National Wildlife Federation/ San Diego County
For The Birds!
by Paula White, Habitat Steward
San Diego County has beautiful foothills, oak woodlands, and desert scrub. It has, in addition to our coastal location, several suburban lakes, riparian streams, and salt marshes. These habitats attract many species of birds and, depending on the location of your home, you can have a variety of these winged wonders in your yard. The following is a list of the more common birds seen in San Diego County neighborhoods.
Red tailed hawk
Red breasted nuthatch
Red shouldered hawk
White breasted nuthatch
Sharp shinned hawk
American Kestral (Falcon)
Ruby crowned Kinglet
Black tailed Gnatcatcher
Rock Dove (pigeon)
Western Screech Owl
Black chinned Hummingbird
Orange crowned Warbler
Yellow rumped Warbler
Pacific slope Flycatcher
Ash throated Flycatcher
White crowned Sparrow
Dark eyed Junco
Black headed Grosbeak
Violet green Swallow
Red winged Blackbird
Great tailed Grackle
Brown headed Cowbird
Attracting Birds with Feeders
Bird feeders are an essential part of a bird friendly garden as they attract such a wide range and large number of birds into your yard. Consistant feeding through the whole year will attract more and more birds. And over the years as birds become familiar with your yard they will fly from farther away to visit your feeders. All birds watch other birds to see where they are feeding and will flock to join them. Placing your feeders near cover, for the birds protection, and where they can be viewed by you will provide hours of pleasure both for you and for the birds. The best feeding set-up should offer four basic foods: sunflower seed, mixed seed, thistle (nyjer), and suet. The following is a list of seed preferences of some of the common San Diego Backyard birds and some tips about the seed types.
1. Sunflower Seed- this type of seed is preferred by more birds than any other and can be fed in tube feeders or most other type feeders, even spread on a flat surface. Sunflower seed comes in two types; striped seed or black oil seed. Studies all show that birds prefer the black oil over the striped. Also the seed can be purchased with hulls removed which makes feeding less messy but is also more expensive. Black oil is a favorite of:
Striped Sunflower preferred by:
2. Mixed Seed- this includes a variety of different seeds which appeal to birds and usually has white and red proso millet, peanut hearts, cracked corn and safflower seeds. Mixing in sunflower seed along with the other seed makes it even more attractive. This type of seed should be scattered on the ground or fed on open trays near the ground as most of the birds who like this seed feed on the ground. They are:
Pigeon (Rock Dove)
Cracked corn is preferred by Quail, Red-winged Blackbird, Pigeon, Dove and other of the ground feeding birds as it contains both oil and starch.
3. Thistle, also known as Nyjer- this is a small black seed which should be placed in a tube or sock type feeder and hung on a pole. Thistle feeders have small holes to keep the seed from falling out. Some of these feeders are specialty feeders just for Goldfinch and Pine Siskin as the holes are below the perches and only these two birds like to hang upside down to feed. Birds which prefer thistle are:
House and Purple Finch
House and White-crowned Sparrow
4. Suet- This is a special beef fat which can be purchased alone (at your meat counter) or in cakes already made up into blocks which fit into suet holders made of coated wire mesh. Feeding suet can be problematic in San Diego as it tends to melt in the heat which we often have even in mid-winter. Suet cakes made specially for warmer areas are available; these are mixed with seed and/or with fruit which makes them even more appealing. Suet holders should be attached to tree trunks and near other feeders as that is the favored feeding spot of the types of birds who like it. Suet is preferred by:
Woodpeckers and Flickers
One of my favorite things to do is to feed raw peanuts in the shell to California Scrub-jays. I have several of these very noisy birds who come daily to a small low feeder near my window. I often find the nuts buried in my planters where the Jays have stored them to find later. Iím told that Titmice and Woodpeckers are also attracted to raw peanuts but I havenít seen them at my feeder. Not yet anyway.
A bird garden is not complete without hummingbirds and feeding nectar is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to keep them in your yard year round. Nectar feeders should be easy to clean and hung in a way to keep the ants away. I use a small red plastic moat which I purchased at Wild Birds Unlimited. It hangs above the nectar feeder and is kept filled with water. This provides water for other birds to drink and keeps the ants out of the nectar. Ants in the nectar turn it bitter. A mix of one part sugar to four parts water (no food coloring, please) is very appealing. I nuke the mix in my microwave and then cool it before putting it in the feeder. Birds which prefer nectar are: Hummingbirds, Orioles, Western Tanagers
Some birds will come to fruit on a feeder (such as an orange cut in half). These are: Tanagers,Orioles, Bluebirds, Thrush, Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Woodpecker and Jays.
When you decide to feed birds using feeders itís important to remember that bird health is dependent on more than just having food and water. Feeders and water supplies must be kept clean too. Regular cleaning of feeders and bird baths will keep your birds both healthy and happy!
Many people in Southern California feed birds only in Spring or Summer which is when they think the birds need it most. People in the East, where the weather is really cold, know better; they know birds need food all year, especially during the cold months. I encourage you to feed all year. And the more types of feeding stations you have, the greater the pleasure for you and the greater the benefit for the birds.
While youíre purchasing your feeders, why not look for a Field Guide to the Birds so you can learn to identify and know exactly what birds you are enjoying in your Bird Garden.
