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Gardening Etcetera: Heck yes, gardening is for the birds -- literally

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Warblers of many species migrate through our region each spring and fall.  This yellow warbler is attracted to aphids and other small insects on this peach tree.

If a newcomer to Coconino County were to ask me, “Is gardening for the birds?” I would answer, “If you mean to ask if gardening is a waste of time here, the answer would be an emphatic ‘no.’ Gardening is a major pastime for many folks in our county. On the other hand, if you mean to ask if folks can entice birds to their property by planting certain shrubs, flowers, and trees, the answer would be an emphatic ‘yes.’ It is one of the reasons I, myself, garden."

So let’s explore several birds native to the region that folks may lure to their properties by landscaping with certain plants.

Goldfinches, House Finches, and Pine Siskins

For me, goldfinches are one of the harbingers of spring. Hearing the bright, mewing "teewee” call of the lesser goldfinch alerts me that sunny, breezy days are almost upon us. Wearing a black crown abutting a greenish back makes the male conspicuous, while the female is a much drabber gray-green. As the season advances, these birds fill the atmosphere with sweet cadences of trills, “swees”, and imitations of other birds.

Our property attracts many lesser goldfinches. Trees, especially cottonwood and aspen, give the birds great vantage points to spot predators before gliding down to indulge in our birdbath. Their diet is mostly seeds; they gorge on aster, sunflower, coneflower, zinnia, lettuce, coreopsis, cosmos, and weed seeds.

House finches and pine siskins are close relatives of goldfinches, and they eat many of the same foods. Pine siskin’s favorite is weed seeds. Each fall, we allow a number of our seed-laden flowers to remain until they’re picked clean by these and other birds.


I always keep an eye out for large flashes of orange and black; it could be an oriole, a truly gorgeous bird.

Orioles find themselves at home in deciduous trees with nearby shrubs from which to ladder up and down in search of fruits, nectar, and insects. They are drawn to any flower patch or shrub teeming with butterflies, as these flowers would likely hold lots of sweet nectar. Examples are butterfly bush, purple alyssum, elderberries, Utah serviceberry, and purple verbena. Orioles also adore orange halves set out on a platform feeder.


If you ask me, there’s nothing more alluring than the delicate beauty of the bluebird. I am most successful at inviting them onto our property l when I keep fresh water in the birdbaths at all times, even in winter. Additionally, putting up a bluebird box has been quite rewarding. Our bluebirds love to perch on our fence, in trees, or on garden decor in wait of flying insects. According to many sources, berries of native juniper, dogwood, Virginia creeper, and elderberry are also quite tempting to these birds.

Chickadees and other tree-lovers

“Chickee chickee chaw chaw chickee dzee,” That’s my impersonation of the mountain chickadee’s whimsical call, and it’s music to my ears. We’re indeed lucky to have these dynamic black and white birds residing in our mixed woodlands and coniferous forests. If you’re property lacks mature trees, you may attract chickadees along with kinglets, nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers by putting out feeders filled with chopped nuts and sunflower seeds.


Warblers are, seemingly, perpetual-motion birds, and if you happen to spy a streak of yellow-green and/or black making headway into the heart of a bushy shrub or tree, it may well be a warbler. During spring and fall, our region hosts a variety of migrating warblers feasting on insects in any dense plants, and that’s all you need to entice warblers into your yard. Some, like yellow-rumped, Grace’s, or yellow warblers, may stick around all summer.


Because Arizona was blessed with a strong monsoon this year, our property produced a bounty of perennials offering sweet nectar in tubular-shaped flowers, so I didn’t need to set out a hummingbird feeder until late September. Our property commenced offering nectar in catmint blooms early summer, then in penstemons, salvias and skyrockets, and finally Agastache. Attracting hummingbirds is as simple as that.

Getting back to the original question: “Is gardening for the birds? You betcha!”

Cindy Murray is a biologist, co-editor of Gardening Etc. and a Coconino Master Gardener with Arizona Cooperative Extension. If you have a gardening question, send a message to and a Coconino Master Gardener will answer your question.


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