Backyard Bird Sanctuary

Roadrunner in Honey Mesquite habitat

Roadrunner in honey mesquite habitat

Should you choose to create a sanctuary for the birds in your back yard, you can use it like a laboratory to learn about species in your neighborhood. (See Bird Watching Basics, A Bird-Watching Journal and Bird Photography.) You can tailor your garden to attract the general population, which may include dozens of species, or to lure selected birds, which may include only a few or even a single species.


If you wish to attract the general population of birds, which will vary with the seasons, you will need a landscape with a diversity of plants, preferably native, that provide protection, shade, cover, nesting and food sources. 

In the higher, forested slopes of our Southwest mountains, for example, trees such as ponderosa pines, Gambel oaks, scrub live oak, aspen and Douglas fir and understory plants such as Mexican cliffrose, Apache plume, fireweed, New Mexico feathergrass, blue grama and Arizona fescue attract birds such as the hairy woodpecker, broad-tailed hummingbird, yellow-bellied sapsucker and ruby-crowned kinglet. 

In the lower flanks of our mountains, the various piñon pines, junipers and oaks may call to birds such as the western bluebird, Stellar's jay, acorn woodpecker, canyon wren, the piñon jay and curve-billed thrasher. 

In the basin areas of the Southwest, the shrubs such as screwbean mesquites, creosote, catclaw acacia, desert willow and the grasses such as big bluestem, little bluestem, blue grama and buffalo attract the ground-loving birds such as the greater roadrunner, Gambel's quail, scaled quail, common ground dove and lark bunting. Various cholla cacti hold a special attraction for the cactus wren. 

Trumpet vine blooms (left), a favorite of hummingbirds (as well as Bullock's orioles) and Lantana blooms (right), another hummingbird attractor.Roadrunner in Honey Mesquite habitat

Trumpet vine blooms (left), a favorite of hummingbirds (as well as Bullock's orioles) and lantana blooms (right), another hummingbird attractor.


Even if you have just a small backyard sanctuary, it can attract nesting birds. For instance, in the higher elevations, a single tall tree with good foliage may entice a ruby-crowned kinglet to build her pendulous, decorative nest, bound by spider webs, suspending it from a high leafy branch. In the desert basins, a shrub or cactus in your backyard may furnish a place for a mourning dove to build its flimsy, saucer-shaped nest of twigs or a cactus wren to fashion its football-shaped nest of straw or a greater roadrunner to construct its shallow oval-shaped nest of twigs and leaf-lining. Bird houses, some designed for specific species, some decorated – it would appear – for decadent avian parties, near a back window, can offer an intimate view of parents raising young. 


Your backyard sanctuary, especially if it has native plants, may offer berries, nuts, seeds, nectar and insects for a variety of local birds, especially from spring through the fall. If you have erected bird feeders, you can offer mixes of seeds and other foods that attract specific species. For instance, thistle, hulled sunflower seed, suet, peanut butter and cracked corn may attract the American goldfinch. Suet, nutmeats, raisins and cracked corn may attract woodpeckers. Sugar water will attract hummers. Feeders do require frequent cleaning to protect the birds' health.


In any sanctuary, especially in the more arid regions such as the American Southwest, water will prove to be a powerful attractant, both for bathing and for nourishment. Like feeders, ponds and bird baths require frequent cleaning. 

Female Black-chinned Hummingbird at a backyard feeder filled with sugar water, and other competitors for water - a wasp at feeder (upper right), and scarab beetle (lower right).Roadrunner in Honey Mesquite habitat

Female black-chinned hummingbird at a backyard feeder filled with sugar water, and other competitors for water - a wasp at feeder (upper right), and scarab beetle (lower right).



For information on other aspects of birding, see
Finding the Birds,
A Bird Watching Journal
Bird Watching Basics
Bird Photography.

How to Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds to your Backyard
Bird Watching Tips & Interesting Facts about Birds
Bird Watching at the Salton Sea
Wildlife Viewing at Coyote Canyon in Anza Borrego

by Jay Sharp


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