Arizona’s Next Ten

While I’m occasionally adding to a blog post I’m writing about the Nutting’s Flycatcher, David Vander Pluym has been working on a very interesting project: a list of the birds he thinks will be added next to Arizona’s state list.  Only time will tell how accurate it is, but such projects always give birders something to think about and something to study up on for the next outing in the field.  Enjoy!


I’ve long been interested in vagrants and what might be the next birds to occur in an area. I’ve been meaning to put together a next 10 for Arizona and so a recent question by Jason Wilder and Brain Gatlin on the Northern Arizona Birds Forum got me thinking once again and I managed to come up with a “Next 10” list. I decided not to rank them and so the only order they are in is taxonomic.  I first started with a list of nearly 130 species of birds that seemed reasonably possible though some were very remote possibilities and there was a certain wishful thinking on some species. This larger list was easily whittled down to about 50 species but after that it got harder and I found it difficult to just pick 10 species. Nonetheless here is my pick of 10.

1. Surfbird – Uses the Gulf of California as a major stopover point in spring and is casual in spring in the Salton Sink. A spring migrant up the Colorado River (Yuma?) seems likely, but with records east to Texas and Florida (as well as the Black Turnstone record from Wilcox) a southeast Az record is not out of the question.
2. Curlew Sandpiper – with every surrounding state boasting records this seems long overdue for the state. Most interior records are for spring, when it is also easiest to identify, but pay attention in fall as well!
3. Ancient Murrelet – With records from the surrounding states and multiple records for the Salton Sink it seems a matter of time before one is recorded. Most likely in late fall but there are several late spring records for the Salton Sink (coming out of the Gulf of California?). Most suspect a record from Lake Havasu or elsewhere along the Colorado River, but this species is possible on any body of water or even in a parking lot!
4. Red-billed Pigeon – Occurs as close as 150 miles south of the border and like most pigeons is a strong flyer. Movements are not well known to me, but a vagrant seems plausible. It could be overlooked and hard to document, though, if one blasts by.
5. Alder Flycatcher – This one is almost certainly overlooked due to identification problems but with multiple records for the southeast deserts of California (including one from the Salton Sink) this species likely passes through Arizona. Either late spring or fall could produce this species at migrant traps across the state. Studying Willow Flycatchers and its whole range of variation in both plumage and vocalizations will help one prepare for the possibility of this species. Though vocalization recordings will be needed to confirm identification, some potential birds can be picked out by plumage. A willow flycatcher with a green back and crown, along with bold edgings to the flight feathers that strongly contrast with the rest of the wing, would be worth a closer look and perhaps enticed to call.
6. Fork-tailed Flycatcher – A species that could turn up anywhere, with records from both Nevada and California. Its penchant for wandering, as well as being easily identifiable, makes it a likely candidate to occur in the state.
7. Mangrove Swallow – Likely has some seasonal movements in the NW, as well as movements based on local conditions. This combined with its regular range extending nearly to the head of the Gulf of California makes it a prime candidate for occurrence. Should be looked for in large flocks of swallows moving north in spring as well as other seasons. Note that given its white rump, it may be passed off as a Violet-green Swallow.
8. White-throated Thrush – Similar range in west Mexico to Rufous-backed Robin (though not as far north) with known casual dispersal into Texas gives potential for wandering into Arizona as well. To be looked for anywhere robins occur.
9. Rusty Sparrow – A record seems overdue as it occurs very close to the border. Though it can be difficult to detect, learning the song and calls would be helpful in finding one.
10. Tricolored Blackbird – Though there are few records for the eastern deserts of California there are now multiple fall/winter records for the Salton Sink in the large blackbird flocks there. This may be the reward for anyone willing to pick through the large blackbird flocks in Yuma or elsewhere along the Colorado River.

Given the difficulties in predicting vagrant species the next new species to occur could easily be one not mentioned above as I left off many plausible species. White-tipped Dove, for example, was just recently mentioned on the AZ/NM listserve.  This species would have easily made a top 20 list of mine as it just barely didn’t make the cut (mainly as I thought a Red-billed Pigeon may be easier to document). One should study up on the identification of any of the possible species as who knows what may cross your path. Part of finding rare birds is knowing what to look for and how to pick one out from the common species (and how to document them), and of course getting out there regularly is also a major part of it.

See also articles on predicting vagrants in Birding May 2010 and Dec 2008 (as well as articles mentioned within).

What are your Next Ten?

David Vander Pluym

About Lauren Harter

I live in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where I work as a field biologist and spend as much of the rest of my time as possible looking at (and listening to!) birds.
This entry was posted in Vagrants. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Arizona’s Next Ten

  1. Andrew Core says:

    Surfbird has been my #1 guess for a long time too.
    Mangrove Swallow – for all the reasons you mention
    Rusty Sparrow – ”
    Red-billed Pigeon/White-tipped Dove – ”

    from the north… how about Snowy Owl or Iceland Gull?

    from the east… Woodcock or Eastern Screech-Owl (longshots)

    From the south… so many possibilities. If Black-vented Oriole, Cinnamon Hummingbird and Sinaloa Wren can show up, there’s a dozen others that could too:

    Mountain Trogon, Happy Wren and White-striped Woodcreeper are not too far south. Social Flycatcher, Sinaloa Crow – reports from Hermosillo

    Sinaloa Martin – poorly understood species, but gets close. Migratory, so could overshoot in May into the Chiricahuas

    And from the “Already reported but not accepted” category:
    Golden Vireo, Elegant Quail, Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Gray Silky-flycatcher – provenance is the issue. Similar to Brown-backed Solitaire, I think it will take some pattern of vagrancy.

    I didn’t do very well on limiting myself to ten! And the next one will probably be something out of left field anyway, like the Ivory Gull.

  2. David Vander Pluym says:

    Interesting picks Andrew, I only picked Red-billed Pigeon over White-tipped Dove because I thought they might be easier to detect. Most of those were on my list of ~60 species I thought likely. I kind of picked some species I thought weren’t on the average birders radar, but should be. To get people to thinking about them. I know the woodcreeper is one of Lauren Harter’s most wanted to find birds in Arizona. I think there was a possible Sinaloa Martin report in the late 90’s as well so can add that to the list of reported species. Be interesting to find out what is next since I didn’t manage to pick the next one that showed up!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s