DesertBighornSheep- with credit.jpgA herd of elk grazes a meadow at sunset – and you’re there, listening to the bull elk’s bugling call.

A rare blue-throated hummingbird zooms in to sip nectar from a flower – and you’re there, watching it flash like a sapphire in the sunlight.

A bighorn sheep kneels to drink from the Colorado River – and you’re there, capturing the moment on camera.

Arizona offers endless opportunities to watch and wonder at the state’s varied wild animals. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and the staff of Arizona Wildlife Views magazine, published by AZGFD, offer the following tips to maximize your enjoyment when viewing Arizona wildlife.

By the Numbers

From majestic elk and bighorn sheep to the tiny, living jewels called hummingbirds, Arizona hosts an astonishing array of animals – more than 900 species, in fact.

We have lots to brag about. Arizona boasts 18 hummingbird species and 28 bat species – more hummingbirds and bats than any other state except Texas.

Arizona also is home to 107 species of native reptiles, including 52 species of snakes. Among these are 13 rattlesnakes – just over one-third of the world’s total species and more than are found in any other U.S. state.

Arizona owes its diverse wildlife to its wide range of habitats. Elevations within our borders range from sea level to more than 12,000 feet. The state has not only the largest intact ponderosa pine forest in North America, but four deserts and the mighty Colorado River as well.

Wild Arizona

People from all over the world visit Arizona to see wildlife, exploring the state’s 50 million public acres of natural land.

Most people are familiar with Arizona’s six national forests and 22 national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges. People also love watching wildlife at Arizona’s 30 state parks and natural areas.

Fewer people are aware of the state-run wildlife areas that dot our landscape. There are about 30 of these treasures across the state, and they are fabulous places to watch wildlife.

The Hummers of Summer

hummingbirdrev.jpgOne of these state-run wildlife areas is Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area. It sits southeast of the towns of Eagar and Springerville, in the White Mountains along North Central Arizona’s eastern border. There is no better place in the state to watch wildlife.

Sipe is known for its July High Country Hummers festival. Attendees get to observe and photograph hummingbirds up close as experts capture, band and release the four species (broad-tailed, rufous, calliope and black-chinned) that migrate through the area during monsoon.

Sipe is a good place to watch wildlife year-round. Elk are best seen here during fall and winter. Migrating waterfowl pass through in fall and spring. Raptors hunt the grasslands all summer long. Other wildlife to look for include mule deer, wild turkey, gray fox, striped skunk, coyote and pronghorn.

A visitor center, hiking trails and a day-use picnic area offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about Arizona’s wildlife.

As with all state-run wildlife areas, there is no fee to visit Sipe.

Land of Cranes

Once you’ve heard a flock of sandhill cranes make eerie cries as they prepare to lift off at dawn, you’ll never forget the sound.

The best place in Arizona to hear – and watch – sandhill cranes is Whitewater Draw, a state-run wildlife area southeast of Tucson.SandhillCranes- with credit.jpg

All winter long, more than 20,000 sandhill cranes spend the night standing in shallow waters, then fly out each morning to feed and socialize in surrounding fields. They return to the draw in the afternoon and evening.

The opportunity to watch and photograph sandhill cranes is not to be missed. But the waters of Whitewater Draw also attract ducks, geese, herons, egrets, shorebirds, gulls and terns. Spring and fall are good times to spot migratory birds.

Surrounding grasslands nurture a wealth of wildlife as well. Quail, doves, sparrows and songbirds visit throughout the year. Prairie and peregrine falcons and wintering hawks soar above the grasslands, searching for a meal.

Come for the cranes – stay for the surprises. A great horned owl watches from a rafter in the old pole barn. A snake slithers across the trail. A herd of javelina kicks up dust in the grass. You never know what you might see at Whitewater Draw.

Party with Nature

Visiting a wildlife area or other natural attraction is not the only way to get up close and personal with Arizona’s wildlife.

Nature festivals, large and small, take place all over Arizona throughout the year. At these events, people who love watching animals get together for field trips and workshops, and share inside information about nearby hot spots.

The state’s biggest annual wildlife festivals are:
• Wings Over Willcox, Sulphur Springs Valley, winter
• Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, central Arizona, spring
• Tres Rios Nature Festival, at the edge of the Phoenix metropolitan area, spring
• Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival, southwestern Arizona, summer.

Ready to party with wildlife? Arizona has a festival for you. A complete list of nature festivals, plus other information about where and how to watch wildlife in Arizona, is available at on the Watchable Wildlife page of the AZGFD website.  

Up Close and Personal

If you want more insider information about where and when to watch wildlife in Arizona, check out Arizona Wildlife Views.

Every issue includes an article about wildlife watching, allowing you to get eye to eye with the animals of Arizona, and through July 31, 2012, Arizona Office of Tourism Travel News subscribers will receive a special magazine subscription rate.

(Brought to you by Arizona Wildlife Views magazine, published by Arizona Game and Fish Department, (800) 777-0015, http://www.azgfd.gov/i_e/pubs/awv_magazine.shtml)