Throughout the year, I have the opportunity to do a lot of speaking engagements to a variety of organizations—home owners associations, service clubs, and nature-oriented clubs. Frequently, the topic of my presentations touches on the relationship between native plants and wild birds.
The wild bird species that occur in this area have been here for millennia, as have the different types of native plants that occur in the Arizona Central Highlands. The birds and plants have co-evolved and have a mutually beneficial relationship—sometimes we refer to this as a symbiotic relationship.
Wild birds perform several roles that benefit plants—they are seed dispersal agents, they are pollinators, and they ‘plant’ future generations of plants by burying seeds and nuts which they cache for later use. Some of these buried seeds are lost to the birds’ memory and end up germinating—creating plants that will provide the seeds and nuts for future generations of birds.
In turn, plants provide several benefits to birds. They provide sources of food in the form of nectar, seeds, nuts and berries. Plants also provide shelter for birds—places where they can roost at night, and where they can escape predators. Plants also provide places for birds to rear their young.
It is safe to say that birds could not survive without plants, and that plants would not be successful in propagating without the assistance of wild birds. Yards with native plants are far more successful in attracting a variety of wild bird species. Yards landscaped with non-native plants or with decorative rocks are like a fixer-upper to birds — they need some work!
The varied habitats found in central Arizona are unique. We frequently refer to this area as the Central Highlands, or the Mogollon Highlands. Extending from New Mexico and across most of Arizona, this elevated land form is different from the area to the south of us—the Sonoran Desert—and the area to the north of us — the Colorado Plateau.
The biotic communities found in this region are unique to our area — which makes the birds unique to our area. Birds are habitat specific — their genetic makeup and biology dictate where they occur based on their specific dietary needs. For example, you would never find a Steller’s jay in a grassland habitat, any more than you would find a western meadowlark in a ponderosa pine forest.
Using Prescott as an example, look how varied the habitats are in our area. If you live in TimberRidge, you are surrounded by ponderosa pines. However, if you live in Prescott Lakes, you have low, scrubby plants such as scrub oak and cliff rose. If you were interested in making your yard bird-friendly, how would you know what native plants to add to your yard?
I am happy to announce that a new plant book has just been published that is specific to our region. The book is titled, “Woody Plants of the Mogollon Highlands,” and is authored by two long-time Prescott residents — Carl and Joan Tomoff — and is published by the Prescott-based Natural History Institute. This book is a must-have for anyone wanting to know what native plants are found in this part of Arizona and how they can improve the habitat in their yard.
Each year I add plants to my yard that occur in the Prescott area to supplement the types of plants that occur naturally, such as ponderosa, pinyon, juniper and scrub oak.
For example, earlier this year I added Arizona walnut, mountain mahogany, manzanita and bear grass to my yard to make it more attractive to a wider variety of birds. I encourage you to do the same!
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.