Gardening For Birds in the Southwest

Birds are such quick moving creatures – with bright eyes that watch the world around them – searching for the next morsel or tidbit while scanning their surroundings for enemies. Bird watching can be fun – even if you never do learn the species and keep an official “life list.” And it is very easy to attract birds to your Southwest yard with these ten simple tips.

Arizona State Bird, the cactus wren loves to nest in thorny cacti.

Attract Birds to Your Yard

What do Southwestern birds need? Same as every living thing on earth needs! Food, water, and a place to live. So after you put in a bird bath for the drinking water – what can you do to attract birds to the garden? Bird feeders are one easy answer, but you often see a number of “city” birds like pigeons at such an apparatus, not our shy and elusive native desert birds. As it turns out – providing a rich slice on natural habitat is best.


Problem with providing just seed or a sugar water feeder for hummingbirds is that most birds, like humans, need a well rounded diet. Hummingbirds also need the protein of insects to nurture and raise their young. Quail eat seed, but also munch down greens – relishing young seedlings. Many Southwestern species of birds rely on insects for food. Then we have our iconic roadrunner that eats lizards and snakes as well as insects.

Bushes provide a lookout point plus a spot to duck into cover should a hawk fly over.


Shelter is critical so that birds can rest, hide from predators, and nest. Yes, mid-day in summer is the perfect time for a shady siesta, even for birds.


Top Ten Tips for a Bird Garden

Here are my top ten tips to have a lush landscape that attracts our native Southwestern birds.

1. Let plants mulch themselves. Mother Nature doesn’t sweep her kitchen floors. If you must, rake debris back under the plants and let it decompose. This means food for insects which provides food for birds.

2. Keep the plants’ natural shapes, with branches low to the ground. This provides shelter and nesting sites for ground dwellers like quail offering a quick escape from hawks.

3. Let at least some plants go to seed for the seed eaters. They will try to eat your wildflower seeds too – so here is how to plant wildflowers – but wait until after mid-September.

Seed eaters like quail will seek out seed in the dirt – including wildflower seed you plant – but that’s another post.

4. Leave some open ground for dust baths.

5. Nesting material availability is necessary, this includes spider silk for hummingbirds. Also many birds relish a tasty spider too – so share your space with Charlotte’s Web!

(Five More Tips – because Google thinks this paragraph is too long)

6. Prune minimally, especially palms. Leave palm fronds on the plant for summer oriole nests.

7. Some dead wood is important for insects and the woodpeckers that eat them. Keep it far from the house if you are concerned about termites.

8. Perches for look out birds are important to many species. Large rocks or bare branches are appreciated.

9. Welcome diversity, a pile of large rocks provides shady nooks for insects and the lizards that eat them, and you may find a roadrunner visiting your yard!

10. Avoid any “cidal” chemicals – even fungicidal chemicals. Fungus rots dead plant parts so insects can eat them. Insects are a part of the circle of life – they do need to not be sprayed unless they invade your pantry.

Roadrunners eat the lizards that eat the insects. No, his feet are not deformed – they have two toes facing forward and two toes facing backwards. Better to run with.

Finally, start with what you have, but plant with an eye to the future. With these ten key points, you will provide a suitable space for our fine feathered friends.

Learn More about Southwest Gardening

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More about turning your landscape into a pleasing place for both you and wildlife in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you. 

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