Birding Column: Entering "Hummingbird Heaven"

Mathew Tekulsky
The Birdman of Bel Air
April 27, 2004

Patagonia is a tiny hamlet located in the Coronado National Forest in southeastern Arizona. A few blocks from the main street through town, on the edge of the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, lies a nondescript ranch house that is no less than one of the most famous bird-watching sites in the world.

This is the home of Marion Paton, but it is more than just a home. It is an open, living museum dedicated primarily to observing hummingbirds in Mrs. Paton's backyard.

Now, you don't need an appointment to visit Mrs. Paton's backyard. You don't even have to knock on her door to ask permission to go around the side of the house to the viewing area. Just walk in through the gate and past the blackboard inscribed with the recent bird species seen in the yard. You'll be met with a view of nine (count them, nine) hummingbird feeders lined up along the side of her house.

For the better part of two days in late March, I stood in the hot sun in Mrs. Paton's backyard, next to whichever feeder I thought gave me the best chance to get a great photograph of a broad-billed hummingbird, a black-chinned hummingbird, or the exquisitely exotic violet-crowned hummingbird. I was lucky on all three counts.

Throughout the day, Mrs. Paton fills up the feeders with sugar water, waters the lawn, and mingles with the visitors, which I figure must add up to well over a hundred per day. This totals well over 30,000 visitors per year. Imagine opening your home to this many people, asking in return for only a small donation to cover the cost of the sugar water. (There's a tin can attached to the fence for this.)

I would say that if anyone deserves the title of saint (at least, bird-watching saint), it is Mrs. Paton.

Hummingbird Heaven

Marion Paton's place is located in an area of southeastern Arizona that is also referred to as Hummingbird Heaven. Here, during the breeding season, you can observe (in addition to the violet-crowned hummingbird pictured on this page) the broad-billed, blue-throated, magnificent, and Lucifer hummingbirds—all of which are regional specialties that poke into this tiny area of the United States from their winter homes in Mexico and Central America.

You can also see more widely ranging North American hummingbird species such as the black-chinned, broad-tailed, rufous, calliope, Costa's, Allen's, and Anna's hummingbirds in this region. Indeed, virtually all of the North American hummingbird species except for the ruby-throated hummingbird can be seen in Hummingbird Heaven, depending on what time of the year you visit the area.

Just down the road from Paton's is the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. Here such rare bird species as the gray hawk, northern beardless-tyrannulet, rose-throated becard, thick-billed kingbird, and green kingfisher can be seen, along with about 300 other species.

Stroll along the stream and cut back across the floodplain to the visitor center. It's a beautiful hike!

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