Sonoran Desertscrub Habitat Meeting Minutes

Following are the minutes of the February 4-5, 1998 Arizona Partners in Flight Conservation Planning Desertscrub Habitat meeting. Minutes from the November 18, 1997 Riparian Conservation Planning Meeting are available here.

Present: Margie Latta, Troy Corman, Linden Piest, Junior Kerns, Sheridan Stone, Craig Woods, Terry Frederick, Michael Shirley, Paul Hardy, Brenda Strohmeyer, Diane Laush, Jack Whetstone, and Bill Burger.

Sonoran Desertscrub Habitat

Geographic Extent: keep as is and see eventual map (Brown, Lowe, Pase).

Elevation: change to, reaching 3500 ft.

Dominant species.: keep as is, except add qualifier such as lower Colorado River Valley sub-division and Arizona Upland sub-division. Crucifixion-thorn is in the Arizona Upland; White bursage and creosotebush are often the most dominant species in the lower Colorado sub-division.

Action Item: Diane L. will separate the dominant species for both Sonoran Desert subdivisions Arizona Upland and Lower Colorado Valley subdivision.

Priority Species:

Possible priority bird species were assigned one or more of the following conservation categories to help select priority bird species for Sonoran Desertscrub habitat.

CA = needs conservation action LI = Local Interest

X = not found breeding P = peripheral

K = knowledge needed M = Monitor

= move to another habitat E = Extirpated

NV = found in non-vegetated part of habitat

POSSIBLE PRIORITY SPECIES (underlined birds were selected as species that are especially dependent on Sonoran Desert habitat or whose entire range falls within Arizona (RWSP).

C. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl- CA, M, P, K

Rufous-winged Sparrow - M, K

LeConte's Thrasher - M, K

Bendire's Thrasher - K

Costa's Hummingbird - S

Gilded Flicker - S (except in urban areas)

Harris' Hawk - S

Brown-crested Flycatcher - S (except in urban areas)

Lucy's Warbler low elev. riparian

Five-striped Sparrow - P

Buff-collared Nightjar- P, desert grasslands, low elev. riparian

Elf Owl - S (except in urban areas)

Pyrrhuloxia - M, K

Loggerhead Shrike - S

Varied Bunting - low elev. riparian

Rufous-crowned Sparrow - K (regarding subspecies status in Sonoran Desert Hab.)

Scott's Oriole - lower elev. riparian for nesting

Gila Woodpecker - S

Crested Caracara - P, LI

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher - S (except in urban area)

Purple Martin - K, M

Action Item: Jack W., Terry F., and Paul H. will write a section (together) discussing how some species quickly drop out as urbanization increases. Deadline: 30 April 1998

NOTE: After reviewing all possible priority species, this habitat had a surprising outcome. We realized that only one species, (CFPO), needed immediate conservation action and that the other species considered were all relatively stable right now. After some discussion, we acknowledged that threats to Sonoran Desertscrub such as urbanization and fire are increasing. Species that are dependant on this habitat may be at risk in the near future. Since we have more Sonoran Desert than any other state in the Nation, we have a high responsibility to maintain the habitat and the species that depend on it. When looking at the two subdivisions of Sonoran Desert (Arizona Upland and Lower Colorado River Valley) threats become even more apparent (especially in the Arizona Upland). We decided to address 5 additional species as red flags in this habitat: Costa's Hummingbird, Gilded Flicker, LeConte's Thrasher, Rufous-winged Sparrow and Purple Martin. These species are not priority species but will be recognized as Sonoran Desertscrub dependant. Species accounts for these birds will be written differently than the priority birds, and will incorporate the following information:

1 - Relatively small breeding range

2 - High proportion of their entire range is in AZ

3 - Sonoran desert is one of (or is) their primary habitat

4 - AZ have a high responsibility for spp.(no other state has as much responsibility)

The threats to these species may be more habitat related than actual threats to these species.

