(BIRDS/SKIES) The world-renowned Paton House in Patagonia, Arizona, better known as Hummingbird Heaven, hosts a stunning variety of hummingbird species and is a must-see for birdwatchers all over the world. However, with the passing of Marion and Wally Paton, the future of Hummingbird Heaven currently remains in question. Fortunately, a group of ornithologists, conservationists, and naturalists are hoping to take over the property and are raising money to ensure that Hummingbird Heaven will continue drawing in birds and birders for generations to come. The coalition is currently about halfway to their goal of $300K for the property and maintenance fund, but they must reach their goal by October 15th! (Click here to help fill the feeder to save Paton’s birder haven!) Read on to learn more about the Paton House and birding in Southeastern Arizona. — Global Animal
A male Calliope Hummingbird.
A male Calliope Hummingbird. Photo Credit: Stock Photo

Written by Ernie Allison

There is a beautiful place, the Paton House in Southeastern Arizona, which is worth talking about. To those who have never made their way to this region, it is known as Hummingbird Heaven. The variety of hummingbirds found in this area throughout the year is stunning. Arizona is a must-see destination for anyone looking to fill out their birding journal.

Vermilion Flycatcher
A Vermilion Flycatcher hummingbird. Photo Credit: Stock Photo
History

Located in the tiny town of Patagonia, AZ, which has a population that hovers around 800 people, the Paton House is like no other birding attraction that I have ever experienced. This amazing destination began as a backyard garden, but the devotion and generosity of the owners, Marion and Wally Paton, helped it to become one of the most famous sites for bird watching in the world, featured in publications such as The National Geographic.

Starting in 1974, the Patons kept between six and twelve birdfeeders hung and filled in their backyard at any given time, filling them exclusively with sugar water, and planting flowers that they knew would attract hummingbirds. As the bird population grew, the Patons invited their neighbors and friends to feel free to come by, no need to knock, just walk around the house to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

As word spread, visitors started arriving from around the world, and the Patons kept up their open-yard policy, even when estimates put them at around 7,000 guests per year. All they ever asked was that people offer small donations to help buy the sugar.

In later years they set up a tent and a number of folding chairs so the strangers they shared their home with could enjoy the view without baking in the Arizona sun. Marion would spend most of her days outside in the yard, talking with visitors about the different birds they saw, even lending out their own binoculars from time to time.

Violet Crowned Woodnymph. Photo Credit: greglasley.net
A Violet Crowned Woodnymph. Photo Credit: Greglasley.net
Sightings

There are records of more than fifteen different types of hummers spotted in the Patons’ backyard, and during breeding season it becomes nearly impossible to keep track. The black-chinned, broad-billed, or violet-crowned hummingbirds are often present, as well as many other beautiful and interesting specimens. The radiant vermillion flycatcher is one that particularly stands out in my memory.

Future

The future of this treasure is somewhat in question at the moment. Unfortunately, both Marion and Wally have passed away, and their daughter is looking to sell the property. She has waited and worked hard to find a buyer who will continue to draw in the birds and birders to this small tourist town, but as of August, 2013 she had not been able to find the right candidate.

Fortunately, a coalition of ornithologists, conservationists, and naturalists has emerged to try to take over the property and carry on the Patons’ legacy. With a pledge of $120K dollars, they’re nearly half way to their goal of $300K for the property and maintenance fund they need to ensure that this amazing gift is around for future generations.

Help Fill the Feeder to Save Paton’s Birder Haven!

Whether or not they’re able to reach their goal by October 15th, every birder should be trying to find a way to take advantage of this desert gem before it is gone for good. The current property manager, Larry Morgan, has taken over Marion’s role of backyard birding guide, and his knowledge, enthusiasm, and warmth just about match hers. It is an experience that every nature lover and bird watcher should have.

Region

The Coronado Forest in Southeastern Arizona is well-known in the birding community for its variety, particularly of hummingbirds. Depending on the season, visitors can expect to see any number of these gems, including regional specialties and wider ranging birds. You could see the Lucifer, blue-throated, violet-crowned, black-chinned, or calliope hummingbirds. In fact, there is only one North American hummingbird species that won’t be found in this area, and that is the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Many birding tourists make their way to this area in order to visit the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, known to the locals as the ‘bird sanctuary.’ This beautiful piece of protected habitat is home to several endangered species, including birds, butterflies, trees, and fish. There are over 300 recorded bird species in the preserve, including the green kingfisher and the endangered gray hawk. Any birder would be remiss not to take the time to hike along these scenic trails.

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