Birds are our window on the great world of nature. Birds are constantly about us, their songs brighten our day. Although birds are always in sight, always obvious, it is possible to bring their wonder and mystery even closer by creating a bird garden. With a little planning, and a little study into the right type of trees, shrubs and flowers to plant, we can not only cater for the birds that we commonly see and hear, but bring other species into our lives.
We just have to understand their world.
It might look like birds flit aimlessly across the landscape but they actually travel from one safe haven to another. In city and suburb these safe havens are the parks and gardens which are rich in vegetation.
The patches of greenery can be described as oases, islands of grass, trees and flowers amid concrete and glass.
When thinking of creating gardens for birds we must ask the simple question of what birds need. Basically, food and shelter are the main requirements. Along with water.
Birds fall into three main categories in relation to gardens. There are nectivores, which feed on pollen and nectar, of course; frugivores which feed on fruit; and seed-eaters. The bird garden ideally should cater for each group.
In designing bird gardens, a range of tree and shrub heights are vitally important, creating levels of foliage to suit birds which have different foraging requirements, ranging from those that feed at ground level to those at home in the canopy.
A good example of how to plan and plant a bird garden can be found at the Inverawe Native Gardens at Margate where the owners, Bill and Margaret Chestnut, were lucky to inherit eucalypts forming an intermittent canopy of up to 20 metres when they bought the property. Below this an under-storey was planted containing melaleucas, acacias, callistemon, leptospermum and others. There was also a lower cover of such plants as westringias, philothecas, grevilleas and correas. These gave shelter to ground-feeding birds like the fairy-wrens and robins.
The honeyeaters, including the very common New Holland honeyeater, need nectar for energy and insects for protein but, in trying to attract nectar feeders, there are dangers in planting too many nectar-rich plants like grevilleas, banksias and hakeas because these also attract what Bill Chestnut terms “bully birds” – like wattlebirds and noisy miners – which can dominate the garden, scaring other species away.
It is not just plants that can be dominated, but supplies of water. The waterbath can be monopolised by bigger, more aggressive species, so it is worthwhile having more than one water source, perhaps a shallower bowl for the smaller species.
The aim of those gardeners who love birds is to create gardens that sit softly on our fragile landscapes.
The number and variety of birds that visit the garden are a measure of our success in doing that. It’s their home too; as peak species we need to make decisions that are in the best interests of all.