Southwest Environment

Stories written by University of Arizona students

Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science
The Stories

Tree planting helps create habitat for birds

barren tree with birdPhoto by Jessica Canchola
Even a barren tree can serve as a perch for birds, as seen in this image from Tucson’s Sabino Canyon.

By Jessica Canchola, May 14, 2010

Often the first thing that people hear upon waking is the sound of birds welcoming the sun. But they might not realize how important trees can be in generating that variety of bird songs.

Creating habitat by planting trees can increase species diversity as well as the number of individual birds.

“If you promote native plants, you create more of a habitat for (native) birds,” said Matt Brooks, an outreach specialist for Tucson Audubon Society. Basically, most birds need trees to hold their nests.

The importance of trees as bird habitat has inspired Tucson Audubon Society members to plant trees, shrubs and flowers in the city, especially around sources of water. For example, they created several sites near the Santa Cruz River, where they also do research on how landscaping affects bird populations. 

“It’s really hard to associate individual birds with certain trees,” said Kendall Kroesen, the society’s restoration program manager. Also, trees and shrubs can function differently, providing different benefits. Kroesen recommends a mix of both to promote diversity at a site.

Doves, for example, tend to nest high in trees, while roadrunners and quails nest on the ground, under shrubs. Some birds, such as the white-winged dove, use trees to forage food, especially during the summer when fruits and insects abound. As the Trees for Tucson internet site noted, taller trees, such as eucalyptus and pines, can attract owls and raptors, including red-tailed hawks.

Kroesen said vegetation is also important for providing shade and protection for some species. Like others, he recommends planting native trees.

bird lands on a mesquite treePhoto by Jessica Canchola
A bird comes in for a landing on a mesquite tree in a Tucson neighborhood.

“Many of our native desert birds are well adapted to our thorny native desert trees – velvet mesquite, two species of palo verde, ironwood, certain acacias – and less well adapted to non-native trees that are often used in landscaping,” he explained.

“Size and width are important as well,” said Kroesen, referring to the canopy. “We recommend landscapes in which plantings are denser and overlapping each other.”

For instance, when trees overlap each other, they tend to provide more shade and keep the shrubs and ground cooler.

Like the Tucson Audubon Society, Trees for Tucson has programs to promote wildlife habitat. Supported by funding from the Tucson Electric Power Company, the urban forestry program promotes native tree planting to improve shading of homes and businesses in order to reduce energy costs. 

Trees for Tucson recommends planting a variety of trees, shrubs and groundcover to attract birds and the insects they eat. The group recommends against planting palm trees Trees for Tucson offers a wide variety of native trees, such as mesquite and palo verde, which can be ordered for $8 each. Homeowners who are TEP customers can purchase up to four trees each, depending on the year of their home. Because reducing cooling costs is the goal, trees must be planted where they will shade homes – on the east, west or south side of the buildings. because they attract non-native birds such as pigeons.

Kroesen pointed out that landscaping can begin at home, but have wildlife benefits that extend well beyond it if it provides a connection between other nearby habitat areas. A lack of plants means a lack of habitat.

Kroesen said he has seen some homes that contain a bunch of gravel and one small cactus in their front yard.

“Those types of landscapes really bother us,” said Kroesen. “It tends to heat up a lot and doesn’t have very much protection for wildlife.”




Trees for Tucson

Tucson Audubon Society

Backyard Birds of Tucson

Jessica Canchola is a junior at the University of Arizona majoring in Journalism with a minor in Wildlife Conservation. She was born and raised in Tucson and enjoys hiking and camping. She decided to take this course because she’s interested in the environment and how citizens can protect it.

next story
return to main stories