Ask the Conservationist

Creating Backyard Wildlife Habitat

A reader in New Mexico wants to preserve an area of open space for roadrunners, quail and other native wildlife, but needs a game plan. See what tips our Conservancy ecologist has to get her started!
Theresa Ozuna, who owns property in Albuquerque, NM writes

“We have a small area considered "open space" that is natural habitat for roadrunners, quail, dove, rabbits, etc. We'd like to preserve and replant native plants — can you help provide us with a "game plan" so we are well organized?"

David Mehlman:

Near my home in Albuquerque's North Valley, we've recorded 118 species of birds and observed many different species of wildlife. I'm not sure how large an area you're planning, but just know that it is possible to design rich wildlife habitat in suburban areas.

The main components of backyard bird and wildlife habitat are:

  • shelter,
  • water,
  • food, and
  • a place to nest.

Provide these, and the birds and wildlife will come.

For most wildlife, it's important to have multiple layers of vegetation, such as shrubs, vines, small trees and a canopy. Many species occur on or near ground and they need perches and shelter.

Availability of water is important, especially in New Mexico's dry climate. Wildlife need water for drinking and bathing. If you don't have a natural water feature on your property, such as a pond or stream, you might consider installing bird baths, ponds, rain gardens or even puddling areas for butterflies. These water features should have cover or shelter close by and a heater to keep the water unfrozen in areas with a cold winter, such as Albuquerque.

The Albuquerque County Water Utility Authority has resources on xeriscaping that you can use to create wildlife habitat and save water:

Planting native wildflowers, shrubs and trees is the easiest way to provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts that many species of birds and wildlife require to survive and thrive. Features such as brushpiles and thickets also provide places for wildlife to hide and feel safe from people, predators and inclement weather.

Here are some trees and shrubs to consider planting for your area in Albuquerque:

  • Rocky Mountain juniper — wildlife eat their berries
  • Skunkbush and little-leaf sumac — the fruit is an important source of winter food for many game birds, songbirds and small mammals

Shrubs with berries attractive to birds include:

  • Littleleaf sumac
  • New Mexico olive
  • Woodbine
  • Mexican elder
  • Golden currant

Flowers attractive to hummingbirds include penstemons and salvia, or any red, tubular flower that provides nectar.

For more information about gardening for wildlife wherever you live, visit the website of the National Wildlife Federation's Garden for Wildlife program.

Originally posted in January 2010.

About the Conservationist

David Mehlman is the director of The Nature Conservancy's Migratory Bird Program and based in Albuquerque.


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