Arizona Upland sub-division habitat threats:

1 - urbanization (exotic bird competition - starling)

2 - fire (red brome caused fire)

3 - grazing

Lower Colorado River Sub-division habitat threats:

1 - agriculture (loss of historic habitat) not significantly increasing

2 - burro browsing (especially for lower nesting species)

3 - human disturbance (lack of sheet flow because of trails, road, and structure construction)

Action Item: by March 15, 1998 write a half page (max) on the following threats to Sonoran Desertscrub Habitat: Fire - Bill Burger, Urbanization - Terry Frederick, Grazing - Jack Whetstone, Burros - Lin Piest, Human Disturbance (lack of sheet flow from trails) - Junior Kerns:

Species of concern in the Arizona Upland Subdivision: COHU, GIFL, RWSP, CFPO, PUMA

Species of concern in the Lower Colorado River Valley Subdivision: LETH

Action Item: Species Accounts for the following species: Deadline: April 15, 1998

COHU - Diane Laush

GIFL - Jack Whetstone

LETH - Paul Hardy

RWSP - Troy Corman

CFPO - Mary Richardson

PUMA - Margie Latta

Bird Species


Vegetation Composition Vegetation Structure Abiotic Factors Landscape Factors


(in Arizona Upland) Saguaro, ironwood, paloverde, mesquite, cholla, creosote, bursage (in Arizona Upland)

-prefer dense foliage from ground to canopy

-moderate to high ground cover appears to be needed for prey base

-high plant species diversity

-diverse structure including a large shrub or tree component. (See AGFD CFPO Tucson habitat study.)

-below 4,000 ft.

-may be associated with water due to increase prey base (increase water sources near residential areas.

-flats to upper alluvial fans (bajadas)

-fragmentation effects unknown

-patch size - rough estimates : 10-20 acres territory in breeding season up to 200+ acres in non-breeding season (Tucson, Organ Pipe)

-late successional stage

COHU paloverde, saguaro, mesquite, ocotillo, wolfberry, catclaw acacia, chuparosa, ironwood, creosote, desert-willow, jojoba -prefer small, dense trees or shrubs, (ave. 4.3m tall, AZ Breeding Bird Atlas)

-nest on lower half of trees (especially paloverde) ave. 2.2m (ABBA)

-population more productive in wet winters from availability of more flowering vegetation and subsequent higher availability of insects.

-May construct nests later in season away from sun exposure.

-fragmentation. - not necessarily a factor

-found most commonly in ecotone between riparian and desert flats.(in LCRV)

-mid- to late successional stages

-appears to forage and nest in (close) proximity to tubular flowers

GIFL saguaro, paloverde, mesquite, ironwood Use saguaro (roughly) over 80 years old -larger saguaros mainly occurring on southerly and westerly facing slopes -drop out in urban areas, unlike Gila W.

-fire eliminating older, and larger saguaros could become a threat

PUMA saguaro, ironwood, mesquite, paloverde, graythorn, desert hackberry, triangle-leaf bursage, cholla Use saguaro (roughly) over 80 years old, with many cavities -larger saguaros mainly occurring on southerly and westerly facing slopes -prefer areas with denser and older stands of saguaros

-can use urban/rural edge if stands of saguaros are present

-historically roosted in large cottonwoods, now commonly found (post breeding) on electrical wire

LETH creosotebush, white bursage, paloverde, mesquite (velvet & honey), smoketree, ironwood, saltbush -dense low to mid-story shrubby trees that are isolated in open areas -slope- flat or little topography

-in AZ, the majority of them occur below 1,000 ft.

-fairly local in occurrence

-need isolated, scattered trees for nesting and perches

-need open ground for running

RWSP paloverde, mesquite, bursage, graythorn, prickly pear, desert hackberry, cholla, barrel cactus -Nesting in lower third of trees

-usually occur where ground cover and understory are present in above average percentages.

