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Tucson Audubon Society to manage Patagonia magnet for bird-watchers

Paton's Birder Haven to be sold

A residence in Patagonia — where bird-watchers have come for decades to spot species such as the sought-after violet-crowned hummingbird in the backyard — will be sold by the owners and managed by the Tucson Audubon Society.

The site, known as Paton’s Birder Haven, was owned by the late Wally and Marion Paton, who moved to Patagonia from New England in 1972.

The couple planted vegetation to attract birds, set out feeders, and soon were attracting an amazing array of rare and colorful winged wildlife.

When bird-watchers from around the nation, Europe and elsewhere began lining the fence along the property to get a glimpse of special birds, the Patons opened their yard to the public. No fees were charged, but the couple posted a tin can on their gate to collect donations for feeding birds.

After Wally passed away in 2001 and Marion in 2009, their adult children sought to “preserve and protect the property not only for the birds, but for future generations of bird-watchers,” said their daughter, Bonnie Paton Moon of Connecticut.

The Tucson Audubon Society, working closely with the American Bird Conservancy and the Victor Emanuel Nature Tours company, launched a fundraising campaign and succeeded in bringing in the $300,000 needed for purchase of the property, said Paul Green, executive director of the society.

Through a somewhat complicated purchase process, the Bird Conservancy will buy the property in February and then pass it on to Tucson Audubon for management, Green said.


“What I like most about the place is that it really is a birders’ haven,” Green said. “It’s quiet and you’re surrounded by nature. Everybody is there to see the birds. It’s a very pleasant, very relaxing place.”

A rich variety of bird species can be found at the site at almost any time of the year, but hummingbirds, which are most abundant from April through September, are the superstars.

“It’s the range of hummingbirds that makes it such a special place,” Green said. “More than a dozen hummingbird species have been seen there, including Lucifer’s hummingbirds and Allen’s hummingbirds.”

Paton Moon notes that the first cinnamon hummingbird in the United States was seen in her parents’ backyard in 1992.

Other rare bird species, including the plain-capped starthroat, have drawn birders from afar — hoping for a prized sighting.

While this is hardly high season for hummingbirds, bird-watchers will find fascinating species at Birder Haven year-round, Green said. Among species that might show up at this time of year are curve-billed thrashers, phainopeplas and pyrrhuloxias.


Paton Moon said the family arranged for a “resident ambassador to the birds,” also known as Larry Morgan, to remain on the property, feed the birds daily and welcome the public pending the sale.

Morgan is expected to continue those duties through 2014 — keeping the site open to the public as Audubon takes over the management, Green said.


Green said the Audubon Society plans to keep the site essentially as it is while making needed repairs and enhancing conditions for birds and visitors.

“We need to raise about $75,000 for renovations to the house” including wiring, plumbing and roofing, he said.

Plans also call for planting more native vegetation to attract birds, providing more comfortable seating under a ramada and adding parking spaces and toilet facilities.

Green said it’s not yet certain whether the society will continue with the donation system used by the Patons or begin charging entry fees.

“One of our goals is to make sure it runs and about breaks even,” he said. “We don’t expect to make money on the site, but we don’t want to lose money.”

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz

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