Top 5 Must See Migrations in Arizona
Fri, Oct 22 2010 at 1:04 PM
It's spring, and that means the animals of the world are in motion again — flying, swimming, running and crawling to their summer homes and breeding grounds. The Nature Conservancy is celebrating this annual pageant of nature with a listing of the "Top Five Must-See Migrations" in Arizona.
"Arizona comes alive in the springtime," explains Ken Wiley, director of stewardship for The Nature Conservancy in Arizona. "Some hustle through on their way north, while others settle into suitable summer ranges here. For our wildlife, to move is to survive."
The Top Five Must-See Migrations for Arizona
Striped mullet, a fish species famous for its acrobatic leaps out of the water, is one of two saltwater fish found in Arizona. After spawning in the Gulf of California, the young move into Arizona’s estuary deltas, like the Colorado and the Rio Yaqui. They are able to move into these rivers only during high flow years, such as an El Nino, taking advantage of nutrient-laden runoff and growing to about 35 cm before they return to sea. But because of the dams and restricted flows to the Sea of Cortez, their travels into Arizona are restricted— most years all of the water is diverted before reaching the Colorado River Delta.
One of the main attractions at the Conservancy’s Aravaipa Canyon Preserve is the black hawk. They migrate to Mexico and Central America every winter but return every year in March to establish territories, build nests and raise young. A resurgence of the black hawks’ favorite prey—the rare lowland leopard frogs—has buoyed their breeding success at Aravaipa in recent years. In late spring, and all through the summer, it is fairly common to see black hawks hunting for both fish and frogs all through Aravaipa Canyon.
In March and April, Arizona serves as a stop-over for one of the state’s most popular migrants—hummingbirds. The tiny travelers arrive in southern Arizona from Central and South America and can be heard whirring through many of the Conservancy’s preserves in southern Arizona. Some species, such as the rufous hummingbird, will continue on as far north as British Columbia. Hummingbirds return to their southern winter homes again in late August or September. At peak migration times as many as 20 hummingbirds can attempt to feed from the same feeder, like angry bees around a hive. During these migrations the whirring wings of the hummingbirds can be heard as they course through southern Arizona’s riparian forests and mesquite bosques in search of a nectar-filled flower or an insect to glean.
The long-eared owl, with its musical "whooo” calls, spends time in northern Arizona before and after breeding as far north as Canada in mid-April. Long-eared owls roost in Arizona’s rare Bebb willow communities, sometimes in communal groups of more than 20 birds. When disturbed in a day roost, the owl will raise its ear tufts, compress its feathers tightly against the body, and freeze, resembling tree bark or a broken limb. The bird is considered a very sensitive species due to habitat loss from land development, a decline in suitable nest sites, and a drop in prey availability.
Desert Bighorn Sheep
It’s all about water for desert bighorn sheep, a species that stays close to water sources during the hot summer, dispersing at other times of year. When the heat turns up, bighorn sheep rely on certain desert plants for both food and moisture. They use their hooves and horns to remove spines from cacti, and then eat the juicy insides. They are fond of the tender shoots of prickly pear and cholla, and the flowers of succulents like agave and squawgrass. At the Conservancy’s Aravaipa Canyon Preserve, bighorn sheep scramble around the canyon’s rims and bottomlands in June as other waters become scarce. Their specially-adapted hooves allow them to navigate steep, rocky terrain and use their climbing abilities to escape predators.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.
(Photo by flavouz/Flickr)