Great Blue Heron in AZ – Facts and pictures about this Wading Bird

The Great Blue Heron is sometimes seen flapping casually over the desert. It hunts in typical heron fashion; standing by the water’s edge to skewer fish or clinch other aquatic creatures.

Ardea herodias,  North American herons
Great Blue Heron in Tucson Arizona, Ardea herodias

This towering bird is the most common and largest of North American herons. The Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, is in the family, Ardeidae.

grey blue wading birds Arizona
Great Blue Heron bird fishing

This wading bird is found as far north as the southern Canadian provinces.  ** From the southern United States southwards and on the Pacific coast,  Great Blue Herons are year round residents.

Arizona desert birds by water
Great Blue Heron, tallest Heron bird

As a rule, Great Blue Herons feed while standing still or leisurely wading in shallow water; it strikes at small fish swimming by with its spear-like bill.

blue heron bird exhibit
Great Blue Heron exhibit at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

You will find Great Blue Herons close to bodies of water and routinely nesting in bushes or trees.

AZ tall Wading birds with blue gray feathers
Great Blue Heron bird

These stately herons are expert fishers. Great Blues capture their prey by walking slowly, or standing still for long periods of time and waiting for fish to come within range of their long necks and blade-like bills.  Talk about patience!

It is not uncommon for a heron to make a 20 or even 30 mile round trip in its quest for a worthy foraging site.

tall wading birds in Arizona Desert
Great Blue Heron at Agua Caliente Park in Tucson

A Great Blue Heron’s deathblow is delivered with a quick thrust of their sharp bill, and then the prey is swallowed whole. Though these birds are best known as fishers;  mice and frogs are also part of their diet.

  • How tall is a Great Blue Heron?  Their height is 3.5 to 4.5 ft  (1.2 to 1.4 meters).
  • What is the Great Blue Heron’s wingspan?  Up to 6.7 ft  (2 meters).
grey birds that look like dinosaurs
wingspan of the Great Blue Heron

How fast can the Great Blue Heron Fly?  This large heron can cruise at 20-30 miles per hour.  (32 to 48 kilometers)

fishing birds flying in Arizona
wing span of the Great Blue Heron

The mature Great Blue Heron has plumes on the lower back at the start of the breeding season.

Below is a short,  incredible video of a deer with a Great Blue Heron.

A heron’s bill is dull yellow, becoming orange briefly at the start of the breeding season.  Their lower legs which are gray will also become orange at the start of the breeding season.

wading bird with long legs and gray feathers
older Great Blue Heron bird with long feathers

Young Great Blue Herons are duller in color, with a blackish-gray crown, and the pattern on the flank only weakly defined; the young herons have no plumes, and the bill is dull gray-yellow.

Great Blue Herons breed in colonies. The male chooses the nest site and displays to attract a female.

pair of heron birds  in Arizona
Male and Female Great Blue Herons with orange bill for breeding season

Great Blue Herons prefer their nest site in a tree 20 to 60 feet above the ground, although shrubs are sometimes used.  The female lays 2 to 7 eggs in a platform made of sticks.

Great Blue Heron in a nest of sticks
nest of the Great Blue Heron

The eggs, which are protected and incubated by both parents, hatch in 25 to 30 days. Herons feed their young regurgitated matter.  Chicks can survive on their own by about two months of age.

large heron wading bird
a young Great Blue Heron in Tucson Arizona

These dignified birds have exemplary eye sight and that is how they locate their food.  Great Blue Herons feed at the water’s edge both day and night; typically dawn and dusk.

Agua Caliente History – a natural spring park in Tucson, AZ (part 1 of 3)

Drive northeast of the Tucson city limits and you will discover a natural spring surrounded by wildlife, palm trees and native vegetation.  Agua Caliente Park transports a visitor from the Sonoran Desert to a 101-acre hidden oasis.

Agua Caliente, (hot water) is named for the warm water spring that supports several ponds within the park.

sites in Tucson - must visit
a natural spring in Tucson – Agua Caliente Park

Agua Caliente Park has an open lawn edged by tall Date Palms, and a stream bank lined with mature California Fan Palms close to 100 years old.

Tucson, AZ parks and springs
Palm trees at Agua Caliente

Human habitation at Agua Caliente has been found to date back about 5,500 years.  I’d like to share a simple history and insights into the rich farming and ranching of the unique desert oasis called Agua Caliente.

