Years ago, we bought a spec home off of Rosser. We were very fortunate, as the developer of our home carefully cleared a pad just large enough for our home, and retained much of the native habitat, including several large alligator junipers, pinyon pine, scrub oak, and ponderosa pine trees.
When we set about the task of landscaping and wanted to add to the natural beauty of our yard, we worked with a landscaper with a holistic and organic approach to landscaping. Being a naturalist, I wanted to add additional native plants to my yard—more specifically, plants that would provide a benefit to wild birds.
I requested he use plants that would provide nectar, seeds, berries, and places for wild birds to rear their young. When you think about the needs of wild birds, it isn’t much different than our own. It can be summed up very easily—wild birds need food, water, shelter, and a place to rear young.
One additional benefit of our lot was the fact that a natural creek borders the northern edge of our property line. Granted, this creek is bone dry most of the year, but when it runs, it carries a lot of water which eventually ends up at Willow Lake.
I decided to create a riparian habitat along the creek. We planted Fremont cottonwood trees and Gooding Willows. These large, deciduous trees would provide a food source—insects—and a place for birds to rear young. We also planted hackberry and Arizona Walnut trees in our yard.
In other parts of our yard we planted shrubs and lower growing trees such as Apache plume, three-leaf sumac, mountain mahogany, manzanita, desert willow and choke cherry. Each of these plants met at least one of my bird criteria–they are either nectar, seed or berry producing. They also provide shelter and places for rearing young.
This year we have a bumper crop of choke cherries; perhaps the most we’ve ever had. The trees are so heavily laden with berries the branches are weighed down. Phainopeplas have already starting showing up to gorge on nature’s bounty. American robins will also take advantage of the berries.
We have also incorporated several plant species to attract hummingbirds, including red yucca, salvia, a variety of different kinds of penstemon, and trumpet vine. I also have a lot of flowering plants, including Mexican hat, Indian blanket, globe mallow, coreopsis, and a lot of wild sunflowers.
By having a diversity of plants in my yard I have a diversity of bird species. When I give speaking engagements on how to attract birds to one’s yard through landscaping, I always make the point to the audience that if they want to attract birds, they need to have a yard that is inviting.
Providing a suet feeder, and a seed feeder, and a nyjer feeder, along with hummingbird and oriole feeders and a source of water are all excellent ways to attract birds to your yard. However, the most important thing you can do, far and above anything else, is to create an inviting habitat.
Human-provided food sources, such as feeders, supplement what birds are finding in nature. My experience is that birds only use the feeders when there isn’t enough wild food available, so they avail themselves of human-provided food.
When I guide the free Jay’s Bird Barn bird walks, I spend a considerable amount of time educating the participants about the different native plants we have here in the Arizona Central Highlands, and how different plant species benefit different bird species. Whenever possible my advice is to go native when you landscape!
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.