Natural Attractions for San Diego Birds
Many SanDiegans want to have a backyard full of birds yet want their yard to attract the birds naturally . They want to have trees, shrubs, and flowers that attract and keep birds in their yards year round. After all birds can get only 25% of their food from feeders, the rest must come from nature. We know that birds need places to nest and raise their young, they also need water, cover, and food in order to thrive. Most all of the plants we use to landscape our yards can provide one or two of these but some will provide three out of the four vital needs. In planning a bird friendly yard itís important to think in terms of layers,. By this is meant tall trees, next to smaller trees, next to large shrubs, next to smaller shrubs, next to flowers. This way you have good cover and food at all levels. Different families and species of birds feed on different naturally occurring foods and by choosing the right plants you should be able to attract a wide variety of birds to your yard and keep them there year round. Certain plants can also pull in the migrating birds which really makes your bird garden an exciting place. What follows is a list of trees, shrubs and flowers which are suited to our San Diego soil and climate and will attract the birds of our area. Native plants, in my opinion, are preferable due to the fact that they require less water, and are easier to grow, and appeal to the greatest variety of San Deigo birds.
Provides acorns, for Jays, Oak Titmouse, Nuthatch, & California Quail. Provides insects from leaves and twigs for Bushtits and Oak Titmice.
Provides insects from galls and bark for Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and also a place to store acorns for Woodpeckers and cavities for nesting..
Provides fuzz for nests of Hummingbirds.
Provides Cavities for nesting Woodpeckers, Bluebirds, Wrens, Tree
Swallows and Nuthatches. Provides insects and seeds for various birds and leaf litter for ground feeders such as Towhees, Sparrows, Quail, and Thrasher.
Provides seeds for Jays, Nuthatch, Chickadee and many others. Provides insects from bark for Brown Creeper, Nuthatch,and Woodpecker.
WESTERN REDBUD(Cercis occidentalis)
Provides seeds, buds, and flowers for Annaís and Allenís Hummingbirds as well as Lesser and Lawrenceís Goldfinch.
FAN PALM(Washingtonia filifera)
Provides dates for Cedar Waxwing and other large beaked birds. The rule of thumb for trees whose bark will provide insects is: the more crevices in the wood trunk and branches the more insects can find homes. Trees with smooth bark and trees which constantly shed their bark will not supply the insects birds need.
Provides flowers, and fruit for Jays, Grosbeak, Mockingbird, Fox Sparrow, Annaís and Allenís Hummingbirds.
CALIFORNIA LILAC (Ceanothus sp.) Provides seed for California Quail.
TOYON (Heteromeles arbutifolia) Provides berries in winter much loved by Thrush, Western Bluebirds, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing. Tanagers, and Phainopepla. This shrub will attract a humongous number of birds once established.
SUGAR BUSH, LEMONADE BERRY(Rhus Sp.)
Provides berries Spring and Summer for
California Thrasher, Towhee, Thrush, Warblers and Wrentit.
COFFEE BERRY (Rhamnus sp.)
Provides berries Summer and Fall for Jays, Thrashers and other berry eaters.
Provides flowers and berries Winter and Summer for Annaís and Allenís Hummingbirds, Thrashers, and Jays.
BUSH MALLOW (Malacothamnus sp.)
Provides seeds for Bushtits, tiny insects for Hummingbirds Summer through Fall.
ELDEBERRY (Sambucus sp.)
Provides flowers, berries, and insects on stem structures for a huge number of berry loving birds and nesting places for Hummingbirds.
The main attraction flowers offer birds are the seeds but if you keep your flowers carefully pruned back you remove a lot of their bird feeding value. As the summer comes to an end and winter approaches the dried stalks remain upright and the seeds disperse.This is when you will see multitudes of birds in your flower garden. Other flowers typically attract a lot of insects which then attract the insect eating birds. A few produce berries such as Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), but not many.
I will start with a list of flowers which attract hummingbirds. There are many!
Salvia (many spp.) These are the absolute favorite of hummingbirds.
Fuchsia-especially California Fuchsia (Zauscheneria) which is a Calif.native
Columbine (Aquilegia spp.) a Ca Native
Scarlet Larkspur (Delphinium cardinale)
Monkeyflower (Diplacus sp.) (Mimula)
Woolly-blue curl (Trichostema lanatum)
Flowers with Seeds:
These are the flowers which appeal to Lesser and Lawrenceís Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, several of the Sparrows, Chickadees, Grosbeak, Jays, and Finches.
Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
Marigold (Tagetes spp.)
Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Yarrow (Achillea borealis subsp.cal.)
Purple Coneflower (Echinops spp.)
Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium spp.)
Bee Balm (Monarda)
Flowers that attract insects:
Many birds eat insects, Mockingbirds, Phoebes, Kingbirds (Flycatchers) but also Yellow-rumped and other Warblers
The above lists only a few of the more valuble food providing plants. Check out some of the links I list for more help. Happy Bird Gardening!
Plants Which Naturally Attract California Birds/ Las Pilitas
Checklist of Birds/ Natural History Museum
How to Attract Birds
Plants Which Attract and Feed Birds
North American Bird Feeding Chart
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