The Bird is the Word: Mission Garden shows off its feathered friends

During the Mission Garden’s monthly bird walks, guests will sometimes see birds such as roadrunners. (Kendall Kroesen/Submitted)

By Laura Latzko

Bird watching is seemingly a long-lost art. However, Mission Garden allows guests to do just that while exploring its lush landscape of fruit trees and vegetable and grain crops.

The second Thursday of the month, community outreach coordinator Kendall Kroesen and local birder and volunteer Linda Matson lead bird walks.

Upcoming events are July 14, August 11 and September 8.

The walks are designed for guests ranging from beginners to advanced. Bird watchers and researchers even travel to the garden to research nesting patterns.

During the monthly bird walks, Kroesen and Matson share information on identifying different birds and their calls or songs.

Kroesen says he gets a range of questions, especially about what the Mission Garden birds eat and where they nest. On one recent walk, Kroesen was asked how to tell the difference between male and female birds.

“I explained that in a lot of cases, they look very similar and you can’t tell them apart,” Kroesen says. “Then, in many other species, they do have very distinct plumage and you can tell them apart.”

Besides birds, walkers can see squirrels, cottontail rabbits or butterflies.

A 30-year birder, Kroesen has been leading monthly bird walks at Mission Garden since around 2017.

With the advent of COVID-19, Kroesen has witnessed a renewed interest in the hobby.

This summer, Gambel’s quail, white-winged doves, red-tailed hawks, Abert’s towhees and Western kingbirds have been prevalent. Since he started, Kroesen has eyed 90 species of birds, and he knows the best spots.

“I know where some of them are nesting,” says Kroesen, who leads birding field trips for the Tucson Audubon Society.

“I know the kinds of vegetation that some of them prefer, so I know where to find some of them. I also am familiar with the calls and songs of many of the birds, which helps to locate them.”

Longtime project

Kroesen became interested in birding while working at a sea turtle conservation project in Mexico.

“I was around people who knew a lot about the wildlife there, including the birds,” he says.

“We actually had a couple of sick birds that we found down there on the beach that we tried to nurse back to health. That got me interested, and when I got back to the United States, I stopped in at a store, bought binoculars and a field guide to birds of North America, and got started.”

He started birding in Southern California before moving to Tucson in 1998, but he has also bird watched in Mexico and Ecuador.

“I was always interested in places that had other dimensions to them, like some of the habitat restoration projects, some of the urban parks and washes in Tucson where you don’t have to drive very far and can still see a lot of birds,” Kroesen says.

“Mission Garden fits in nicely because there are birds, but there are lot of other aspects to it — a deep agricultural history, maybe close to 5,000 years of agricultural history in the Tucson Basin, and all of the cultural diversity.”

Kroesen says that while he started traditionally with binoculars and field guides, others get into birding through photography.

“They take pictures of the birds they see and later on go online,” Kroesen says.

“There are pretty good field guides to birds online these days. They can look them up, or there’s Facebook pages where they show a picture and ask experts what they are seeing.”

There are apps that birders can use to help them to identify birds, including iBird Pro, Sibley Birds, the Audubon Bird Guide and National Geographic Birds.

Kroesen keeps records on the types and numbers of birds he sees and enters them into an online site called eBird, which is managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“It is a convenient way for bird watchers to keep track of the birds that they’ve seen in any given place, in any given month or year or in their whole lifetime,” he says.

“At the same time, it makes those observations available to scientists that study the distribution of the birds. … It’s one of the world’s biggest citizen science programs.”

The various areas of Tucson allow for different birds to be witnessed.

“We have the desert surrounding Tucson,” he says.

“Then, going up into the mountains, we have grasslands and we have oak forests and pine forests. We have a little bit of spruce and fir, forests on top of our mountains, and then we have riparian areas, too. There are some streams going through the desert that provide real strongholds for wildlife, including birds.”

Beyond birds

A project of the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, Mission Garden is dedicated to preserving and reviving the region’s agricultural history through the growth of heritage and heirloom trees.

Throughout the year, the garden has hands-on educational opportunities.

The space is divided into plots representing the time periods and cultures that have grown along the Santa Cruz River flood plain.

Monthly Bird Walk

WHEN: 8 to 9:30 a.m. the second Thursdays of the month

Upcoming walks: July 14, August 11 and September 8

WHERE: Mission Garden, 946 W. Mission Lane

COST: $5 suggested donations

INFO: 520-955-5200,