Gardening for the Birds

Cover image – Male phainopepla, a silky flycatcher native to the Southwest deserts and mountains.

February is National Bird Feeding Month. The birds are really hoping you will celebrate.

But Don’t Just Feed the Birds –

While it is nice to add feeders to your garden, it seems like cheating somehow. Plus you may attract the non-native birds that crowd out our desert adapted species. So, instead of actively feeding with costly seed, be passive. By planting the right plants, you can create a year-round bird sanctuary. It’s easy.

– Build a Habitat for Birds

Like every living thing, birds need food, water, and a place to live. Landscape the yard so the birds have food to eat and an appropriate place to live, sone water to drink – and they will come. The greater the variety of foods offered means the greater variety of species that will visit your yard.

Bird Food

One kind of bird that people like to invite into their yard are the hummingbirds. I invite you to my free Live webinar online Saturday 18 February at 9 am MST.


Plants for Southwest Pollinators
Help feed the butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators that visit our Southwest yards with the bountiful blooms of low-water native landscape plants. Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline Soule will discuss and show images of some of the many pollinator plants that do well here. While primarily focusing on plants for the garden, some of these plants can be grown in containers as well.

Register for the free webinar!

Back to the Blog – Feed the Birds

Food for birds is as varied as the species of birds available to eat it. It also depends on time of year and parental training. Birds will eat seeds, plants, insects, nectar, or some or all of the above. Desert birds are very adaptable. They will also help themselves to dog or cat food if it is left out.

Cactus wren, the Arizona state bird.

Birds are either herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. Herbivores eat seed and some fresh greens. Think large plump, ground dwellers like Gambel’s quail and doves. Carnivores eat meat, and include raptors like the hawks as well as carrion eaters such as the vultures. Since raptors are a tad large for most readers yards, let’s look at the smaller carnivores, the ones that eat insects.  My favorite small carnivore bird is the tiny olive green verdin that flits around the stems of flowers looking for tasty bugs. Finally there are the omnivores like the Arizona State Bird, the cactus wren. Primarily an insect eater, the cactus wren will also eat fruit, seeds, and occasional greens.

Many of our native desert birds are insect eaters. This generally does not sit well with homeowners, who prefer an insect-free environment. But remember, ninety-nine percent of all bugs are good bugs. Leave the insects alone, and they will provide dinner for the birds (and lizards).

Male hooded oriole at a water dish. in Tucson.

Bothersome woodpeckers?  Here is my Youtube video on a very easy and bird friendlyway to deal with the issue.  Prevent Woodpeckers from Bothering Your Home

Water for Birds

Water is for drinking in the desert, and optionally for bathing too. Provide clean fresh water for birds to drink. Birds appreciate anything that drips, squirts, sprays, runs, or simply holds some fresh water. Water should be located where there is enough clear area for landing and take off. Avoid placing the water where there are predator hiding places.

Birds prefer a watering site that is no deeper than two inches. While agile in flight with their two wings, many our avian friends can be clumsy on two feet. Their water dish should be rough on the bottom to avoid slips in the “bathtub.”


After food and water, shelter is very important for birds. They need it for nest sites, for roost and rest (especially at midday in summer). They also need shelter from predators and from the weather. Just as you may not appreciate a crowded elevator, birds need their “elbow room.” Keep plants’ natural shapes. Normal, open growth allows for ease of nesting and resting. Branches low to the ground offer quick get-aways from predators.

Anna’s hummingbird feeding chicks. They need spider webs to hold their nests together.

Nesting Material

Hummingbirds require spider webs to hold together their nests. Summer orioles need brown palm fronds left on the tree to build their nests under. Cactus wrens are happiest with a big spiny cholla cactus for their nests. Ornamental grasses are used by many species to line their nests. You must learn to tolerate a little “clutter” to encourage our winged friends to share your yard.

Celebrate National Bird Feeding Month by at least considering some planting for the birds.

Need Some Garden Help?

May I recommend my book?  The Month By Month Guide offers tips for your landscape (yes even lawns and roses) in every month of the year.  I have a few copies left and am offering them to you – my loyal readers. Price is what you would pay on Amazon – only when you buy from me you get a signed copy!soule-books-buy

From the review:

“A great reference book is key to successful gardening in the region where you live. Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening takes the guesswork out of gardening for anyone residing in the Southwest. With this book, you’ll know what to do each month to enjoy a thriving garden all year, from January to December. Chronologically organized, this guide is full of critical gardening when-to and how-to advice, along with illustrated step-by-step instructions.

The book’s author is Jacqueline Soule, a Tucson-based gardening expert. She knows this arid region inside and out, and she’s written several articles and books packed with her gardening advice. Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening showcases Soule’s expertise in one easy-to-read guide.”

Profits from the sale of this book go to the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.


© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt – but you must give proper credit to Gardening With Soule. You must include a link to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.


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