Rio Vista Natural Resource Park

Tips for Birding

The small manicured grass field and playground area attract Vermilion Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe (in Fall and Winter), and occasionally Cassin’s Kingbird or American Pipit. East of the playground area, open mesquite scrub surrounded by tall weeds can hold migrant sparrows. This is perhaps the best area to bird in Winter and late Fall. White-crowned and Lincoln’s Sparrow and Abert’s Towhee are the most common, but several other sparrows such as Vesper, Lark, and Brewer’s are found regularly during migration.

A strip of taller mesquites east of the horse paddock (“The Strip”) leads eastward toward Cactus Boulevard. This is the best area to find migrant warblers, vireos, and flycatchers in season. “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler is common in migration and throughout the winter, but several other warblers turn up regularly during Spring and Fall, such as Orange-crowned (occasional in winter as well), Yellow, Wilson’s, MacGillivray’s, and Black-throated Gray. “The Strip” and the scrubby area south of it are the best areas to look (and listen) for Ash-throated and Brown-crested Flycatchers during the Spring and Summer.

Good rains can produce prolific herbaceous growth in the understory of the mesquites. Winter rains bring fiddlenecks, which attract Lesser Goldfinches when they go to seed. Monsoon rains produce dense stands of the yellow-flowered composite Golden Crownbeard, which attract insects and provides important understory cover used for concealment by MacGillivray’s Warblers, Green-tailed Towhees, and other migrants.

Walking west from the parking area toward Campbell Avenue and the UA Campus Farm is a less-birded area that is part of the Rio Vista general area. As you walk on the unpaved extension of Roger Road, after about 1/8 mile you will come to Christmas Wash. A narrow trail leads south up the wash. This is the only area where riparian species such as Bell’s Vireo and Northern Cardinal are regularly found in the Rio Vista area. If you follow the wash north (on either side) you will eventually meet the Rillito and the main river path. Killdeer are regularly seen in this area, in experimental fields west of Christmas Wash.

The Rillito itself is usually not a very productive birding area. However, you may find large numbers of finches feeding in the winter when Tamarisk, Johnson Grass, or Desert Broom are in seed. Finally, Rio Vista is as good a location as any to watch for the Prairie Falcons that patrol the Rillito during the winter months

About this Location

Located at the top of Tucson Boulevard where it meets the Rillito, this pleasant and underbirded park is always worth a couple hours in the morning. It contains about a mile of meandering, unmarked trails through mostly-native desert scrub with a few larger trees. Typical desert species like Anna’s Hummingbird, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Phainopepla can be found here year-round. Lucy’s Warbler nests in Spring, becoming seasonally abundant during summer after nesting

Unusual for the Tucson area, Rio Vista contains practically no cactus, and therefore species that are typically common in desert scrub such as Black-throated Sparrow, Cactus Wren, and Curve-billed Thrasher are essentially absent. (Curve-billed Thrasher is sometimes heard at the southern boundary of the park, but rarely seen in the park itself.)

The rather sparse ground cover seems to be provide some appeal to wandering Sage Thrashers, and an individual was seen here sporadically in consecutive winters of 2013 and 2014.

A Brown Thrasher, seen for one day only (Oct. 19, 2014), is probably the park’s best-known rarity.

The park is also popular with dog owners, so expect to share the space with canine companions. According to Tucson city law dogs should remain on leash, but a few owners do not abide by this regulation, especially in the vicinity of the grass field near the parking lot.

Rio Vista is managed by Tucson Parks and Recreation. Water fountains and restrooms are available.