The sounds and movements of birds really bring a garden to life. Their search for food, their mating behaviour, their squabbles over territory, or nest building can provide many enjoyable hours for the keen observer. With careful selection of plant varieties, and their placement within your garden, you can have a major impact on the numbers and types of birds that will visit and take up residence in your garden.
DESIGNING A BIRD HABITAT
If you want a lot of different birds in a garden, you will need to create lots of different areas. Some birds will be attracted to the canopies of tall trees and are not likely to visit gardens with only low shrubs or lawn. Others are attracted to open spaces, and some to water. If your garden is relatively small you may only have the space for one type of area and will need to focus on attracting one type of bird.
Try to design the garden to keep the birds within view but away from where you are sitting, eating or swimming. Some common problems are birds making a mess on paving, dropping faeces on the washing and pulling flowers or fruit apart.
The garden design should include the following:
Water: a garden pond, a stream or even just a dish of water will attract many birds.
Food from as many types of bird-attractive plants as possible. Wood chip mulch, which harbours insects and lizards, can also be an important source of food.
Safe nesting sites in shrubs and trees. Bird boxes may also encourage some birds to take up residence.
A quiet environment: noisy children, barking dogs, machinery or loud music will scare many birds away.
Don’t use chemicals in the garden. Not only can they directly poison the birds, they can deprive them of their food source by eliminating the insects they feed on.
BIRDS AND CATS
Birds will be more inclined to visit a garden that is free of cats (and other predators). If you have a cat, have it desexed and put a bell round its neck. Most importantly, lock your cat inside during the night. Birdbaths and feeding tables should be in open position at least one metre above the ground.
Of the hundreds of types of natives birds, the most common types seen in gardens include parrots and cockatoos, natives doves, finches, honeyeaters, kookaburras, blue wrens and magpies. They are rarely destructive of the garden, and usually have beneficial effects, such as keeping a control on insect populations. Notable exceptions include some parrots (eg. Cockatoos) that may damage woodwork and plants, and magpies that may dive-bomb both humans and other animals during spring. For many people though, these characteristics enhance the pleasures of having native birds in the garden.
There are a dozen or so different birds that often compete with native birds for food, roosting and nesting sites. These birds include starlings, sparrows, turtledoves, blackbirds and Indian mynahs. These imported birds have also been responsible for spreading many weeds, and wherever possible should not be encouraged in the garden.
HOW PLANTS BENEFIT BIRDS
Prickly plants provide protection from predators such as cats.
Trees and shrubs provide perches and nesting sites. Rotten cavities in trees are important nesting sites for parrots and should not be removed if possible.
Plants are an essential source of food, including seeds, berries and nectar.
They also provide habitat for insects and small animals such as frogs, lizards, snakes and slugs, which are important in the diet of many birds.
Twigs, leaves and grass are collected and used for nests.
Plants provide shelter from extremes of the weather (eg. shade).
PLANTS THAT ATTRACT BIRDS
By planting bird-attracting plants near the kitchen window, beside a patio area or near the washing line you can bring birds to the parts of your garden that you look at most often. Many non-native plants can also be attractive to native birds, for example some honeyeaters are attracted to camellia flowers, while some parrots love cotoneaster berries.
Nectar-feeding birds (eg. Honeyeaters, Wattlebirds, Spinebills) are attracted to the following plants:
Anigozanthos, Eremophila, Epacris, Hakea, Grevilleas (mainly red and pink flowering varieties), Banksias, Correas, Callistemons, Calothamnus, Doryanthes , Telopea and large-flowering eucalypts (eg. E. caesia, E. leucoxylon and E. sideroxylon).
Camellias, Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise Flower)
Berry, fruit and seed eating birds (eg. Parrots) are attracted to plants, such as:
Acacia, Eucalyptus, Pittosporum, Eugenia, Syzygium and Ficus.
Sunflowers, Cotoneasters, Almonds
Plants which provide protection for nesting, perching etc:
Leptospermum, Grevillea rosmarinifolia, Hakeas, Acacia paradoxa, A. farnesiana, Bursaria spinosa, Clematis, Pandorea.
Ash trees, Oak trees, Prunus, Fruit trees, Citrus
Plants which harbour insects and attract insect eating birds:
Eriostemon, Dodonaea, Grevilleas, Leptospermum, Melaleuca, Eucalyptus, Kunzea, Xanthorrhoea, Xanthostemon chrysanthus, Alphitonia, Commersonia, Tussock grasses.
Using bird feeders, or putting out feed such as nectar substitute or seed will certainly attract birds. (Bread and honey are not recommended, as they tend to attract imported rather than native birds. They also cause dietary problems for some species.) Native birdseed mixes sold in pet shops may still attract non-native birds, but to a lesser extent. It is important that you put out feed at regular intervals. Feeders can be located to attract birds to places where they can easily be seen.