Winter Birding Around Patzcuaro, Mexico: Popular Tourist Destination in Michoacan is Good for Birding, Too


Patzcuaro sees many tourists, especially around the Day of the Dead celebration on November 1. Visiting birders would be well advised to pack their binoculars, and to explore the pine forests around the city also.

Patzcuaro

Patzcuaro, one of many central Mexican colonial cities, was originally settled by the Purepecha hundreds of years ago, and still maintains a large indigenous population. The city's colonial beauty is enhanced by the natural appeal of the surrounding area, which also supports a varied bird population. A large lake, Lago de Patzcuaro, with four islands lies next to the city, and the roads south of the city cross heavily forested mountains.

Birding within busy cities is rarely worthwhile, but birders staying in Patzcuaro should spend some time at the larger of the city's two plazas, the Plaza Vasco de Quiroga. This beautiful plaza contains a number of old ash and pine trees, which reach a hundred feet and more above the square. The trees attract Golden-fronted woodpeckers which can be seen (and heard) almost anytime during the day.

The Road to Tacambaro

Highways 41 and 120 share the same roadway out of the city to the south, splitting at Opopeo, about 10 miles from Patzcuaro. Stay left on highway 41 toward Tacambaro, about 25 miles further south. This road climbs through stunning pine forests to more than 9,000 feet before dropping down into Tacambaro.

There are numerous side roads and wide shoulders where birders can pull off the highway and spend some time. One of the better spots is at Cruz Gordo, a meadow area 17 miles from Patzcuaro. There is a sign here and a few farm houses, but not much else. Just past the sign is a long and wide shoulder area on the right side of the road where you can easily park your car. Agricultural fields lie to the left of the road, and a row of trees lines the right side, where there is a watering station for cattle. Many birds can be seen on both sides of the road here, including Eastern bluebird, Black-headed siskin, Lesser goldfinch, Hooded oriole, Wilson's and Yellow-rumped warblers, Curve-billed thrasher and Vermillion flycatcher.

The Park in Tacambaro

From Cruz Gordo, continue another 8 miles to Tacambaro, again stopping at any likely looking spot to bird. Once you reach Tacambaro, circle the city to the left, staying out of the center part of town. At the south end of the city there is a signed intersection, with the main road continuing right toward Puruaran and Tuncato. Stay left and continue a short distance, taking a dirt road to the left a few tenths of a mile from the intersection. There is a green and white sign for an electrical cooperative where you turn.

Follow this gravel road to the right and up a hill less than a mile into a pine forested park. The elevation here is 5,332 feet, This is a popular picnic spot on the weekends, but you can bird the area at any time. Park in a large parking area at the top and walk back down through the pine trees in any direction. Birds common to this area include Ladderback woodpecker, Varied and Indigo bunting, Violet-crowned and Berylline hummingbird, Nashville and Yellow-rumped warbler, Blue-gray gnatcatcher, Mexican chickadee and Bullock's oriole.

Tzintzuntzan

Las Yacatas, an archeological site, worth a visit in its own right, is located about 10 miles northeast of Patzcuaro at Tzintzuntzan ("Place of the hummingbirds"). Birders are more likely to find warblers than hummingbirds here, but the grounds outside of the interpretive center have some lovely old trees with a lot of bird life. Some of the oldest of these trees are olives that were planted in defiance of a Spanish ban.

Among many birds available here and around the nearby ruins are Black and white and Black-throated gray warbler, American kestrel, Berylline hummingbird, Warbling vireo, Colima warbler and Black-headed grosbeak.

Patzcuaro attracts tourists for a variety of reasons. Those who enjoy birding will want to include enough time to explore the area's birding opportunities as well.