Birding the Copper Corridor

Not only is the Copper Corridor a scenic and historical adventure, it also offers excellent locations for birders to explore. Elevations ranging from Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts to spruce-fir forests create exceptional habitat diversity.
In between, dozens of lakes and ponds, miles of creeks and rivers, grasslands, marshes and woodlands provide habitat for more than 400 bird species.
Spring is one of the best birding seasons. Avian migrants traveling from Central and South America arrive to nest here or pass through on their way further north. Spring wildflowers are at their peak, attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators.
One of the best ways to learn about birds is to go into the field with local birders. Birding organizations such as Arizona Field Ornithologists ( and Arizona Audubon ( host walks and surveys.
Beginning and intermediate birders often benefit from a guided walk. Roper Lake State Park offers birding walks one Saturday each month. Boyce Thompson Arboretum has bird, flora, photography and geology walks.
If you decide to go out on your own, you’ll want to take a field guide and/or download a bird identification app to your Smartphone. Apps such as Merlin not only show key visual markings, they also provide audio of calls and songs.
The easiest way to find the best birding sites is to log into where you can search for locations by county or by a specific site in the “Explore” tab. There are hundreds of hotspots in the counties crossed by the Copper Corridor: 85 in Gila County, 73 in Pinal, 56 in Graham, and 31 in Greenlee. Each will have its resident birds plus seasonal species and those migrating through, so visits at different times of year can yield new sightings.
Two great birding areas are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area follows the Gila River through parts of Graham and Greenlee counties and includes three

In between, dozens of lakes and ponds, miles of creeks and rivers, grasslands, marshes and woodlands provide habitat for more than 400 bird species.

tributaries. Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, where visitation is limited to 50 people per day via permits secured online in advance, surrounds Aravaipa Creek in Graham and Pinal counties.
One location that has dozens of hotspots is the Pinaleño Mountains, aka Mt. Graham. Here, Swift Trail, State Route 366, ascends through the Coronado National Forest from grasslands at the base of the mountain to forests high above. Venturing north from Globe leads travelers through the Tonto National Forest to Roosevelt Lake where many hotspots are located along the shoreline.
Don’t know where to start? Here is a list of some of my favorite sites in each county:
Pinal: Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior is a must if you love wildflowers and birds.
Gila: San Carlos Lake, east of Globe, covers Gila, Pinal and Graham counties. A San Carlos Apache tribal recreation permit is required.
Graham: Roper Lake and Dankworth Pond south of Safford frequently have rarities. Cluff Ranch Wildlife Area includes a lake and trails.
Greenlee: The Duncan Birding Trail follows the Gila River.
A special birding event, Global Big Day, happens each May. This year, on Saturday, May 4, birders from around the world will spend time documenting species. Some simply tally birds at their feeders while others go out with friends to a favorite spot; more “competitive” birders try to cover a big area to tally as many species as they can on that day. Sightings are posted on eBird, enabling Cornell University to assess global avian trends. But, for most of us, it’s just a fun day observing birds.
So, grab a pair of binoculars and hit the road to join the fun of birding along the Copper Corridor. Whether it’s a guided bird walk, a daylong hike, or Global Big Day, you’re sure to add a new element to your enjoyment of Arizona’s great outdoors.
Diane Drobka is an avid photographer, birder and traveler who enjoys sharing her images of nature.