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Master Gardener Journal  

N E O P H Y T E   N O O K

Birds in the Garden

by Mike Mekelburg,
Master Gardener

Professional birder Tom Savage gave an exceptional talk on bird gardening at the last Ajo Garden Club meeting. It was immediately clear that Savage knows his Arizona low-desert birds; what they eat, where they nest, how to attract them.

What was of even greater interest were some of the hard-hitting points Savage made that brought an occasional gasp from the audience.

For instance not everyone should try to attract birds to their yard, and here's the reason: An estimated 12 million birds are lost every year in the United States to cats. A further 100 million are lost each year to collisions with picture windows. Ergo, if you have cats or picture windows in your house, you may be doing more harm than good by bird gardening.

Sadly, all the birds killed by cats and windows is a drop in the bucket compared to those lost to destroyed habitat; namely development of the land.

Savage noted that there has been a tremendous decrease in bird populations, so bird gardening is definitely beneficial. But don't just do it, do it right.

The most basic ingredients of successful bird gardening are water and cover. A rock or perch of some kind can be placed in the water supply so small and young birds can partake. Cover can include plants that provide food, shade, and nesting. Prickly pear cactus and aloe vera are good choices.

Seed feeding is a mistake according to Savage. Desirable birds can forage for themselves. Seed feeding helps the house sparrow, the most common bird in Arizona, who tends to take over an area and drive off more desirable birds.

Remember that hummingbirds should only be given a sugar and water solution mixed at the ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Honey, corn syrup, and food colorings are not recommended.

There may be nothing we can do about the rapid development of our low desert habitat, but we can take steps to bring that habitat back into our yards. Landscaping with native plants is generally a win-win situation

"The man who has planted a garden feels that he has done something for the good of the world."
-- Vita Sackville-West

Illustration courtesy of Donna Atwood

Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated May 28, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092