Sat, Aug. 17

Creating habitat for birds in your garden

If we want to share our gardens with birds we need to create an environment that will meet their needs. Birds are wild creatures that share our habitat and adorn it with their song, color, and behavior. Simply feeding birds is not inviting them to make their homes in your garden and return year after year to raise their next generation.

Many of our birds are seasonal residents and migrate to other locales. That is why the bird population changes from summer to winter. Our feathered residents of summer have needs and habits different from our snowbirds. The summer birds start arriving in spring and come to nest and raise their young, while our snowbirds are simply seeking to pass time in a warmer environment before returning north.

Some homes in our area were built on lots with mature native trees and shrubs, which provide cover for nests, and fruit, seeds and insects for food. Other homes were built on the widespread grasslands that gave our community the name "Big Park," and were carved into suburban-like subdivisions. Creating bird-friendly habitat at these homes requires recreating a natural environment, and takes more time and artistry while taking cues from nature.

Many residents attract birds with feeders, which is the quick way, like building a fast-food outlet on the interstate. This is a way to see birds but not really live with them. When you live with birds you may enjoy a smaller population, but they become an integral part of your home eco-system. If you have landscaped for diversity and mimic nature you will attract diverse birds, and not the opportunistic pests like rats and squirrels that often visit bird feeders.

My lot, a typical one for our area, was originally desert grassland with a few mesquite trees, shrub oaks, barberries and a few yuccas. I have transformed it into an environment resembling the piñon-juniper forest, landscaping with native shrubs like manzanita, pines, Arizona cypress and wildflowers. In addition, I have non-native trees and plants that provide flowers, fruit, seeds and shelter for birds. By creating wet zones closer to my home and denser, drier zones farther away, I have a habitat that welcomes birds to visit and stay.

There is neither birdseed feeder nor hummingbird feeder in my yard. Nevertheless, I have at least ten different species of birds that nest and live in my yard including hummingbirds. At a feeder there is often a frenzy of bird activity, but seldom can one observe their natural behavior that includes mating, perching, foraging for wild foods, drinking and playing in water, establishing their territory and feeding their young. In addition to my permanent bird neighbors who show all those behaviors in my yard, I am thrilled to have many short-term visitors including summer tanagers, migrating bluebirds or a coopers hawk perching on nearby tree.

Our area is a premier location for birds to live and for us to observe them. We have nearby riparian areas next to creeks, rugged cliffs and mountain crags, hospitable weather, forests and grasslands − all attracting a large variety of birds. Creating habitat in your yard is to create a zone that is an extension of what is already there. Sometimes you will need to share some fruit with your cardinals, but at the same time they will build a nest in a nearby shrub where you can watch them feed their young. You may not see a frenzy of hummingbirds vying for their sugar high at your feeder, but you can experience them at arms' length as they play in a spray of water from your hose, perch on a tree, feed from your flowers or get in your face to warn you away from their nest.

The goal of Gardens for Humanity is to help people of all ages develop the skills, knowledge, awareness and desire to garden and care for the environment. We celebrate the human interaction with the beauty of nature through art, gardening and community. For more information and to learn about our monthly workshops visit our website