Hummingbird Capital of the United States: Ramsey Canyon Preserve

The combination of deserts and sky islands combine to make Southeastern Arizona one of the most spectacular regions in North America for bird watching.

During our numerous visits to this region we have visited many excellent birding spots including San Pedro Riparian National Conservation AreaPatagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Paton Center for Hummingbirds, Patagonia Lake State Park, Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, and Ramsey Canyon.

Acorn Woodpeckers live year-round in oak and pine-oak woodlands of western Oregon, California, and the Southwest through Mexico and Central America. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Acorn Woodpeckers live year-round in oak and pine-oak woodlands of western Oregon, California, and the Southwest through Mexico and Central America. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ramsey Canyon is a 380-acre preserve operated by the Nature Conservancy, a private international non-profit organization devoted to the protection of plant and wildlife habitat. The group is responsible for more than 100 million acres around the world.

Ninety miles southeast of Tucson, near Sierra Vista, Ramsey Canyon is renowned for its beauty and serenity. It is also an ecological crossroads where plants and wildlife from the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts mingle with those from the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre.

Fed by year-round Ramsey Creek and protected by high canyon walls, the preserve provides a moist, cool environment for water-loving plants like sycamores, maples, and columbines, with the cacti of the Sonoran desert always close by. Coatimundi share the canyon with white-tailed deer and mountain lions, ridge-nosed rattlesnake plays neighbor to black bears and lesser long-nosed bats.

However, Ramsey Canyon is best known for is its birding, and more specifically, its hummingbirds (including the Anna’s and white-eared hummingbird, among many others). In peak month, August, up to 14 species of hummingbirds zip around the canyon in large numbers. Is it any wonder that Ramsey Canyon Preserve claims the title of “Hummingbird Capital of the United States.”

One of the princes of Ramsey Canyon Preserve: Life doesn't get much better than a dignified sunning in a beautiful locale. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the princes of Ramsey Canyon Preserve: Life doesn’t get much better than a dignified sunning in a beautiful locale. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, you’ll have more to watch for than hummingbirds—there are more than 130 species of birds in the canyon. Many types of songbirds migrate through the canyon and elegant trogans, Mexican jays, acorn woodpeckers, and golden eagles frequent Ramsey as well. Even in the “off-season,” you can find plenty of sapsuckers, kinglets, and juncos.

The Hamburg Trail follows Ramsey Creek for a while, then switchbacks steeply for about half a mile. You can stop here and enjoy the view or continue on into the Miller Peak Wilderness Area, which has more trails.

Before you do, you might want to stop by the preserve’s nature center, which neatly lays out the species present in Ramsey Canyon. There’s also a bookstore and hummingbird observation area within the center.

The canyon is named for an early settler, Gardner Ramsey. It once was home to about 100 settlers, who built homes and held dances under one of the big sycamore trees for which the canyon is known.

Over time, much of the canyon fell into the hands of a physician, Nelson C. Bledsoe, who put an end to the dances as he acquired more land. The family appreciated the natural beauty of the canyon and donated it to the Nature Conservancy after Bledsoe’s death.

A bird of the Mexican mountains, the Mexican Jay lives in the oak woodlands of western Texas, New Mexico, and southeastern Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

A bird of the Mexican mountains, the Mexican Jay lives in the oak woodlands of western Texas, New Mexico, and southeastern Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best months for birding at the preserve are March through September. Spring weather is unpredictable, though usually cool and dry. Early summer is generally dry and warm. In July and August, brief afternoon rainstorms can be a daily occurrence. Fall days are cool and bright. Occasional snows from late November through late March bring a dramatic change in the scenery. On average, temperatures at the preserve are 10-15 degrees cooler than those in Tucson.

To reach Ramsey Canyon Preserve, follow Highway 92 south from Sierra Vista for six miles and turn right on Ramsey Canyon Road. The preserve is at the road, four miles west of the highway.

To the south of Ramsey Canyon is Coronado National Monument, a tribute to the Spanish explorer whose expeditions in the mid-1500s paved the way for European settlement but failed to discover the treasures he sought. The park has a visitor center, hiking trails, a picnic area, a scenic drive, and a cave to explore.

Please note:  Parking at Ramsey Canyon Preserve is limited and if full, visitors may be temporarily turned away. There is no parking along the road and no reservations are taken. No buses, trailers, or large RV’s (over 18 feet) can be accommodated in the narrow canyon.

A variety of trails allows the casual stroll or the steep trek from the same starting point, making Ramsey Canyon Preserve accessible to everyone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of trails allows the casual stroll or the steep trek from the same starting point, making Ramsey Canyon Preserve accessible to everyone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

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