Without a doubt, the addition of animal life to the garden is a welcome sight for all age groups. One group of living creatures that are always welcomed, no matter the time of year, are birds.
We are blessed to have a rich assortment of birdlife in this country that have the opportunity to visit our gardens. However with constant development of new homes, and smaller outdoor areas it is becoming increasingly more of a battle to keep birdlife in and around our suburbs as they move in search of better options to feed and breed.
Regardless of the rich diversity of birdlife, only very few have managed to adjust and assimilate to life in the big cities. By taking a closer look at ways of encouraging birdlife back into our gardens, greater opportunities would benefit us all.
Not all birds travel at the same level. Some are high flyers, others take a more average route within the garden at head height, yet some are secretive and prefer to be low foragers or even down at ground level. By understanding that different species will interact in our gardens in different ways you can then begin to search for plant species to easily accommodate their needs.
Planting one or two nice trees such as Eucalypt (if space permits) or Native Frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum) or many of the Lillypilly species (Syzygium sp) will allow high perching options for the likes of Parrots, Kookaburras, Tawny Frog Mouths and some migrating birds. From a high vantage point they often feel safe and can observe their surroundings with ease and quickly spot predator or aggressive species or sometimes in the case of the Tawny Frog Mouths or Owls, a tasty food option. Some species such as the Olive Backed Oriole prefer to make their nests on the end of overhanging branches in tall trees and are shy birds to observe. They also tend to prefer nesting in sites where small berries are abundant in nearby parks or homes as berries make up a large percentage of their diet.
Medium Size Shrubs
Graduating plantings in height is the key when it comes to attracting the widest array of birdlife. Scaling things down a little to five metres and under you could consider planting the likes of Little Evodiella (Melicope rubra) (syn: Evodiella meulleri) or Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora). Both are highly loved by many birds and are seen as ‘safe havens’ with their dense canopy where smaller birds can duck for cover if danger approaches or to escape annoying species such as the Noisy Miner in their large family groups. These species of smaller trees are wonderful for attracting the likes of medium to small sized birds into the garden where dense foliage is a welcomed option on hot summer days.
Stepping down even further, planting the likes of any of the many forms of Coastal Rosemary (Westringea sp), Philotheca, Native Fuchsia (Correa sp) (cooler climates) or dwarf Grevillea cultivars such as ‘Peaches and Cream’, ‘Ned Kelly’ or ‘Coconut Ice’ is wonderful for encouraging many members of the Honeyeater family as they relish the sweet nectar. Many members of the myrtaceae family such as Bottlebrush (Callistemon sp) and smaller Paperbark (melaleuca sp) or Tea tree (Leptospermum sp) are equally enjoyed by many smaller birds such as Finches, small Parrots and Wrens.
The many species of Finches and Wrens such as Blue Wrens, Silver Eyes, Grey Fantails, Double Bar Finch or Zebra Finches are true ‘workers’ in the garden as they scour for the many insects that live on plants as they successfully reduce common garden pests such as mealy bug, aphids, caterpillars and scale insects.
These smaller birds usually stay low to the ground and they flit from plant to plant in search of a tasty morsel. Along with the smaller flowering shrubs, it is vitally important that the likes of garden worthy grass species are stitched in amongst the shrubbery. Species such as Kangaroo grass (Themeda sp), Tussock grass (Poa labillardierei), Fountain grass (Pennisetum sp) and the many varied species of Matt Rush (Lomandra sp) should be planted in and around the centre of gardens or around ponds where they can grow to not only provide a soft and gentle appearance to the landscape, but can often provide important nesting opportunities and hiding places for small birds such as finches and provide a nutritious food source over the winter period in the form of seed or insect life. Even the likes of the much loved Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea sp) with their incredible architectural presence are highly favoured by many smaller birds that argue to take their place on the tall vertical flower spikes that occur between spring and late summer.
Other clumping or ‘lily’ type flowers highly favoured by birds are the dramatic Spear-lily (Doryanthes excelsa and D. Palmeri) with their eye-catching scarlet headed flower spikes to nearly four metres in height, and the many varied forms of Flax Lily (Dianella sp) that enjoy growing as thickets under tall trees and look perfect when contrasted with bold foliaged plants and produce small (edible) purple berries.
Ground cover plants such as Grevillea ‘Poorinda Royal mantle’, Fan Flower (Scaevola sp), Running Postman Vine (Kennedia prostrata) (cooler, drier climes) or the colourful Yellow Buttons (Chrysocephalum apiculatum, formerly Helichrysum apiculatum) will not only help to control weeds, but will attract many insect species that small birds love to feed on.
Until now I’ve not made mention that birds are true opportunists and although the plants mentioned are all one hundred percent native species, don’t feel discouraged if you have a garden based on exotic species of plants. Birds of all species and groups will soon recognise that if any plant can provide a food source in the way of nectar-filled flowers or an abundance of insects, a safe place to nest without threat or simply rest, then they will be quick to utilize them.
Feeding the birds
The feeding of wild birds with seed, kitchen scraps or seed blocks seems to be a topic of debate with many people. For example I know a few people who take great enjoyment from feeding small meaty morsels to the likes of Kookaburras and Butcher birds and although they may seem on the outset to be harmless, it can reduce the natural balance that would otherwise occur. Too many of the larger birds (constantly) in your garden will reduce the numbers of smaller “helpful” birds that you may wish to attract. Yet constantly ensuring that bird feeders are regularly filled with seeds (however delightful it is to witness) will only make those species who visit, reliant on the human intervention aspect and not fully utilise what your garden has to offer in the way of natural food sources. Finding the right balance is key. Seeds in bird feeders should only be placed on an average of once a fortnight in the summer and maybe only once a week during winter when natural food sources are scarce and should only be seen as a supplement to their natural diet and not a main form of nutrition.
Splash splash! Water baths for birds.
Of course, it’s not only about food; water plays just as important a role in attracting birds. On hot summer days it is vital that bird baths are regularly topped up with a fresh source of water for birds to not only drink, but to bath. It’s always a delight to observe birds taking a dip on hot days and believe me when I say; word gets around very quickly in the bird world!
Remember to place your bird bath in a quite corner of the garden where there is not too much foot traffic from humans or pets as they will quickly regard this as being unsafe.
No matter the species that visit, birds of all kinds bring so much joy and happiness to any sized garden and their presence is something we should all feel privileged to have and observe if only for a short time. Ensuring your garden spaces are a welcoming and safe haven for them is something we not only do for our private enjoyment, but to uphold and strengthen our natural ecologies and teaches the love and respect of nature to the next generation of gardeners, our children.