Arizona natural spring park
natural spring in Tucson Arizona – Agua Caliente

From A.D. 600 to 1450, the prehistoric Hohokam constructed one of the largest and most advanced irrigation networks ever created using pre-industrial technology.

This technology would eventually give form to the unique prehistoric culture of southern Arizona known as the Hohokam.

hohokam found at Agua Caliente, Tucson, AZ
Hohokam village, Whiptail site

Around 1150 AD, a Hohokam village, referred to as the Whiptail Site, was established that extended into a portion of Agua Caliente in the Tucson basin.

hohokam people in Tucson Basin, AZ
Hohokam artifacts found at Agua Caliente

Deserving of our respect, the incredible Hohokam were able to sustain life in the area of Agua Caliente for nearly 1,500 years.

Hohokam lived at Agua Caliente in Tucson, AZ
Hohokam pottery – approximately 800 CE (A.D.)

The hot spring at the Whiptail Site at Agua Caliente Park has attracted native settlers since about 2500 B.C.  These facts are what has helped put the Tucson Basin on the map as one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in North America.

Coronado National Forest in Tucson
Agua Caliente is south of the Coronado National Forest , Mt Lemmon area
Agua Caliente oldest Mesquite Tree
Giant Mesquite Tree by the main Ranch House is over 250 yrs old

About 1853-1870s,  Agua Caliente Spring was used as an army encampment following the Gadsden Purchase.  What is the Gadsden Purchase?

**James Gadsden was the U.S. Minister to Mexico who was sent to renegotiate a border with Mexico that provided a route for a southern railroad in exchange for U.S. financial obligations.

places to visit in Tucson, AZ
Agua Caliente Park – a must see in Tucson, AZ

In 1873, Peter Bain filed the first formal claim to 160 acres surrounding Agua Caliente Spring.  He began a dairy cattle operation by bringing cows north from Sonora. Bain built a house, several outbuildings and corrals at Agua Caliente.

must see parks in Tucson, AZ
Ranch House, now an art gallery, at Agua Caliente spring

In 1875,  James P. Fuller purchased “Agua Caliente Rancho” and established an orchard and cattle ranch on the property.

native Velvet Mesquites for shade
native Mesquite trees at Agua Caliente in Tucson

In 1881, Fuller’s Hot Springs Resort was advertised as a medicinal and recreational destination.  He promoted the curative properties of the natural warm springs.

Agua Caliente Springs and Ranch
Agua Caliente warm springs

1880s-1920s.  Various owners operated Agua Caliente as a cattle ranch and resort.  The ranch bunkhouse, which dates back to the 1920s, was used by the ranch hands.

historic sites in Arizona
Historic Ranch House at Agua Caliente Park in Tucson
best parks in Tucson, Arizona
Agua Caliente Ranch and Hot Springs

The ranch house, caretaker cottage, now known as Rose Cottage, and the bunk house have been restored. The ranch house depicts the home as it may have appeared in the 1920s.

Tucson, AZ historic landmark
Rose Cottage is a historic building at Agua Caliente

In 1935,  Gibson DeKalb Hazard purchased Agua Caliente and operated it as a working ranch while also growing fruit and alfalfa.

In 1951,  the Filiatrault family took over the ownership of Agua Caliente consisting of three large lakes.  They also grew alfalfa for their cattle and horses and maintained the fruit orchard Fuller established in 1875.

place to visit in Arizona
Agua Caliente Spring Tucson, AZ

In 1984,  local businessman Roy P. Drachman donated over $200,000 toward the purchase of Agua Caliente.  The donation provided the incentive for Pima County to acquire the property and establish Agua Caliente Park.

Agua Caliente Park, a Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Facility,  opened on January 19th, 1985.

March 1, 1997.  Agua Caliente’s expansion areas were opened for public use. The park improvements included a paved entry drive and parking lot, accessible trails, interpretive signs explaining the waterfowl and history of this unique park, and a new maintenance building.

Drachman donated to Agua Caliente
signs throughout Agua Caliente

April 17, 2004.  The grand opening of the newly restored Ranch House and Rose Cottage.

The ranch house was built around 1873 and is currently a visitor center and an art gallery.  Call 520-749-3718 for more information.

