Important Bird Areas

Whitewater Draw State Wildlife Area

Arizona

This Important Bird Area, is dominated by a ephemeral lake, patchy marshlands, and semi-arid grasslands. Approximately 600 acres (1448 hectares) are the wetland. There are two small patches of riparian habitat. It was acquired by Arizona Game an.d Fish Department in 1997. 

Ornithological Summary

This Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Area is of state and regional significance as the primary wintering area for Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) in Arizona, and includes both the Lesser (most numerous) and Greater subspecies. Whitewater Draw is in the southern Sulphur Springs Valley and cranes are coming from both the Rocky Mountain population and Mid-Continental population. The area also supports wintering Snow Geese (80-200) and a few Ross?s Geese (occasional to 40). Counts of Sandhill Cranes in early January have steadily climbed from 4,000 in 1991 to over 22,000 in 2008 at Whitewater Draw, with another 13,000 present 36 miles north in the Willcox Playa area, and another 600 present in the far north of Sulphur Springs Valley at Bonita, AZ, and 400 present in the Safford Valley near Duncan. The Greater subspecies breeds in the northern states of the continental U.S., and the Lesser subspecies, breeds from Alaska and eastern Siberia.

Two other species of conservation status occur in the winter and migration periods at Whitewater Draw, but no quantitative surveys for these species have occurred, they include: Mountain Plover (winter), rare, 0 to 40 individuals occasionally (IUCN: Vulnerable, Audubon/ABC WatchList 07- Red) and Long-billed Curlew (spring & fall migration), ?teens? to 40+ birds, (IUCN: Near Threatened, Audubon/ABC WatchList 07- Yellow). Many species of relatively small populations (in Arizona in the winter) also are known to occur regularly at the Wildlife Area in small numbers, they include Bald Eagle (1-2), Golden Eagle (1-2), Ferruginous Hawk (1-5), Prairie Falcon (1-2), and occasionally Peregrine and Merlin (all of these species are of ?conservation status? in AZ, except Merlin). Sulphur Springs Valley, a raptor hotspot in the winter (including for owls), brings numerous raptor species into Whitewater Draw, they include (in approximate relative abundance) Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Barn Owl (+30 on site 2008), Cooper?s Hawk, American Kestrel, Ferruginous Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle, and Golden Eagle. The diversity of waterfowl present in winter at the Wildlife Area, is also noteworthy, including Northern Shovelor, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, Mexican Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, and Canada Goose, and rarely White-fronted Goose. Summer nesting species, when conditions are favorable include: Mexican Ducks (subspecies diazi), Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Pied-billed Grebes, and Cinnamon Teal. Both the Sora and Virginia?s Rail are present in migration, and may breed. Swallows, Tree and Violet-green, occur in large numbers in migration. Blackbirds, Yellow-headed and Red-winged, occur in very large numbers (in the hundreds) in the winter. Grassland habitat of Whitewater Draw (mostly non-native dominated) hosts breeding Scaled Quail (Nat. PIF WatchList 2004, Audubon/ABC WatchList 07- Yellow), and small numbers (probably < 5pairs) of Bendire?s Thrasher (IUCN: Vulnerable, Audubon/ABC WatchList 07- Red), and Cassin?s Sparrow (AZ PIF Priority 1999).

Conservation Issues

Major threat type = Natural events (climate change and increased summers with drought conditions).

Medium threat types - Groundwater abstraction and non-native fish introductions and amphibian introductions.

Low threat type = Extraction industry (heirs own oil, gas, mineral rights and could exercise this right in the future).

Ownership

This site is owned 100% by Arizona Game and Fish.

Habitat

This Important Bird Area, is dominated by a ephemeral lake, patchy marshlands, and semi-arid grasslands. Approximately 600 acres (1448 hectares) are the wetland. There are two small patches of riparian habitat.

Land Use

Major use of land - Nature conservation and research. No entry to prevent disturbance to roosting, feeding, and nesting birds.

Hunting would be the second major use of land.

Minor use of land; Wildlife watching and building/grounds.