I was driving eastbound on Rosser Street earlier this week, and just before I got to the community center, I saw a small bird perched atop a street sign in the median. Since I was driving, I only had a brief look with the naked eye, but I was pretty confident that what I saw was a mountain bluebird. I was so surprised, that I made a U-turn and went back to get a better look.
Fortunately, my binoculars were on the front seat with me, and I was able to confirm that it was, indeed, a mountain bluebird. In the 30 years I’ve lived in Prescott, I don’t believe I have ever seen a mountain bluebird here. I’ve certainly seen them in the area, but not in Prescott proper.
One of the reasons I think the mountain bluebird was there is because the area between the curb and the parking lot of the Community Center has some type of juniper tree that is loaded with clusters of little blue berries.
Historically, the most reliable place to see mountain bluebirds in winter is at Sullivan Lake, off of Old Highway 89 in Paulden. There have been several times over the years when I have seen hundreds of mountain bluebirds congregated at this location, taking advantage of the water in the lake.
When I returned to my home later the same morning, I observed several cedar waxwings and western bluebirds coming and going in my front yard, visiting one of my water features. Western bluebirds are far more common in the Prescott area than mountain bluebirds, and are considered a year-round resident. Mountain bluebirds are only here in winter.
Interestingly, Arizona is home to all three species of bluebirds that occur in North America — mountain bluebird, western bluebird and eastern bluebird. To my knowledge, Arizona is the only state in the nation where each of the three species breed.
The best place to see eastern bluebirds in Arizona is the extreme southeast corner of the state, in the Sky Island Mountains, including the Chiricuhuas and the Huachucas. When I attend the Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival in Sierra Vista each summer, I usually drive up Carr Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains, and I invariably see eastern bluebirds there.
Bluebirds are closely related to thrushes and they are not seed-eaters. Their diet in spring and summer consists of mostly insects, and in fall and in winter their diet is mostly berries. They readily frequent birdbaths and water features, but they shy away from seed feeders.
The best way to attract bluebirds to your yard is through plantings — particularly native plants that produce fruits and berries. As I spent time watching the cedar waxwings and bluebirds in my yard on Saturday, I discovered what was attracting them. In addition to the water feature in my yard, there is a large fruited Bradford pear tree in my neighbor’s yard, loaded with small fruit, and this was drawing them in.
Here in the Arizona Central Highlands, we have a variety of wonderful native berry-producing plants that attract birds such as Wright’s silk tassel, manzanita, mistletoe (bluebirds absolutely love mistletoe berries!), service berry, coffee berry, buckthorn, barberry and chokecherry, to name a few.
The key to attracting a wide variety of birds to your yard is to create a habitat that is filled with a variety of food sources. For example, it is important to provide seed-producing plants for seed eaters, nectar-producing plants for nectar eaters, and fruit and berry producing plants for fruit eaters. The greater the variety of plants in your yard, the greater the variety of birds you will attract to your yard.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. 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.