Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Mount Ord

Fast Flight Facts

Target Species:  Black-chinned Sparrow, Gray Vireo, Scott's Oriole, other chaparral/juniper species; Pine/Oak species in Transition Zones

Elevation: 4000' through 7100'

Habitat:  Chaparral and juniper covered slopes in lower elevations, ponderosa pine and oak forest in transition zones

Overall Birding Rating: 5 (Top 10 Maricopa County Hotspot)

Difficulty: 3 (Moderate)

Birding Type: Moderate Hiking

Facilities:  None; Convenient pull offs for camping overnight

Fees/Ownership:  No fees, part of the Tonto National Forest

Closest Town or City/How far from Phoenix:  Sunflower is the closest town, Mount Ord is 50 miles northeast of Phoenix

Getting there:  Accessed from Highway 87 by a hard-packed dirt road that leads for seven miles to Mount Ord's summit

Overview:  Located in the Mazatzal Mountains off of Highway 87, Mount Ord is the easiest transition zone forest habitat to access in Maricopa County.  This amazing mountain area offers birders limited habitat and bird specialties of higher elevations within the county.  Birding has good potential and possibilities here in all seasons, as the mountain road to the summit of Mount Ord starts off by going through upper sonoran habitat (chaparral, juniper, agave) and continues up to transition zone forests (ponderosa pines, oaks) that reach up to 7100' at the top.  Maricopa County is limited however on Mount Ord, as the majority of the area is in Gila County, but however a great amount of habitat is still in Maricopa County at every elevation this area has to offer. 

Once turning on to Mount Ord from the highway, birding is good from the start as the upper sonoran habitat is a mix of chaparral and junipers with some agaves before one reaches the forested habitats up further.  This stretch is one of the best spots (if not the best) to view Black-chinned Sparrows and Gray Vireos in Arizona.  They can both easily be located in breeding season when the birds sing.  The rolling-ball song of the Black-chinned Sparrow is incredible to hear when coming up here early in the morning, and they often can be heard singing throughout the day.  Scott's Orioles reside in this area also, and should be kept in mind also when searching for Black-chinned Sparrows and Gray Vireos.  Other typical birds to expect in the lower area of Mount Ord in season and year-round include Gambel's Quail, Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, and Zone-tailed Hawks; Golden Eagle, Common Poorwill, White-winged and Mourning Doves, Black-chinned, Anna's, and Costa's Hummingbirds; Say's Phoebe, Cassin's and Western Kingbirds, Western Scrub-Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Bushtit, Rock Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Phainopepla, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon and Spotted Towhees, Bullock's Oriole, and Lesser Goldfinch.  Winter months have great potential in this habitat and will bring in larger numbers of sparrows in the upper sonoran, as well as more of the higher elevation birds such as Hairy Woodpeckers and irregular Pine Siskins. 

As the ponderosa pines and oaks that make up the transition zones are first reached, it mixes well with the upper sonoran habitat, and provides a great mix of species of both habitats.  Where the pines and shrubby habitats meet, it's excellent place to still view Black-chinned Sparrows and sometimes Gray Vireos, as well as good breeding numbers of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Western Scrub-Jay, Virginia's Warbler and Spotted Towhee.  Mount Ord provides excellent birding within the ponderosa pine and mixed oak forest, with many different species that favor the higher elevations.  This begins at the first pine stands starting at road 1688 and continues to the summit at the top.  Species that breed in this habitat at Mount Ord include Northern Pygmy-Owl, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Western Scrub-Jay, Violet-green Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bewick's Wren, Western Bluebird (sometimes), Hermit Thrush, Olive Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Grace's Warbler, Painted Redstart, Chipping Sparrow, Hepatic and Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeak, and at times Red Crossbills.  The Hepatic Tanagers can often be seen in high numbers, and are almost always seen in pairs.  Other birds seen here sporadically throughout the year or in migration include Band-tailed Pigeon, Lewis's Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Northern "Red-shafted" Flicker, Steller's Jay, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Hammond's, Gray, Dusky, and Cordilleran Flycatchers; Hutton's and Warbling Vireos, Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, House Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Townsend's Solitaire, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, Townsend's, Hermit, and Wilson's Warblers; Green-tailed Towhee, Dark-eyed Junco, and Pine Siskin. 

Birding Tip:  Mount Ord has good birding opportunities in all seasons, with the best times being April and May as the migrants are passing through and the breeding birds are starting to arrive.  Summer can get very toasty up here, but the early morning hours are always very nice, so come early.  Winter offers good possibilities, where anytime birding in the day would be a good choice.  Based on strictly Maricopa County, Mount Ord has it's limitations for the county lister.  On the way up, the county lines between Gila and Maricopa go back and fourth.  However, there are good spots in the upper sonoran that are in Maricopa as well as three good spots in the transition zone forests.  When in the upper sonoran habitat, there are many places in Maricopa to get out and search.  Then, when coming up the road and hitting the first pines, one will reach the road going to the right/south signed "1688".  This entire two mile road heading south is all in Maricopa County and provides excellent mixed habitat where the upper sonoran meets the transition zones.  On this road the regular forest birds are seen as well as the birds that favor the shrubby areas such as the Black-chinned Sparrows and at times Gray Vireos.  Once going further on the main road and continuing to the top of Mount Ord, some of the top is in Maricopa as well.  If hiking to the top where the tower is located, one will reach a sign that explains the tower is a half-mile away.  Once past this sign, the entire half mile up to the top is in Maricopa County, where excellent oak habitat resides that is often a good spot for Steller's Jays and Band-tailed Pigeons, and sometimes for irregular species such as Lewis's Woodpeckers in migration.  The forested slopes on the west side of the mountain from the tower that look downward on road 1688 are all Maricopa County as well and are well worth the exploring and good potential.  It is higher in elevation than road 1688 and might turn up a different species of note throughout the year.  By hitting a good combination of these spots and habitat differences, one is very likely to have a great outing when birding at Mount Ord!

Directions:  When coming north up Highway 87, Mount Ord is a well signed turnoff to the east side of the highway, with Sycamore Creek being the turnoff adjacent to the turnoff to Mount Ord.  It is located right at milepoint 222.  The road to the summit area goes for six miles with many good spots and stops along the route.


Mount Ord Maps 

Mount Ord eBird Data


Scenes and Sights from Mount Ord:

Scenes of the lower slopes of the Mount Ord area:

Scenes of Road 1688:

Scenes of the top of Mount Ord and upper slopes:


Summer, Fall:


Birdlife of Mount Ord:

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Scott's Oriole

Painted Redstart

Hepatic Tanager

Western Tanager

Grace's Warbler

Lewis's Woodpecker

White-breasted Nuthatch

Violet-green Swallow

Olive Warbler

Band-tailed Pigeon

Red Crossbill

Black-headed Grosbeak

Cassin's Finch


Back to Area 1-Highway 87 from Desert to the High Country

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