Landmark Arizona Birding Property Saved By Purchase

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Paton’s Birder Haven, southeast Arizona’s mecca for thousands of birders worldwide, is now assured of long-term protection following a successful and spirited international fundraising campaign. American Bird Conservancy (ABC), Tucson Audubon Society, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours worked together to raise the funds to acquire the historic property.

More than 1,000 bird-lovers—many former visitors to the Paton property—answered the call for contributions, with several of them recounting their memories of the site and donating as a way of paying tribute. The fundraising campaign raised more than $300,000 to purchase Paton’s Birder Haven and to provide for improvements and long-term maintenance. ABC purchased the property and is turning it over to Tucson Audubon Society for long-term management as a public hummingbird sanctuary. Tucson Audubon has successfully raised funds from its members to allow for needed maintenance and management.

“This is one of the prime birding destinations in the United States and clearly warranted the all-out effort to save and preserve it,” said ABC President Dr. George Fenwick. “Birders worldwide come here to see Arizona’s outstanding hummingbird diversity and a chance to get a ‘life’ Plain-capped Starthroat, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, or Magnificent Hummingbird for their North American list. We should also recognize the efforts of Victor Emanuel because without his vision and determination, this birding oasis could easily have slipped away.”

“Visiting Paton’s Birder Haven is like stepping out of the mainstream of life. It is a quiet, hospitable place to sit and watch a wide variety of Arizona specialty birds at feeders, in native vegetation, and at the water features,” said Dr. Paul Green, Executive Director of Tucson Audubon. “Its geographic location, proximity to Mexico, Sonoita Creek, and a nearby TNC preserve all contribute to bring a unique variety of bird visitors.”

Paton's Birder Haven is located in southeast Arizona in the small town of Patagonia, population 1,000. It had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion Paton—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. They put up more than a dozen hummingbird feeders and had great success attracting birds to their yard. More than 15 species of hummingbird frequent the property, with peaks during spring and fall migration seasons. When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside. 

For more than 35 years, they received visitors from all over the world to their yard. Over time, the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed seating, and helped to identify birds. They placed a chalkboard in the yard where daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to defray the cost of bird feedings.

The property had passed on to the Paton’s children, who wanted to ensure it would be preserved as a memorable, welcoming stop for birders. Now, through this successful collaboration and the generosity of thousands, their parents’ labor of love has been immortalized.

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