Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area

Fast Flight Facts

Target Species:  Migrants

Elevation: 1600'

Habitat:  Riparian habitat along the Salt River, man-made demonstration habitats and wetlands

Overall Birding Rating: 4

Difficulty: 1-2 (Easy to Fairly Easy)

Birding Type: Easy to Moderate Hiking (there is a lot of walking if one chooses)

Facilities:  Parking, restrooms

Fees/Ownership:  None/City of Phoenix

Closest Town or City/How far from Phoenix:  Phoenix /1.5 miles south of Phoenix

Getting there:  Can be best reached from Central Avenue and Salt River

Overview:  Just south of downtown Phoenix is the impressive riparian area of the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, which runs along the Salt River.  This area is in the middle of the big city, but yet produces abundant and satisfying birdlife.  Habitat here has been recreated for five miles worth of hiking, to restore a lot of what habitat has been lost in past times along the Salt River.  Rio Salado has an extensive range, which is about 600 acres and runs for five miles from 19th Avenue to 16th Street.  This can all be hiked or biked, with plenty of good birding stops along the way.  Good willow and cottonwood habitat can be found immediately along the Salt River and throughout the area, and there are also man made demonstration wetlands and ponds and plantings of this native habitat that was once lost.  The area used to be a dump, but was turned around in a much more positive direction to give wildlife and plants a healthy ecosystem for many to enjoy.  This area even has it's own Audubon center, the Nina Mason Pullium Audubon Center, which has exhibits and a gift shop that is educational for birds and other wildlife.  For a nice birding treat in the middle of the city, come to Rio Salado and explore!

Birding at Rio Salado will be the most productive in the spring and fall migrations, and as well as the entire winter season.  The area has good birding throughout the five miles of length along the Salt River.  The regular desert riparian breeding birds are what the birder can expect here in summer, which include Cooper's Hawk, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Common Gallinule, Greater Roadrunner, Black-chinned and Anna's Hummingbirds, Black Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and Summer Tanager.  Most people stay away from here in the summer during the heat, which would lack a good amount of bird species.  In spring and fall migrations, expect a good variety of different songbirds, especially with good diversities of warblers.  This is often a good spot to find that rare eastern warbler, and many other rarities have been found here as well.  The Salt River itself is usually great for herons and egrets, and at times, waterfowl during the winter.  The demonstration wetlands are usually a good bet for waterfowl.  Rio Salado is also very good for raptors, especially during late fall and the winter months.  This will commonly include Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons, as well as both Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks.  Away from immediate river areas, a lot of the habitat Rio Salado also encompasses includes open desert scrub, which is good for viewing Greater Roadrunners, Gambel's Quail, and is excellent for sparrows.  Check these areas for sparrows in both migrations as well as the winter seasons.  This will include Chipping, Brewer's, Lark, Black-throated, Lincoln's, and White-crowned Sparrows.  By covering the different habitats during the right season, one will have a successful outing at Rio Salado.

Birding Tip: Rio Salado is a big area, so it can take a VERY long time to cover the entire area efficiently.  However, at the most popular access point just off of Central Avenue on the east side of the road, just north of the bridge that crosses over the Salt River, is parking and the best point to reach the better habitats.  Most of the birders who come here favor this immediate area.  There is a demonstration wetland just south of the lot, as well as the waterfall trail, which is surrounded by cottonwoods and willows.  The waterfall trail and this immediate area around the demonstration wetland has harbored many of Rio Salado's great rarities, which a lot of the habitat is thick and healthy, and often very attractive to migrants.  This lies just east of the Central Avenue bridge.  Walking just west of the Central Avenue bridge leads to a small fast flowing stream that flows into the Salt River.  This spot is often great for migrants too.  Just west of the stream is a noticeable and large grove of small to medium-sized cottonwood trees.  This grove is an excellent migrant spot and should be checked upon every visit.  The best result is to enter the grove at various points when walking around it, where birds will favor this spot during migrations.  Once covering these areas, hop back into the car and take Central Avenue south just beyond the bridge and turn east into the parking area for the Nina Mason Pullium Audubon Center.  Stop in the Center to find out more about Rio Salado and it's birdlife.  From here, you can access more demonstration wetlands (which are good for waterfowl in winter), as well as more good riparian habitat.  Good willow stands can be accessed along the Salt River rather easily, whether on the north side of the river from the main parking area or south of the river from the Audubon Center.  To get a better understanding of this immediate area, see the maps under the "Pages" section on this main Rio Salado Page.  These spots described are illustrated on the map and will assist the birder wanting to locate these different locations.  Other than the immediate area of Central Avenue at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area (which is by far the best here), there is still a lot of ground and good habitat to cover both to the east and west, on both the north and south sides of the Salt River.  It's up to the birder to explore it!

Directions:  To access the main birding section on Central Avenue: from I-17 South (Black Canyon Freeway), take the Central Avenue exit 0.3 miles south to the parking area.  The parking area is located on the east side of the Central Avenue, which E. Watkins St is just north of this parking area.  Continue south on Central just across the bridge (crossing the Salt River), to access the Nina Mason Pullium Audubon Center, which is also on the east side of Central Avenue.  Because Rio Salado is so extensive, parking is also accessed on 7th Avenue (north of Salt River bridge), and 7th Street (south of Salt River bridge).  See the maps under the "Pages" section to get direction overlooks and access to the better birding spots at Rio Salado.


Rio Salado Maps

Rio Salado Restoration Area eBird Data


Scenes and sights from the Rio Salado Project:


Birdlife from the Rio Salado:

Chestnut-sided Warbler (rarity)


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