Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
February, 2004
Regional Report

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Trumpet-shaped flowers on aloe provide a nectar feast for hummingbirds.

For the Birds

I wonder if birds that visit my garden derive as much pleasure from the experience as I do from watching them. I admire their industry, as hummingbirds hover at the fairy duster (Calliandra californica), methodically seeking nectar from every blossom, or a curve-billed thrasher uses its strong beak to dig out insects along the entire edge of the patio.

It's easy to attract native birds if you have plants that provide food, shelter, and nesting sites. A clean water source is important, too. Even though I live in an urban area, my garden plays host to many species, including hummingbirds, curve-billed thrashers, finches, cactus wrens, mourning doves, and Gila woodpeckers.

If there's a particular bird you want to attract, determine its food and shelter preferences and add those plants to your landscape. For example, a hummingbird's long, narrow beak is well-suited for obtaining nectar from thin, trumpet-shaped flowers, such as aloe, salvia, Justicia spp., and penstemons. Design your bird garden so that something will be in bloom year-round. Most aloe blooms in winter, penstemon in spring, justicia spring through fall, and fairy duster is in flower almost constantly.

Seed-eating birds, such as finches, sparrows, doves, and quail, will be active around all the native trees, most of which are legumes. Mesquite, ironwood, and palo verde provide seeds as well as shelter and nesting sites for a wide range of birds. Brittle bush (Encelia fariosa) and sunflowers provide seeds for many birds and a bright splash of yellow while in bloom. Pomegranate thrives in hot climates, and many birds love the juicy red seeds, including cactus wrens, finches, gila woodpeckers, mockingbirds, thrashers, and pyrrhuloxias.

More Tips
Different birds have different needs for shelter. Gambel's quail, which is primarily a ground dweller, seeks shelter under spreading shrubs. Don't prune shrubs into balls and squares, which eliminates the cover that birds require. Overpruning also eliminates flowers, fruits, and seeds as a food source.

Don't use pesticides to kill insects in your garden. All birds eat insects at some point in their lives, especially as youngsters still being fed by their parents. If you've been a regular pesticide user, it may take a season for nature to balance itself, but eventually birds will take over this chore for you.

It isn't necessary to replant your entire yard. Add a few well-chosen plants, and the birds will flock to you.

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