The Inverawe Native Gardens at Margate hosted a gardening-for-birds workshop at the start of spring to reveal the secrets of success in luring birds to the backyard.
Over the years I have kept a close watch on both the garden’s growth and development and its growing checklist of birds spotted, which has now reached a remarkable 102 species for what used to be a patch of wasteland not more than a 20-minute drive from Hobart.
I once added a species myself – a grey teal out on the North West Bay fronting the gardens – but on my visit to attend the workshop on September 16 it was less a case of finding new birds but learning how they can be attracted to a suburban setting.
The nine-hectare gardens, which lie on land behind the Margate Train shopping and tourist attraction, were started in 2001 by Bill and Margaret Chestnut on what had been a neglected area of farmland overrun by weeds, and they have since been developed into a popular tourist attraction.
The Chestnuts have now planted more than 8500 Australian native shrubs and trees, 80 per cent of them found in Tasmania.
And the bird list includes all Tasmania’s 12 endemic species along with endangered ones like the swift parrot, grey goshawk and wedge-tailed eagle.
As Bill explained to the 20 or so keen gardeners attending the workshop, at Inverawe they wanted to encourage people to create gardens “that sit softly on our fragile landscapes”.
“The number and variety of birds that visit our 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.”
Bill said In creating a bird-friendly garden the first question to be asked was: what do birds need? Food and shelter were the main requirements.
Honeyeaters like the New Holland honeyeater needed nectar for energy and insects for protein and insectivores like superb blue-wrens required a supply of small insects. But, in trying to attract nectar feeders, there were dangers in planting too many nectar-rich plants like grevilleas, banksias and hakeas because these also attracted what Bill termed “bully birds” – like noisy miners – which would turn up and dominate the garden, scaring other species away.
“If you have bully birds it’s because the environment suits them,” he said. “Change that and the bully birds subside.”
A range of tree and shrub heights was also vitally important, creating levels of foliage to suit birds that had different foraging requirements, like feeding at ground level or in the canopy. At Inverawe Bill and Margaret were lucky to inherit eucalypts forming an intermittent canopy of up to 20 metres. 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.
Bill also advocated connectivity of gardens in a given area, a group of neighbours getting together to plant natives.
“If everyone did it, all the birds would come back to Hobart,” he said.