My yard has been certified as a Wildlife Habitat.

This is the sign that officially makes my yard a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wlldlife Federation. Photo by Mariah Chase.
© Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

Since I first moved into my Las Cruces home in 2012, I have been birdwatching in the backyard. Although I would love to be a real birdwatcher and travel the world, or even closer, to observe our feathered companions, that is pretty hard to do when using a cane, as I must do. Birdwatching requires looking up with full attention. But looking up is hazardous for a klutz like me with natural tendencies to trip and fall. The only solution is to have a stationary bird center where I can observe from the stable environment of my dining room table.

What does it take to have one’s yard become a certified Wildlife Habitat? Naturally, food is one of the first requirements. I installed bird feeders right away. I ordered the usual supplies: bird seed; suet blocks; quail blocks; bark butter bits; worms. When the sales person at Wild Birds Unlimited asked whether I wanted live worms or dried worms, I made a quick decision, “Dead ones, please.” Why? Because if I ordered live ones, I would have to feed them celery every ten days and store them in the fridge. That became my line in the sand, and I opted out.

Another necessity is water. In addition to a solar-powered fountain that sits on the ground, I also have two other pans where they can drink. However, birds don’t follow my rules. Some bathe in the water rather than drink there. Others do both.

One must also provide a place where birds can shelter their young. I ordered two different kinds of bird houses and picked the perfect spot to place them. However, my backyard adviser, Liza Chase, warned me that if I used that chosen location there was too much sun and the hatchlings would cook in our desert sun. OOPS! The bird houses now sit in the shade of a tree.

So far, these are two different styles of bird houses. The upper photo shows a more standard bird house for finches, while the lower photo shows multiplex living quarters, also for finches that abound in the yard. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.
Gambel’s Quail resemble California Quail. This photo is a bit misleading because the yellow on its chest is actually more like a creamy white. Its black mask and orange cap indicate that this is a male.

My favorite visitors to the yard are the Gambel’s Quail. When I see their bobbing top-knots as they scurry around the yard, I automatically smile. They are my daily meditation as I get caught up in watching their dramas: taking dust baths in the holes dug for them by the bunnies; keeping track of their errant young – and there is always one straggler; one standing sentry at the top of the fence overlooking the brood and ready to sound an alarm if danger approaches. And they are the best parents. They tend to their young for a long time, guiding them even as late as their teenage years, yet nothing is as precious as seeing parents escorting a string of baby feather balls.

Did you know that Roadrunners are a part of the Cuckoo family? And that
seems so appropriate, too, because they are such silly looking birds. I love it when they visit my yard, although their presence frightens some of the smaller birds.

Roadrunners make me laugh. The yard mostly clears when they are around, although surprisingly, I’ve observed a bunny chasing one off. I can only surmise that baby bunnies must have been hiding nearby. While they are in the yard, they are usually on the hunt for lizards. When I first started learning about birds, I told Kristi Lane, the owner of my local Wild Birds Unlimited store, I wanted to feed them, too. That inclination was squashed when she said, “They’re carnivores, you know.” And they have a bad reputation for eating quail eggs.

Cooper’s Hawks are predators that visit
my yard. They are rather small for hawks, but that speckled chest is an easy identifier.

Birdwatching has its dark side, too. Sometimes a Cooper’s Hawk will chase a dove into one of my large dining room windows. The crash into the window creates a sickening “thud” that reverberates through the house. Then after the stunned bird falls to the ground, the hawk pounces; feathers fly, and the hawk devours its prey. That doesn’t sit well while I’m having my lunch.

You can learn a lot by watching the backyard action. Pecking order has real meaning. At the bottom of the pecking order are the mourning doves but the white winged doves have priority over them. And the quail have seniority over the doves.

Knowing how much delight I receive from bird watching, Liza came up with a great idea. she thought I would enjoy hearing them, too. She set up a baby monitoring system so that I can hear them when I am in my bedroom and in the dining room. After a short while, I have become quite adept at distinguishing between bird sounds. The only creepy part is at night when I hear unfamiliar sounds, and it’s too dark out there to identify the culprit.

Other regular visitors to my yard are grackles, who elicit the response, “The sky is falling,” because they commonly look skyward; finches of many varieties; curved bill thrashers; hummingbirds; pyrrhuloxia (a kind of cardinal); sparrows; and mockingbirds.

This plaque was a gift from my dear friends, Mariah Chase and Roxana Gillett. Roxana participated in the gift despite my having previously gifted her with twelve pink flamingos that did not thrill her. The flamingos have since migrated to my yard where they have multiplied over the years. The bunny (Cottontails) population in New Mexico has greatly diminished due to some pandemic that has been causing their deaths. Now instead of having three to five every day, I only have one.

