amphispiza bilineata
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- Lovely birds with a jet-black throat and bib contrasted by bright white eye brows. Beautiful singers. A very nice description of the black-throated sparrow can be found at Twentynine Palms Cyberzine (California).
  14. Gambel's Quail -- Callipepla gambelii
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- quite a number use the riparian-like habitat near golf course.
  15. Brown-headed Cowbird -- Molothrus ater
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- lays its eggs in other birds nests.
  16. Lesser Nighthawk -- Sp,S -- common but flies at dusk catching insects mid air.
  17. Cactus Wren -- Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
    -- S,F,W,Sp -- not averse to foraging on picnic table scraps.
  18. Curve-billed Thrasher -- Toxostoma curvirostre
    -- S,F,W,Sp --
  19. Phainopepla -- Phainopepla nitens
    -- F,W,Sp --
  20. Brewer's Sparrow -- W,Sp -- many find the golf course perimeter to their liking. They also eat the tender new bean pods of the foothill palo verde.
  21. Common Raven -- Corvus corax
    -- F,W,Sp -- may claim ownership of the Hole in the Rock summit
  22. Black-throated Gray Warbler -- F,Sp -- mostly only during spring migration (April)
  23. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck -- Dendrocygna autumnalis
    -- S -- on ponds
  24. Neotropic Cormorant -- S,F,W,Sp -- on ponds
  25. Belted Kingfisher -- Megaceryle alcyon
    -- W -- on ponds
  26. Peregrine Falcon -- S,F,W,Sp --
  27. Peach-faced Lovebird -- Agapornis roseicollis
    -- S,F,W,Sp --

(includes observation made by Jim Burns)


Adapted from Phoenix Parks & Rec. Map.

Gambel's Quail Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Cactus Wren

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Rabbits have few predators to fear at Papago Park. Photo © by Michael Plagens

This area has a severe shortage of predators: bobcats, coyotes, raptors and large snakes. As a result there are way too many rabbits and rodents that want to make lunch of anything vegetable. Landscapers and gardeners must fence anything green with chicken wire. The Garden has encouraged a population of feral house cats to help. Park planners and health officials should also recognize that these dense populations of especially rodents could pose health risks to the immune-compromised visitors.

  1. Audubon's Cottontail -- Sylvilagus audubonii
    -- Large numbers everywhere!
  2. Harris's Antelope Squirrel -- Ammospermophilus harrisii
    -- out basking and foraging after winter hibernation
  3. Black-tailed Jackrabbit -- Lepus californicus
    -- large, easily spotted, robust rabbit with black tips to ears


  1. Saguaro Cactus -- Carnegiea gigantea -- a few perched on flanks of buttes
  2. Compass Barrel -- Ferocactus cylindraceus -- Spines tinged with red and yellow. A few hanging on behind the protection of chicken wire. Let's bring on the bobcats!

There are many other cacti cultivated along Galvin Parkway and in the vicinity of the zoo and gardens that would not be here naturally.

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Shrubs and Trees

In general order of abundance:

  1. Creosote Bush -- Larrea tridentata
  2. Triangle-leaf Bursage -- Ambrosia deltoidea
  3. Foothills Palo Verde -- Parkinsonia microphylla
  4. Brittlebush -- Encelia farinosa
  5. Desert Ironwood -- Olneya tesota - A few robust specimens can be found along drainages
  6. Fremont Thorn Bush -- Lycium fremontii - a few here and there. 1 to 2 meter tall shrub with noticeably dark twigs.
  7. Milkweed Vine -- Funastrum cyanchoides - a few large robust vines nearly smother some palo verdes.
  8. Ocotillo -- Fouquieria splendens
  9. Velvet Mesquite -- Prosopis velutina - Purposely planted along paved trail systems, near parking areas and around perimeter of riparian-like lawns
  10. Desert Lavender -- Hyptis emoryi - a few cling to butte slopes and among the steps in the amphitheater.
  11. Desert Tobacco -- Nicotiana obtusifolia - mostly on shaded sides of steep hills.
  12. Desert Broom -- Baccharis sarothroides - along road sides and adjacent to grassy areas
  13. Desert Straw -- Stephanomeria pauciflora
  14. Tamarisk -- Tamarix pentandra - common around edges of the golf course
  15. Desert Senna -- Senna covesii -- planted along roadside of Galvin Pkwy.

Photo © by Michael Plagens

Desert Senna shows yellow flowers often even during the hottest, driest months. It is an excellent xeriscape plant for the urban deserts of the Southwest.


April 2002

Only hardy perennials in bloom due to the extended drought. More can be found at the Desert Botanical Garden where they are watered and fenced against rabbits.

  1. Foothills Palo Verde (Cercidium microphyllum) -
  2. Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) -
  3. Brittle Bush (Encelia farinosa) -
  4. Ironwood (Olneya tesota) -
  5. Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) -
  6. Mesquite (Prosopis velutina) -
  7. Desert Straw (Stephanomeria pauciflora)
  8. Tamarisk (Tamarix chinensis) --
  9. Desert Senna (Senna covesii) --
Creosote Bush Brittle Bush Velvet Mesquite Ocotillo
Foothills Palo Verde; Yellow Palo Verde Desert Ironwood Desert Straw;Wire Lettuce Desert Senna

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