Important Bird Areas

Tucson Sky Island

Arizona

This IBA consists of the following
public lands: Santa Catalina Mountains Forest Service, Saguaro National Park
(Rincon Mountain District), Oracle State Park,
and Catalina State Park,
A species of high significance in this area is
Mexican Spotted Owl (16 breeding territories reported in Santa Catalinas) which would qualify this area as a Global IBA.

Ornithological Summary

The
Sky Islands and Sonoran Uplands IBA contains a gradient of habitat ranging from
Madrean Occidental "Sky Island" life zones down through Madrean oak,
chaparral down to Saguaro upland desert. This area with its different life
zones is united in its proximity to Tucson.

There
is an impressive assortment of bird species of conservation concern that use
this proposed IBA as habitat. Raptors found in significant amounts and with
regularity include:
Peregrine Falcon (eBird high count: 3), Golden Eagle (eBird
high count: 2),
Northern
Goshawk
(eBird high count: 3) and many other raptors not of conservation status
including Sharp-shinned Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Harris’s Hawk.

This
also a very important area for owls and nightjars including:
Elf Owl (eBird
high count 10),
Whiskered
Screech-Owl
(eBird high count 3), Flammulated Owl (eBird high count 5), Mexican Spotted
Owl and
Mexican
Whip-poor-will
(eBird high count 6) with Elf Owls occurring through much of the IBA.

Other species of interest are Gould’s Wild Turkey (eBird
high count 15) and in lesser abundance Montezuma Quail? (?=present but
not abundant) (eBird high count 4) and Band-tailed Pigeon? (eBird high
count 30). There is a very high hummingbird diversity including Costa’s
Hummingbird
(IBA survey high of 22.9/km2) which is found abundantly in the
saguaro uplands habitat but also documented very high up in the Santa Catalinas
portion of the proposed IBA. Other hummingbirds include: Broad-billed
Hummingbird
(IBA survey high of 18.3/km2), Magnificent Hummingbird (eBird
high count 5) and Blue-throated Hummingbird? (eBird high count 1). Gila
Woodpecker
(IBA survey high of 64/km2) and Arizona Woodpecker (eBird
high count 5) along with Gilded Flicker are significant woodpecker species that
are residents in this proposed IBA. Flycatchers present include: Northern
Beardless-Tyrannulet
(IBA survey high of 13.7/km2) and, Olive-sided
Flycatchers
on migration (eBird high count 3) and Buff-breasted
Flycatchers
? (eBird high of 6) to the delight of Tucson area birders. Desert
Purple Martins
(eBird high count 30) favor the saguaro upland habitat and
use cavities in the cacti made by woodpeckers as nest holes. Bell’s Vireos (IBA
survey high of 103/km2) is in the lower elevations. Lucy’s Warbler (IBA
survey high of 119/km2) and Yellow Warbler? (eBird high count 20) in the
desert habitat and mesquite habitat that spans up into medium elevations. The
higher elevations are excellent for the charismatic Red-faced Warbler (IBA
survey high 36/km2) and SE AZ specialty birds, the Olive Warbler (IBA
survey high of 6.67/km2) and Grace’s Warbler (IBA survey high of 21.7/km2).
Other warblers include Black-throated Gray Warbler (IBA survey high of
14.4.km2), MacGillivray’s Warbler (IBA survey high of 6.67/km2) breeding
at high elevations and migrating at all elevations and Virginia’s Warblers (eBird
high count 26) in the oak habitat. In the lower zones there are Abert’s
Towhees
(IBA survey high 66.7/km2) and in several different elevational
zones there are Canyon Towhees (IBA survey high of 50.3/km2). This area
is also great for sparrows including Rufous-crowned Sparrows (IBA survey
high of 17.3/km2) on rocky slopes and SE Arizona’s specialty sparrow the Rufous-winged
Sparrow
(IBA survey high of 145/km2).

Conservation Issues


 


The main threats to this area
are fire, recreation and urban impacts. Fuel buildup is a concern in this
portion of the Coronado National Forest and in 2003 the Aspen Fire burned
84,750 acres of forest in the Santa Catalinas. Recreation and road disturbance
is a notable impact on this habitat.


The biggest threat to the
saguaro uplands habitat of the proposed IBA is urban encroachment and
development. With this influx of people has come another threat to the saguaro
– exotic plants. Exotic plants almost always out-compete native plants for the
limited resources of water and nutrients. Exotic plants – particularly
bufflegrass, fountain grass, and red brome – have also led to an increase in
wildfires in the desert, which harm or kill native vegetation, including the
saguaro.

Ownership

This IBA consists of the
following public lands: Santa Catalina Mountains Forest Service, Saguaro
National Park ( Rincon Mountain District),
Oracle State Park, and Catalina State Park. Land managers for each of these areas have been contacted
and have agreed to be included in the Important Bird Area. Saguaro National
Park is especially interested in partnering with this program for IBA
designation as they want to include this status in their management plan

Habitat

The proposed IBA is comprised of approximately: 53% (50,816 hectares) Madrean Evergreen Woodland, 21% (20,541 hectares) Desert Scrub Grassland, 11% (10,725 hectares) Mixed Paloverde – Cacti Community,7% (6,544 hectares) Interior Chaparral, 6% (5,565 hectares) Pine Community, 2% (1,825 hectares) Douglas Fir – White Fir Community using the Arizona Game and Fish ALRIS GIS Layer. Wildlife in the lower elevations (below 5,000’) is comprised of species typical of the Arizona Upland subdivision of the Sonoran desert. Birds that typify this habitat for this nomination include: Costa’s Hummingbird, Gilded Flicker and Elf Owl. There is a poorly defined desert grassland biome around 5,000’, that varies in size and integrity depending on aspect and fire history. IBA Species here are: Scaled Quail, Rufous-winged Sparrow and Brewer’s Sparrow in the winter. Mixed-conifer forest and Madrean pine-oak woodlands support a unique and diverse avian community. IBA bird species associated with this habitat include: Wild Turkey, Red-faced Warbler, Grace’s Warbler, Olive Warbler, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Elf Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl and Mexican Spotted Owl.

Land Use

Virtually all of this land is open to the public. There are also areas
in the Rincon Mountain and Catalina Mountains that are difficult to access
because of road scarcity but they are not closed to the public.The primary land uses are recreation that include hiking, biking, and bird watching, On the National forest and county park lands there  is hunting, and fishing at a man made lake in the Catalina Mountains.