Agua Caliente Oasis in Tucson
Historic places in Arizona

July 9, 2009.  Agua Caliente Ranch Historic Landscape was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

For more interesting info click , part 2 of 3 –

part 3 of 3 –

Pima County Agua Caliente Park, 12325 East Roger Road, Tucson  85749         Phone: 520-877-6120

Gambel’s Quail are our favorite daily desert bird visitors – Callipepla gambelii

Gambel’s quail are very common in Arizona. Out the window I spotted a COVEY,  small family,  of Gambel’s quail covering themselves from the rain.  These birds PUFF up, for insulation, with their feathers to help stay warm.

Gambel's Quail
male, female, baby Gambel’s Quail in the rain

Gambel’s quail were discovered by Dr. William Gambel in 1841 and named in his honor.  These quail hide and nest under brushy, thorny shrubs, and dine on seeds, leaves, cactus fruits, ants and other insects.

bird with black face red hat
Gambel’s Quail, Male quail with baby chicks

Gambel’s quail live in the hot deserts of the Southwest — the Sonoran, Mohave, and Chihuahuan at elevations below 5,000 feet.

Quail in Tucson Phoenix Arizona Texas
covey of Gambel’s Quail

This photo of the quail chicks with mom and dad was taken from our back patio.  The female Gambel’s quail is the lookout while the family eats thistle seed I keep on the porch.

native desert birds of arizona
Male Gambel quail being a lookout for the bird family

If there is any danger, the lookout will issue an alarm sound and the Gambel’s quail family will sprint for cover!

Arizona gray Birds that have a red hat
Male Gambels Quail look like they have a red hat with a black feather

These delightful, lovable birds prefer walking to flying and typically fly only to avoid danger or to roost.

How fast can Gambel’s quail run?  These desert quail can run up to 15 miles per hour.  If startled and to avoid a predator they can fly up to 40 miles per hour.

Quail in Arizona
Male Gambel’s Quail

Both male and female Gambel’s quail have a comma-shaped bobbing plume of feathers on top of their small heads. Males have gray, cream and black patterns that serve as excellent camouflage.  Female Gambel’s quail lack the distinctive head pattern and are grayer overall.

Arizona Phoenix Tucson Birds quail
Female Gambel’s Quail bird

Everyday we see these chunky quail running from cover to cover in the desert shrubs. The dense cover provides shelter and camouflage for these unique desert birds.  They are so entertaining to watch!

birds nest with white eggs with brown spots
spotted eggs in a Gambel Quail nest

Female quail usually select nest sites on the ground. Preferably this bird nest is hidden under a shrub, rock, or protected site.

male female Gambel's Quail
male and female Gambel’s Quail

This bird’s predators are coyotes, bobcats, snakes and carnivorous birds.  Extreme weather can be the greatest enemy of the Gambel’s quail because harsh conditions reduce the growth of the plants that provide this bird with food and shelter.

We have had the exciting experience of watching as they go from eggs to chicks ready to run with their mom and dad!

Gambel's quail keeping watch
Gambel’s quail keeping watch with our mourning doves

The quail chicks eat mostly insects like ANTS, while the parents eat the seeds of berries, grasses, cactus fruit, and other plants.  Gambel’s quail obtain water from plant material, but still need some free water.  We keep water available throughout our property.

Male Gambel's quail
Male Gambel’s quail as a lookout

The baby quail stay close to their parents.   Gambel’s Quails run across the road in groups called coveys that can include a dozen or more birds.

Gambel's quail family running across the street
Gambel’s quail covey running across our road

The covey, quail family, form a line as they dodge in and out of cover in the desert sun, with the father leading the way. The baby birds are followed by the female quail pulling guard duty in the rear.

Tucson Quail birds
Female Gambel Quail and baby

The lookout quail will make distinct warning sounds to alert others.  Male Gambel’s quail are heard making calls for the family, covey members.  Listen to the short youtube video to hear the male quail calling his covey.

Gambel Quail Male
Male Gambel’s quail stares at his reflection

Gambel’s quails are sometimes called Desert quails.

Gambel's quail
Gambel’s quail in our front yard

A few extra facts about Gambel’s quail:

  • Average life expectancy for a wild desert quail is 1.5 years.
  • Mom lays 10 or more eggs in a nest protected by vegetation or under a rock.
  • Female Gambel’s quail are in charge of the incubation.  In approximately 3 weeks,  the quail chicks will all hatch on the same day and within hours will be out of the nest to run around with mom and dad.
  • Gambel’s quail have been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands.