Tommy J. DeBardeleben

El Rio Research Area

Fast Flight Facts

Target Species:  Desert and water birds

Elevation: 910'

Habitat:  Gila River alongside desert habitat

Overall Birding Rating: 2

Difficulty: 1 (Easy)

Birding Type: Easy Hiking

Facilities:  Parking

Fees/Ownership:  None/City of Phoenix

Closest Town or City/How far from Phoenix:  Tolleson /17.5 miles southwest of Phoenix

Getting there:  Reached at the northeast corner at the intersections of Vineyard and Bullard Avenues

Overview:  The El Rio Research Area is another good birding location that is fairly new and under birded along the Gila River, being a little west of the nearby Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area and directly north across the street from the popular Estrella Mountain Park, another good birding location.  This area is very good for waterbirds as well as raptors and songbirds.  Shoreline habitat is excellent here from the trails that run through the area, as many reeds are along the sides to the east of the wildlife area.  Tamarisk is the primary land habitat here, with mesquite, and some willows and cottonwoods mixed in. 

El Rio Research Area provides excellent habitat for waterbirds in season, such as ducks, herons, and shorebirds.  Waterbirds that can be found here include Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great and Snowy Egrets, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, American Coot, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Wilson's Snipe.  This area appears to have good potential for a variety of shorebirds, as Pectoral Sandpiper and Wilson's Phalaropes have also been here.  The area is also heavily used by raptors, and is a good location to look for Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.  Belted Kingfishers are good in numbers when hiking down the river.  In this area it is a good place to keep an eye out year round and in the right seasons for White-winged Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Gilded Flicker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Verdin, Rock Wren, Blue-gray and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Curve-billed and Crissal Thrashers, Lucy's Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed Towhee, Blue Grosbeak, and Bullock's Oriole.  Rare birds seen at the El Rio Research Area have included a Tricolored Heron.

Birding Tip: Once parking, follow the loop trail east from the parking lot and explore the riversides and trails thoroughly.  Birding should be good throughout the year.

Directions:  Take the I-10 West to the Estrella Parkway exit, and take Estrella Parkway Avenue south five miles to W. Vineyard Avenue.  Take Vineyard Avenue east one mile to the research area, which is located just east of Bullard Avenue, at the northeast corner of the Vineyard and Bullard intersections.  It can also be accessed from MC 85 also, where Bullard and Estrella Parkway Avenues can be taken to reach the area.  If birding Tres Rios or Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Areas, it can be accessed closely from there too.  If heading west on 115th Avenue (Avondale Boulevard), that turns into Indian Springs Road, which turns north on 143rd Avenue which turns into W. Vineyard Avenue where the birding area is closely located right before Bullard Avenue.  It's an easy and straight drive from the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area.


El Rio Research Area Maps


Scenes and Sights from the El Rio Research Area:


Birdlife from El Rio Research Area:

Tricolored Heron (rarity)


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