-annual precipitation may influence range (affecting grass and understory component)

-Sonoran desert habitat may be a secondary habitat (primary habitat being in area with more consistent grasses)

-gentle to flat slopes

-populations are not continuous, local depending on grass and understory component

-successional stages: mid would be primary, early would be secondary

Bird Species (abbr.)

Special Factors
CFPO -needs cavities (secondary cavity nester); may need hire density of cavities.

-competition with other secondary cavity nesters

COHU -this species does not benefit as much form urban feeders as other species (Anna's, black-chinned)

-closely tied to native vegetation

-majority of males leave the nesting areas by late spring

GIFL -nest cavity competition with starlings and screech owls may be a factor

-since GIFL construct larger cavities, they sometimes lead to the saguaro dying

-GIFL tend not to excavate cavities in the same saguaros as GIWO, which may represent competition for nesting saguaros

PUMA -colonial nesters

-secondary cavity nesters

-long distant migrants

-need old, large saguaros with many cavities

-may be associated with Gila Woodpeckers

-nest later than all other saguaro cavity breeders which may aid in avoiding competition

LETH -very sensitive to human disturbance

-primarily ground-feeding (cursorial) predator

-can use more open and dryer habitat more effectively than similar species

-will commonly use same nest tree but build new nest each year

RWSP -associated with grass, forbes, and denser understory (in good years of winter rains)

-feeds on insects, seeds

-is eruptive in some years


Associated Species in Sonoran Desert: Harris's Hawk, Gila Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Phainopepla, Cactus Wren, Verdin, Elf Owl, Pyrrhuloxia, Ash-throated Flycatcher.

Associated Species in Lowland Riparian: Lucy's Warbler, Bell's Vireo, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bewick's Wren, Hooded Oriole, Gila Woodpecker, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Management Issues:

a. Loss or alteration of habitat

b. Urbanization

c. Human disturbance (local harassment of breeding birds by birders)

d. Fire

Conservation Recommendations:

Habitat Loss

- restore, maintain riparian and high quality saguaro, paloverde, ironwood, mesquite habitats


- incorporate owl habitat needs in regional planning

- encourage native landscaping

- maintain larger tracks of existing native habitat

Human Disturbance

- educate bird enthusiasts and recreationists on possible sensitivity (Mary R. will look up laying, incubation, nestling, and fledgling dates - small sample size)


- full suppression

- reduce fuel loads along roadways.

Recommended Research

1. Additional research in Sonora, Mexico to determine distribution and genetic relationship between AZ + Mex spp.

2. Comprehensive surveys throughout AZ uplands and riparian habitat

3. What, if any, is the limiting factor in existing riparian habitat?

4. Juvenile dispersal, home breeding range, wintering range, and habitat use by banding and telemetry

5. Investigate methods to stop high intensity fires in Sonoran desert (specifically red brome)

6. Continue to collect natural history information (specific's on prey base)

Implementation Opportunities

1. More coordination with local government planning

2. Identify funding sources for research (esp. In Mexico)


Associated Species: Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Cactus Wren, White-winged Dove, Phainopepla

Potential Management Issues:

a. Habitat loss

-locally in expanding urban areas

-Over-grazing of flowering plants may locally be a threat

-In LCR areas, burro browsing of paloverde could be a threat, esp. in drought years

b. Fire

-fire could be a serious problem during wet years, reducing both nesting and foraging

Conservation Recommendations

Habitat Loss

-encourage maintenance of native vegetation

-encourage landscaping with native vegetation

-discourage unsustainable livestock mgt. practices

-manage burros before habitat is damaged

-encourage fencing to keep feral animals and cattle out of prime costa's habitat

Fire -

- full suppression

- reduce fuel loads along roadways.

Recommended Research

1. Will Costa's use native vegetation in urban areas? What are the limiting factors for Costa's in urban areas?

2. Where do Costa's go? Are there any factors outside of AZ that could affect species. On wintering grounds and migration routes?

