We get plenty of advice when it comes to interior decorating, but fewer suggestions when our yards are involved. More often than not, those limited ideas seldom consider all the creatures we share our outdoor living space with, especially birds. Recently, we’ve seen some fellow creature-oriented creative projects, and as we’ve implemented them in our own yard, our bird population has grown. Water features like bird baths, ponds and waterfalls naturally attract birds, as do flowers, shrubs and trees, and of course hummingbird, suet and seed feeders. We’ve followed all of these suggestions, and our birds and other wildlife have shown their appreciation. But if you’re interested in taking these basics to another level, there are a number of things you can do to increase both that appreciation and your number of visitors. And if you like to photograph birds, these modifications can also give you more natural photo opportunities.
For example, suet cake feeders look like square wire cages, designed to hold square commercial suet cakes. These work perfectly fine, of course, but most people would prefer to take pictures of birds without a feeder in the frame. Through one of the local photography clubs, we found friends who substituted a segment of cholla skeleton for a suet feeder with great results. Dead cholla branches can be found with hollow interiors and nicely spaced ‘feeding’ holes. Just clean them up, inside and out with a hose, attach a length of looped wire for hanging and stuff a suet cake into the interior. Your suet-eating birds will appreciate the familiar surface of cholla, your landscaping will improve and you’ll get more natural-looking photographs.
If you use shepherd’s hooks to hang hummingbird and other types of feeders, consider camouflaging the iron stands with branches and other plant material such as dead stalks of yucca, agave or desert spoon. You can secure the branches and stalks to hook stands with wire, making your feeder stands blend better with natural foliage. At the same time, you provide birds with more places to perch, again increasing your opportunities to get more natural photographs. By including branches with small diameter twigs, you’ll also help your hummers, whose feet just weren’t designed for larger-sized sticks. If you grow tomatoes and use those narrow gage tomato cages, you know how appreciative hummingbirds are of having those artificial perches. If you don’t grow tomatoes, you can still find tall flowers or vines that take to tomato cages, and hummingbirds will spend more time in your yard with more of these user-friendly perches.
Water is a well-known bird attractant, and moving water is better than still water. If you have any irrigation spray emitters to water ground cover, for example, these are probably set no more than a foot or two off the ground. Using a tall plant stake, reposition one or more of these four or five feet above the ground, add a stick or stalk sculpture (or tomato cage) within the watering circle, and enjoy the daily bird show.
If your drip system doesn’t include a spray emitter, it’s easy to add one or just replace a drip emitter with a sprayer. We did this in a couple of different places with great payback. Hummingbirds take 10-minute showers, goldfinches preen on the dripping tomato cages and orioles forage through the mist and wet leaves. With a few simple steps, you can turn your yard into a high-end spa like Miraval, but for birds. And free of charge.
(This article was published in the July, 2017, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)