This past week I had several speaking engagements — at the Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs in Phoenix, the OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes) program at the Yavapai College campus in Prescott, and a Native Plant Workshop in Sedona.
Each of the talks I presented had a similar topic, “Landscaping to Attract Birds.” When you consider what wild birds need to survive, it is very basic: food, water, shelter, and a place to rear young. Yards brimming with native grasses, shrubs and trees provide sources of seeds, nectar, fruit and nuts, and plants act as a host for insects.
Unfortunately, far too many homes in Arizona have rock-garden landscapes. Yards dominated with decorative rocks, but little vegetation do not provide much benefit to wild birds. One of the assignments I gave to the participants in my classes was to find a vacant lot near their home and do a plant survey.
With notebook in hand — and perhaps a camera — record an inventory of what native plants are growing on a nearby undeveloped plot of land. Chances are, those same native plants were growing on your lot before your home was built.
With your inventory, you will have gained some knowledge of the native plants that once grew on your property. Next, try to recreate the same mosaic pattern of native grasses, shrubs and trees. As you replace rocks and non-native plant species with native plants, birds will flock to your yard to feed, seek shelter and rear their young.
A portion of my talks was material I found in an Audubon magazine titled “Creating a Bird-Friendly Yard.” The article mentions that 96 percent of all terrestrial bird species in North America raise their young on a diet of insects.
The article went on to say that it wasn’t just any insects, but, especially, caterpillars. The example provided was a pair of Carolina chickadees raising a brood of four to six chickadees. Each day the parents would need between 390 to 570 caterpillars to feed their young. Over the course of the 16 days it takes to raise their brood, they would need approximately 9,000 caterpillars!
While we don’t have Carolina chickadees in this region, the same principle applies for all of the songbirds here in the Central Arizona Highlands, including our one local chickadee species, the mountain chickadee.
Unfortunately, many homeowners view insects in their yard as undesirable and resort to using pesticides to rid their yard of them. In contrast, I tell people that insects are their friends. If you want a yard full of happy, content birds, you need a yard full of insects to keep the birds in your yard.
The key to attracting a wide variety of birds to your yard is to keep your yard wild and natural, with native plants and naturally occurring insects. If you remove insects from your yard, you will lose the wild birds that consume insects. The facts are simple: if 96 percent of all terrestrial birds in North America raise their young on a diet of insects, you need to have a lot of insects in your yard.
Ironically, as I was hiking a segment of the Prescott Circle Trail on a recent Saturday, I found an oak tree with several caterpillar tents. The sight reinforced in my mind the value and benefit of insects for wild bird species.
Consider how you manage insects in your yard and, instead of using harmful pesticides, allowing the birds to manage insect populations.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. He has been an avid birder for more than 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.