I categorize our customers into groups—field birders and casual, backyard birders. Field birders spend a lot of time bird watching away from their homes, out in nature — maybe at Willow or Watson Lake — or any number of other locations.
In contrast, backyard birders primarily watch the birds that come into their yard, typically at feeders where it is easy to observe them. It is not unusual for casual birders to ask how they can attract ‘different’ birds to their yard. For example, maybe they have a seed feeder, but not a suet or a finch feeder. Providing different types of food certainly increases your chances of attracting a wider variety of birds.
While it may appear on the surface that attracting a variety of birds to your yard is as easy as putting out a seed feeder or two, as well as a source of water, there really is a better and more natural way. Ultimately, the best way to attract a variety of birds is to create a habitat that is bird-friendly.
Wild birds’ needs are similar to ours. Like us, they need sources of food and water, but they also need shelter and places to rear young. This is accomplished by having a yard filled with an abundance of native habitat. Fortunately, we live in an area where we have a tremendous variety of native plants.
To create a bird-friendly yard, it is my recommendation, as much as possible, to leave your yard as wild, native and natural as possible. Many of the residential areas in Prescott have retained the native habitat in their developments, which is great for wild birds. Unfortunately, there are some developments where landscapers use a lot of decorative rock and non-native trees and shrubs.
If you feel your yard has too much rock and is kind of ‘sterile,’ right now is a great time to start planting native plants to create a bird habitat with which you and your birds will be happy. I am fortunate that my yard is a mosaic of native plants, including ponderosa and pinyon pines, juniper, scrub oak, hackberry, apache plume, cliff rose, sumac, desert and Gooding willows, manzanita and mountain mahogany, to name a few of the plant species.
This past weekend, due to the diversity of habitat, I had more than 20 different bird species in my yard, ranging from a great-horned owl weighing in at 1,361 grams, to bushtits weighing only 6 grams! I also had Gambel’s quail, Cassin’s finches, mountain chickadee, bridled titmouse, spotted and canyon towhees, house finches, lesser goldfinches, dark-eyed juncos, white-crowned and Lincoln’s sparrow, and many more!
As you might imagine, most birds are habitat-specific. For example, you will find different bird species in a grassland — such as a meadowlark — than you will in a chaparral habitat, such as scrub jays. Likewise, you will find different birds in a pinyon/juniper habitat (such as a crissal thrasher) compared to a ponderosa pine habitat where you will find Steller’s jays.
Transition zones, where two different habitat types merge, have the highest diversity of bird species. Creating a bird-friendly yard is best accomplished by having plant species from a variety of different native habitats.
There are several advantages to landscaping with native plants. First, native plants have evolved over millennia to thrive at this elevation, temperature range and its associated precipitation. Once native plants are established, they don’t need to be watered, they don’t need to be fertilized, and they are both drought- and disease-resistant. Using native plants is a win-win—for you and the birds that prefer these plants for food, shelter and nesting.
Until next week, happy planting, and 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.