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Bird Attracting Gardens

With the weather warming up, it is a good time to consider how your garden shapes up as a haven for our feathered friends. As we leave Spring, many baby birds will have left the nest and started foraging for food. Will your garden become their new home?

lorikeet in grevillea Robyn gordon

lorikeet in grevillea Robyn gordon

Attracting birds to visit the garden is a simple matter of providing permanent water, maybe some seed, shrubby garden beds and shelter.

The next stage is to try and provide conditions that attract native birds, and hopefully provide them with enough food and security that they will nest in your garden. This is the ultimate test of your ability to build an ecosystem, one that provides food for wildlife, has an abundant insect life, and a healthy soil. With the growth in suburbia, there is great pressure on many species, and a garden lush with food and water is a special haven in the bleak lawn and paving deserts.

Fresh water is a must. This can vary between a birdbath, a pot tray, pond or whatever suits your yard. However, some shelter from cats is important, so having clear viewing around, and a tree or bush to fly into also helps. You should keep this filled and clean, and a hint is terracotta bird baths evaporate very quickly, so plastic can be useful. It is also best to have them in the shade, as the water will get very hot and evaporate fast in the Summer. I clean mine regularly with a dish brush, as they can grow algae quickly. It is also nice to have them near a window, so you can watch them undisturbed. If you have indoor cats, this also keeps them amused.

Food is the next step. Obviously different birds have different food sources, so you may like to concentrate on birds you have already seen in the area, or build up a variety to bring in other types. The basic food types are seeds, fruits, nectar and insects.

A selection of grevilleas, banksias, bottlebrushes, acacias, with seed bearing grasses, and a few thick groundcovers and some undisturbed leaf mulch will provide a range of foods. Non native plants also add to the variety, such as fruit trees, Chinese lantern bushes, red hot pokers and fuchsias. Many insects such as aphids and lerps are rich in sugars and provide an excellent food source, so leave the bugs there and don’t spray.

Specific birds I have seen include:

  • Wattlebirds in hairpin banksia and grevillea lavandulacea and many of the grevilleas. Wattlebirds feed their babies each year on the spiders they collect in my succulent filled hanging baskets.
  • New Holland honeyeaters in fuchsias and grevillea lavandulacea.
  • Bright Rosella parrots and lorikeets cavorting in red flowering gums, apple and pear trees, and eating seed bells.
  • Bronze wing doves eating grass seed.
  • Cockatoos eating the seeds of a Port Jackson pine.
  • Galahs eating a seed bell and fruit trees.
  • Willie wag tails like a dense groundcover and open grassy areas for small flying insects.
  • Blue wrens in large flowering acacias.
  • Small red and brown finches snapping at flies and eating grass seed heads from their perches in a large blackberry and an old lichen covered apple tree.
  • Silvereyes in fruit trees, particularly apple and peach trees.
  • Magpies and crows eating lawn grubs and earthworms.

Shelter is another issue, and this is providing a place to perch or escape from cats or other predators. A few dense or thorny leafed plants (out of the pathways) will help. The idea is to create a pathway around or through the garden (or neighbourhood) where plants provide shelter as a solid mass of foliage from the ground to about 3m, rather than isolated plants.

Nesting is the ultimate, and you can help things along by purchasing nest boxes (www.gardenexpress.com.au has some). Otherwise, providing long grasses (or bulb foliage as I discovered in one blackbird nest), letting cobwebs collect in spring, growing suitable plants (clematis, dryandra) and the like will provide nesting materials. Magpies and new Holland honeyeaters collect the coir fibres from hanging baskets as well. Spanish moss hanging in a tree was also collected as an expensive luxury nesting material.

Nesting places vary depending on the bird. Magpies and crows prefer tall gumtrees, parrots like the deep hollows in trees, and other places are dense trees such as banksias, and within thick vines such as happy wanderer or pandorea. Smaller birds tend to build nests in spikier shrubs.

One excellent book with much greater detail on the specific plants, making your own nest boxes and types of birds is ‘Birdscaping your Garden’ by George Martin Adams, 1980 Rigby Publishers. Another is ‘A Garden of Birds’ by Graham Pizzey, which has some excellent information on the effect of settlement and population growth on bird species. For general identification, the ‘Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds’ by Peter, Pat and Raoul Slater is packed with pictures and information.

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