When designing our gardens we usually think of the colours, flowers, foliage and forms that are attractive to us, but why not consider what to plant for the birds too, as having birds in our gardens adds another dimension of enjoyment and pleasure to our whole garden experience. Apart from their delightful presence, they can also help keep pests under control, as well as aid pollination and distribution of many native plant species. This can be done by ensuring that your garden includes plants for food and shelter, and also adding a water source. Plan your garden to have a variety of bird attracting plants which are either rich in nectar, or that produce fruits and seeds, or plants which attract insects for birds to feed on.
Native birds can be grouped according to their diet, ie: the nectar lovers and honey-eaters, the seed eaters and the insect-eaters. Nectar feeding birds love blossoming natives, from Banksias, Native Fuchsias (Correa species), Emu Bushes (Eremophila species), Grevilleas and Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthus species). Many of these have narrow, tubular flowers, a favourite food source for honeyeaters and spinebills which also act as pollinators for the plants. Many larger native birds such as rosellas, parrots and pigeons like to eat on the fruit and seeds of plants such as Bottlebrushes (Callistemon species), Hakeas and Wattles (Acacia species). The seeds of native grasses such as Wallaby Grass (Austodanthonia species) and Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) are the favourite food of firetails and finches. Small birds such as Wrens, Thornbills and Fantails feed on insects and are great for keeping common garden pests such as aphids and small caterpillars under control.
There are also a number of exotic plants which birds love to feed off however be aware that of any of these are have weed potential and fleshy fruit, the birds eating the seeds and passing them on as they travel around is often how weeds spread from place to place.
Although it might seem a nice thing to do, feeding birds with birdseed or bread is actually harmful. Feeding often encourages exotic and large birds which are often more aggressive and drive away the smaller birds and the variety of birdlife. It can also upset their balanced diet and create a level of dependency that could result in the birds starving if you go on holiday or move. It also often favours more aggressive birds, which will in turn scare other birds from your backyard.
Habitat and Shelter
Creating a garden with a wide diversity of plants creating different layers of vegetation is beneficial as different types of birds prefer to live, shelter and feed in different strata, so consider a decent mix of ground covers, grasses, shrubs of varying sizes, and a couple of locally native tree species if space permits. Smaller birds such as wrens and robins nest in lower and middle story plants and prefer dense prickly plants as they provide protecting from predators. Suitable varieties include spiky leaf forms of Grevillea, Hakeas, Melaleucas and Wattles (Acacia species). Bear this in mind when removing weeds such as blackberries, for as bad as they are, they may be providing valuable nesting areas for these small birds. Before removing these weeds, be sure to replace this habitat with suitable native species.
A water source is also useful as birds need water to drink and bathe. If you install a birdbath, be sure to keep it filled with fresh water and place is away from house windows and out of the reach of domestic pets.
While seeming unrelated, using chemical sprays on insect pests has the potential to harm the birds we are trying to attract, so think carefully when you are about to spray for something, decide if it is necessary and choose something organic which is not likely to end up I n the food chain of our feathered friends, or us for that matter.
Tell us, do you have birds visiting your garden? What types?