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) and continues up to transition zone forests (ponderosa pine, oak) that reach up to 7100' at the top. Maricopa County is limited on Mount Ord, as the majority of the area is in Gila County. 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 further up. 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 be located easily 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, 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 abundant numbers of different sparrows in the upper sonoran, as well as more of the higher elevation birds irregularly such as Hairy Woodpecker and Pine Siskin.
As the ponderosa pine and oak that make up the transition zone is reached, it mixes well with the upper sonoran habitat and provides a great mix of species for both life zones, which are the Upper Sonoran and Transition Zone. Where these two zones 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 Forest Road 1688 and continues to the summit of Mount Ord. Species that breed in this habitat at Mount Ord include Northern Pygmy-Owl, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern "Red-shafted" Flicker, 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. Owling at night has produced Spotted and Northern Saw-whet Owls. Other birds seen here sporadically throughout the year or in migration include Band-tailed Pigeon, Lewis's Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, 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: To start off, the road up to Mount Ord is a dirt road that is in decent shape. It is in good condition for the most part, but it does have rough patches in places. Most passenger cars can handle this road. The road may also have seasonal problems with weather. In years with a lot of snow or rain, the road may be muddy or icy.
Birding wise, Mount Ord has good birding opportunities in all seasons, with the best times being April and May as migrants are passing through and 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 option, especially in mid-morning. Winter birding may also bring in a northern surprise that may be very rare on a Maricopa County scale. Based on strictly Maricopa County, Mount Ord has it's limitations for the county lister. On the way up before the Transition Zone is reached, 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. One of them is at a corral within the first mile of driving. Park at this corral, and take a noticeable trail to the south through a fence opening. This path is excellent for viewing Black-chinned Sparrow, Gray Vireo, and more. Refer to a map to understand county lines better. After three miles of traveling on the road, the road will come in contact with the first stand of ponderosa pines. One will reach the road going to the right/south signed "1688". This entire two Road 1688 heading south is all in Maricopa County and provides excellent mixed habitat where the Upper Sonoran Zone meets the Transition Zone. On 1688, 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. Shortly after passing Road 1688 while driving on the main road, one is in Gila County entirely until the road dead ends near the mountain summit. Some of area near the top of Ord is in Maricopa as well. The dirt road ends at a gate near the summit, where only authorized personnel are permitted to proceed past the gate and up to the summit of Mount Ord. There is a parking area at this point, where hikers are welcome to hike up to the summit of Ord. This area is open from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. and it is not permissible to drive past this gated point even if the gate is open. 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 has plenty of pine mixed in also. This upper level usually has similar diversity of pine and oak species as 1688 does, but it does attract breeders such as House Wren, Western Bluebird, and Chipping Sparrow. 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. If parking at the parking area by the summit area, anything west of there is in Maricopa County. If one wants to walk down the forested slopes to explore, the pine forests on the upper western slope hold great potential too. 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! To get better overviews of this area, check out the Mount Ord Maps page under the "Pages" section on this page.
Directions: When coming north up Highway 87 (about 33 miles north of Highway 87 and Shea Blvd. intersection), 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 just north of mile marker 222. The road to the summit area goes for six miles with many good spots and stops along the route. Check the Birding Tip and Maps Page for more information.
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:
Birdlife of Mount Ord:
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Northern Saw-whet Owl (one of two fledglings found together in May of 2014 by Kurt and Cindy Radamaker)-rare and local breeder in Maricopa County
Red Crossbill (irregular fall and winter visitor, has bred)
Cassin's Finch (Irregular winter visitor)
Back to Area 1-Highway 87 from Desert to the High Country