Saving a Southeastern Arizona Birding Hotspot

Anyone who has spent any time carrying binoculars, camera, and a birding field guide though the mountains, canyons, and deserts of Southeastern Arizona knows the region as a premiere birding hotspots and a favorite for outdoor recreation and RVing.

Paton's Birder Haven

Paton’s Birder Haven

The many unique and special places in this region offer a spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds including species at their extreme northernmost migrating range.

These birding hotspots include Sabino Canyon, the Chiricahua and Huachuca mountains, Saguaro National Park, Madera Canyon, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Coronado National Monument, Santa Catalina Mountains, San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, Whitewater Draw, Muleshoe Ranch Preserve, Buenas Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and the Mountain Empire of Patagonia-Sonoita.

The Mountain Empire contains important conservation areas, including one of the only remaining high desert short-grass prairies in America, the San Rafael Valley.

Visitors come for the spectacular scenery of the valley in which Patagonia is nestled, and the clean air that beckons hikers into the surrounding canyons.

The community of Patagonia, in particular, is home to many talented artists, artisans, and writers. Here you’ll find potters, weavers, jewelry makers, painters, folk and avant garde artists, as well as many known and not so well-known writers.

The elevation (Patagonia is 4,050 feet, Sonoita is 4,885 feet) makes for milder summer temperatures than much of Arizona, plus there are a number of cooling lakes within the general area, but yet in winter the occasional dusting of snow usually melts by noon except in the shady crevices of the surrounding mountains.

Paton's Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton

Paton’s Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton

Patagonia is located in a lush riparian habitat where Sonoita Creek meanders year-round between the Patagonia and Santa Rita mountains, not far from the Arizona/Mexico border. The diversity of vegetation (riparian, desert, and mountain) provides sustenance for more than 300 bird species—including Mexican and Central American species that reach the extreme northern limit of their range here.

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are renowned for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways.

For many years, birders who came to Patagonia often visited the home of Wally and Marion Paton.

Paton’s Birder Haven had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. They put up hummingbird feeders and had great success, attracting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds along with even rarer species like the Cinnamon Hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat.

When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, and provided bird guides. They placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to help defray the cost feeding their beloved hummers.

In recent years, Wally and Marion both died, creating an uncertain future for this birding landmark as the remaining family has opted to liquidate the property.

With your help, the property can be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds—a fitting tribute to the Paton’s legendary generosity. And you will be able to visit to see the birds too!

As a result, American Bird Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours have joined forces in the effort to purchase Paton’s Patagonia Birder Haven and have jointly contributed about a third of the purchase amount and have entered into a contract with the Paton family.

Paton feeder

Paton feeder

It is hoped the remaining two-thirds—about $200,000—can be raised through contributions before October (2013).

Once the property is successfully procured, Tucson Audubon would assume long-term management, while maintaining the home and property as a public birding site.


American Bird Conservancy


Tucson Audubon Society


Victor Emanuel Nature Tours


Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

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