Implementation Opportunities

1. Plant and maintain more native vegetation, especially tubular flowers.


Associated Species: Purple Martin, Brown-crested Flycatcher, American Kestrel, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Verdin, Western Screech-Owl, Elf Owl, White-winged Dove, Gila Woodpecker

Potential Management Issues:

a. Habitat Loss

-need to manage for larger and older saguaros

-lack of recruitment of saguaros

- public general dislike of woodpeckers for destroying expensive saguaros, noisy

-urbanization brings in more starlings thus more competition for GIFL

b. Fire

-fire risk is increased due to red brome

-saguaros take a long time to reach maturity

Conservation Recommendations:

Habitat Loss

-encourage landowner/manager to maintain large saguaros and to protect all age classes for mature stands in the future.

-Developers should be encouraged to leave larger tracks of saguaros (green-belts and open space)

-increase recruitment of saguaros


- full suppression

- reduce fuel loads along roadways.

Recommended Research

1. What is the age/size-class needs of saguaros that are used for nesting?

2. What is the minimum habitat requirement for species?

3. Are they adaptable to artificial nest sites?

4. Is competition for nest cavities a problem?

5. To what extent to GIFL kill saguaros? What are the impacts to saguaros by GIFL?

Implementation Opportunities

1. educate general public about beneficial aspects of woodpeckers and how they can humanely discourage them from damaging property

2. reduce the number of starlings (gilded flicker competitors)

3. educate stables and feedlots to control amount of available grain (encouraging starlings)


Associated Species: Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black-throated Sparrow, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Phainopepla, Pyrrhuloxia, Northern Cardinal

Management Issues

a. grazing

b. fire

c. urbanization - possibly sensitive

Conservation Recommendations


-sustainable livestock management practices


-full suppression

Recommended Research

1. How does urbanization effect this sparrow?

2. What causes sparrow eruptions?

3. Is predation a problem?

4. To what extent does BHCO parasitism effect species?

5. Do RWSP's breed twice in different habitats (do populations in Sonoran desert breed later in desert grassland?)

6. Does fragmentation effect species?

Implementation opportunities

1. eliminate or reduce ephemeral grazing

2. full fire suppression


Associated Species: Black-throated Sparrow, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Greater Roadrunner, Lesser Nighthawk

Potential Management Issues

a. Human Disturbance

-RV use of BLM land during LETH breeding season


Conservation Recommendations

Human Disturbance

-Protect known at-risk breeding territories

Recommended Research

1. Will species respond positively to rehabilitated farmland?

2. Conduct surveys in high-use areas with good thrasher habitat.

3. Need to know limiting factors for species, why are they so locally distributed?

4. Population /range trends

Implementation Opportunities

1. Restore abandoned agricultural fields

2. possibly constructing artificial nest trees in large creosote flats that don't have any (if isolated trees really are a limiting factor)


Associated Species: Brown-crested Flycatcher, Gila Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, American Kestrel, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Elf Owl

Potential Management Issues

a. Habitat Loss

-Will likely need to manage for larger and older saguaros

-lack of recruitment of saguaros may create shortage of suitable nest sites

-urbanization brings in more starlings, may create more competition for nest sites

b. Fire

-fire due to red brome

c. Pesticides

-pesticide could be a factor near ag. areas and possibly on wintering grounds

Conservation Recommendations

Habitat Loss

-encourage landowner/manager to maintain large saguaros and to protect all age classes for mature stands in the future.

-Developers need to leave larger tracks of saguaros (green-belts and open space)

-increase recruitment of saguaros


- full suppression

Recommended Research

1. Determine if pesticides are really a threat

2. Locate roost sites

3. Identify wintering grounds (pesticide use there?)

4. Why are PUMA's limited in range within the Sonoran desert?

5. Will PUMA's use artificial nest poles?, Are they currently nest site limited?

6. Look at competitive interactions with other species

Implementation Opportunities

1. reduce the number of starlings (PUMA competitors)

2. educate stables and feedlots to control amount of available grain (encouraging starlings)

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