Home to the most biodiverse desert on earth, Arizona is rife with wildlife. Striving to spot its scaly, feathery, and furry creatures in action can provide hours of engaging activity for nature-loving humans who want to spend some quality time outside.
The spectacle begins each January in the southeastern wetlands, where 30,000 migrating sandhill cranes trill and trumpet in a sort of avian chorale. In March, rosy boas, blue-and-yellow Sonoran whipsnakes, and other reptiles start to slither out of their winter slumber to shimmy among the wildflowers in the desert near Phoenix. Between April and May, millions of songbirds—trogons, flycatchers, warblers—splash color on the riparian oases that ribbon the state. When summer starts to swelter, scorpions emerge at dusk to prey on crickets, beetles, and spiders. During monsoon season, July through September, hummingbirds flutter around flowering shrubs and poke at man-made feeders, flashing their emerald, ruby, and violet feathers. Come fall, elk bugle to attract mates in the eastern White Mountains.
Beyond these seasonal highlights, nature puts on quite a show here year-round. Some of the state's most emblematic animals are perennially active, making sightings possible whenever you're out for a hike, paddle, picnic, or drive. The best times to catch glimpses of native critters are at dawn and dusk. For greatest success, wear neutral colors, avoid strongly scented toiletries, and bring binoculars for close-ups. Or visit an accredited zoo, such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.
Here's a guide to six Arizona icons—western diamondback rattlesnakes, desert bighorn sheep, javelinas, coyotes, roadrunners, and condors—along with tips for observing them safely.
Wildlife Safety Tips
The Arizona Game and Fish Department recommends the following:
- Watch from a distance. Never pursue, touch, feed, or throw things at wild animals. Human interaction is extremely stressful for most species, and creatures can become dangerous when they feel threatened.
- Leave your dog at home. Your four-legged friend's natural behaviors, including barking, may startle wild animals and prompt an attack.
- When you spot a wild animal, stop moving and be quiet. Don't stare at its face; eye contact is often perceived as a threat. One exception: If you encounter a mountain lion, make eye contact and try to seem as large and threatening as possible. Stand and wave your arms, speak loudly, and open your jacket. Pick up or hold on to children while maintaining eye contact with the lion.