Native birds are some of the most striking and beautiful animals to have around your property. While some of our native species only make their homes in pristine wilderness, many can be coaxed into suburbia with the right sort of gardening. Enticing a wide range of birds to take up residence in your garden may at first seem daunting, but it can be achieved with just three simple add-ons.
1. Bathing spots
In natural habitats, as in urban spaces, reliable water sources are crucial for birds. Not only do they use these sources to stay hydrated, but also to clean their feathers and remove ectoparasites. Installing some water sources around your garden is one of the easiest ways to bring in birds, though some thought must be put into the placement.
The most common bird baths stand atop a pedestal and are great for larger birds which feed and perch in the open, such as parrots, magpies and native doves. A raised bird bath can be placed almost anywhere in the garden, though make sure there is a wide flight path surrounding so larger birds can easily access it.
Small, shy birds like wrens and spinebills often prefer wide, shallow dishes placed on the ground under bushes and shrubs. This allows these more wary species to drink and bathe without fear of predators.
Once you’ve installed some bird baths around the garden, you’ll need to maintain them. Simply drain and refill your bird baths once a week to keep the water clean and to prevent mosquitoes breeding in them. During the warmer months, you’ll also need to keep them topped up so your birds can always find a drink in the hot weather.
While bird baths can encourage bird to visit your garden, providing lodgings for them will encourage them to take up permanent residence in your yard! Unsurprisingly, the shear diversity of Australian birds means that they utilise an equally diverse range of nesting sites. However, the nesting habits of our native birds can broadly be broken down into two major groups: hollow-nesting, or free-nesting.
Sadly, many hollow-bearing trees have now been lost in suburbia, but this can be remedied by installing some nest boxes. These mimic hollows and provide a space for birds to roost and rear their young. There is a vast array of nest boxes tailored to a wide variety of birds and the more types you install, the greater your bird diversity will be. From tiny boxes designed for the miniscule pardalote, to medium boxes for parrots and kookaburras, and large boxes for owls, there are plenty to choose from! The ideal height at which a nest boxes should be installed can vary according to whichever species it is designed for, so make sure to check with your supplier when you buy it. Or, for another fun project, try building your own.
Free-nesting birds like finches and honeyeaters will build nests instead of using hollows. The easiest way to bring them into your garden is to plant dense indigenous shrubs and bushes for them to build sheltered nests in, protected from predators. You could even put in an indigenous hedge. Some ideal plants to use are Prickly Moses (Acacia verticillata), Bushy Needlewood (Hakea decurrens) and Tree Violet (Melicytus dentatus), though if these are not indigenous to your area, choose some local plants which will produce dense branches and foliage for birds to nest in. Remember, though, that cats will kill nesting birds, so always keep your cats indoors!
3. Food sources
Finally, you should provide some food! While the practice of directly feeding native birds is still controversial, providing food plants and foraging habitat is not. For insectivorous birds which like to scratch in the soil, you should cultivate a rich layer of leaflitter in your garden. This can be achieved through the practice of ecological composting. For fruit-eating birds, a great group of plants are the saltbushes! These low-growing shrubs are incredibly drought-tolerant and will produce lots of little red berries for hungry birds! Some great saltbush genera to consider planting are Chenopodium, Altriplex, Enchylaena. Although, as is the case whenever you are adding to your wildlife garden, choose indigenous varieties which are suited to your soils, climate and birds. To feed honeyeaters and other flower-feeding birds, two great plant genera to use are the iconic Banksia and Callistemon. Nut-eating birds like parrots will also go for Banksia and Callistemon, but planting some local bulloak and sheoak (Casuarina and Allocasuarina) species will give them some extra food!
Birds are gorgeous, entertaining to watch and, very often, the gateway to a future of fanatical wildlife gardening. They’re also some of the easiest native species to invite into your garden and you now know the three add-ons to bring them in. So, this weekend, why not head into the garden and make it a little more bird-friendly? You’ll be amazed how quickly you get results!
Banner image is of a Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis) and is courtesy of Catherine Cavallo.