During this pandemic, I have been enjoying ZOOM meetings of the Audubon Society. Recently, one presenter said, “Birdwatching keeps you sane.” I must agree with her. Each morning as I record how many infections and deaths have occurred in Doña Ana County in the last 24 hours, I then turn my head to watch the birds and surrender my worries.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has always loved birds. When living in Los Angeles, the Scrub Jays depended on her for daily doses of peanuts that they took from her hands. When they saw her car pull into the garage, they sat on the front steps hand railing and squawked at her to let her know they were hungry.


Visit my Gallery of Folklore & Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org

16 thoughts on “IT’S OFFICIAL!”

  1. Norine, what a fantastic column. Every paragraph—no, every sentence—was info that was news to me. You birds and bunnies have brought you joy, but you’ve given each of them crucial lifelines. Thanks for all that you do!

    1. I think I receive more than I give. Regardless, it’s a great diversion and also a bit of help for nature. With all the building going on around here, we’re destroying natural habitats. And they call this, “Progress?”

  2. This is great Norine. I have squirrel and bird feeders in our yard. Our little kitty goes out on her leash and has spirited conversations with both until the neighborhood skunk family shows up. It is more like my human refuge than an (urban) wildlife refuge.

  3. Last night I went on a zoom get together with Santa Monica Audubon. A friend was reviewing our 2017 birding trip to Cuba. What a lift it was to see all those people and birds that we met. It was my last birding trip before all my back fractures. Now I bird my neighborhood and get joy from seeing Robins and Cedar Waxwings. I’m so happy you have discovered the joys of watching your bird neighbors–they seem to always take away thoughts of our problems and help us focus on the positive. And reading your blog also gives me joy.

    1. I remember all the trips you took to exotic places for bird watching, and I was so intrigued. I also remember asking you when you came to visit Las Cruces about the differences between finches and sparrow. DUH! Well, I’ve now learned.

  4. As someone who has had the honor of touring Norine’s wildlife refuge pre pandemic I’m glad she has gotten the recognition she deserves. It has grown into even more. So glad it can occupy your mind and time.

  5. I love this. You are the poster child for when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade…..sugar free of course. So glad u love your backyard and glad I saw it pre pandemic. I left comment on blog site. You are truly a FW. Becoming a world traveler without leaving your chair. I LOVE your hair. It looks great. Now that I’m thinking about it you’ve improved during pandemic! Good for you! 🥰👍💓

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Glad you like my hair. I’m enjoying it, too. However, I don’t think I’ve improved during the pandemic. I still tilt and I still hurt. But thanks for the compliment anyway.

  6. If I didn’t live in an apartment I’d rush right over to Wild Birds Unlimited and purchase all the things necessary to establish a bird sanctuary! What fun you’re having!

      1. I will. Thank you for the invitation. I’ll be sure to bring my ukulele and we can whoop it up playing some of the old tunes we used to play when we met at Good Sam’s.
        Good Sam’s.

  7. The hummingbirds who cluster around our big begonia plant so frequently would leave us in a nanosecond if they could find their way to your backyard. What a charming environment you’ve created for all those delightful winged creatures, and how thoughtful of them to entertain you in return!

  8. I’ll take them, but I’m sure your hummingbirds have a different route. What’s of equal fun is that I have all these solar powered objects that light up at night and give forth changing lights that are delightful: Spinner; dog foot prints; flowers, and pink flamingos. One neighbor opined that probably the Space Shuttle can see them, too. When I look out there, I feel very pleased with myself for creating a fanciful environment. One day, when this pandemic becomes history, you will have to pay me a visit and see first-hand.

  9. Hi, Norine, so fun to read about your bird sanctuary. We have our own birdworld here in Silver Lake. A few months ago, I noticed that every time I’d go out on our back porch, a little wren would chirp at me and dance around like she had a broken leg. Then I realized she had a nest full of babies in my fern. It was fun to see them sticking their little heads out of the nest. After a few weeks, I could see the babies were getting big. One day, I went out to water the plants, and inadvertently scared the wrens. Three of them came swooshing out of the nest and flew away. I was stunned! Then I saw that one, clearly too small to fly, tumbled to the ground and fell off the porch! I was able to scoop it up and get it back into the nest, but it just fell out again. I saw the mom and dad wren shielding it in the backyard later and then I lost track of the whole bunch. Only the mom bird sat on the banister for a couple of days, waiting and calling out to the chicks. What a mess I made! The good part is that a few days later, I saw three little birds and the mom and dad birds hopping around back and forth in the trees in the backyard. At least they survived! I still see them around here occasionally. Along with the hummingbirds, they drive our indoor cats crazy.

    1. That’s a great story, Theresa. It’s so much fun interacting with them, if they let us. I have a thrasher and a mockingbird both who love to sit out in the front of the house and chirp at my cat who looks at them longingly through the screen door.

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