All species are in constant need of habitat in which to dwell that gives the next generation a chance to thrive. It is easy to share your space with wildlife and provide crucial habitat for birds. If you have a yard with non-native grass (or one full of gravel), you have a blank slate for making your yard a bird and pollinator paradise. By planting xeric and native plants and using natural mulch, you can make your yard cooler, reduce water usage and actively care for birds.
If the thought of converting an entire yard seems daunting, dig out the grass (or pull back the rocks and weed cloth) from one section at a time. Adding pollinator plants to a sunny patch is a great way to start. Many pollinator plants produce fruits or seeds for birds.
Providing both food and cover is important for birds. If you already have mature shrubs and trees, you can focus on adding food sources. If your yard is bare, plan to add different levels of habitat with trees, shrubs, perennial flowering plants and native grasses. Plant wildflowers in clusters of three or more so that birds and pollinators will notice them when flying by and be able to have a hearty meal once they find the food source. For information about the size and needs of each plant you want to put in your yard as well as its habitat value, search for “bird” in The ABQ Backyard Refuge plant list.
In the desert, providing a clean water source is beneficial to birds. A dinner plate with fresh water will be as welcome as a fancy bird bath!
Another easy way to make a bird-friendly yard is by employing these simple practices:
- Keep birds safe by trimming trees after nesting season ends in late September. Bird nests are inconspicuous by design and can be easily overlooked. Trees with dead or diseased branches also provide perches, food, shelter, and nesting sites. If they don’t pose a safety risk, consider leaving dead branches for the birds.
- Plants that provide seeds for birds can only do so if you leave the dried seed heads over winter instead of cutting them off in autumn. Leave them standing until spring and then remove last year’s stalks to make room for new growth.
- Leaving even just a small patch of leaves where they fall supports insects and the birds, like Spotted Towhees, that rely on them.
- Challenge yourself to develop a tolerance for “pests.” Insects are the primary food source for many species of birds. Hummingbirds use spider webs to build nests that hold fast to branches and expand around their growing nestlings. Avoid using chemical controls so you do not harm the wildlife you’ve invited into your yard.
- Love your dandelions! In addition to supporting pollinators, hummingbird mamas use aster fluff to build cozy nests.
- Owls and other raptors keep rodent populations in check and die if they eat a poisoned rat or mouse. Never use rodenticides! If you have a suitable tree, consider installing an owl box as well.
- Domestic cats are part of the ecosystem when outdoors. They are both predators and prey, killing millions of birds and mammals each year, and in danger of being eaten by a coyote or owl. Keeping your cat indoors, or in a catio, will protect your cat and wildlife at the same time.
The ABQ Backyard Refuge Program introductory guide, workbook and plant list can be very helpful in designing a habitat that includes all the necessary habitat elements (food, shelter, water), or you can simply begin by managing your yard in bird-friendly ways.
Supporting birds in our urban area starts with focusing care and attention on our wild neighbors and taking their well-being into consideration when managing our yards. By supporting birds you will have opportunities for observing how our wild neighbors live and discovering new ways of sharing your space. Sharing our resources and growing habitat that benefits both you and wildlife can make our city a better place for the entire living community.
Learn more about our attracting wildlife here:
Backyard refuges for people and wildlife.