Birds in the garden

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Rainbow Lorikeet; photo: Mick Roderick, BirdLife Australia

This week is National Bird Week, so it is a good time to think about birds in our gardens. I can't imagine not having birds around; they provide a delightful soundtrack with their songs and chatter; bring life, movement and colour into our backyards; and are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem, keeping all sorts of undesirable insects under control. But apart from what birds do for us, we can also think of what we can do for birds! With ever-increasing development in our city, birds are losing their habitat, food and water. In our own modest way, we gardeners have the resources to help birds survive and thrive. I think we are all probably aware that the bird populations in our Sydney gardens have changed markedly over the last few decades. For example, I no longer have any small birds such as wrens or eastern spinebills in my garden; they are all bigger birds these days!

Birdbath in the garden of Jill Hankinson, Sydney

There are various steps we can take to attract birds to our gardens. One vital requirement is to offer a source of water for them to bath in and drink. Ideally, a birdbath should be shallow enough so a bird can stand in it to clean its feathers. A brick could be placed in the base of the birdbath for birds to stand on if it is deep. A birdbath should be located near to a dense (preferably prickly!) shrub so that birds can quickly escape to safety if threatened. Birdbaths on a stand or hanging in a tree can provide more security for birds. The water in the birdbath needs to be changed regularly and the birdbath cleaned every so often. Providing birds with a couple of sources of water in the garden is ideal.

Laughing Kookaburra; photo: Mick Roderick, BirdLife Australia

Generally speaking, it is not advisable to feed birds. Though it can be so tempting (and I am guilty of this myself!) to toss a bit of meat to a kookaburra or throw some seed mix around to bring birds into your garden, it can make birds dependent on your handouts and can encourage more aggressive birds to arrive, disrupting the natural ecological balance. However, we can plant specimens in our gardens that can attract birds in a more desirable way, and the key to success is a diversity of flora that covers different layers of vegetation at varying heights. Providing plants for nectar, seeds, fruit, insects, nesting material, shelter and/or nesting sites will help encourage birds to visit and even live for a while in our gardens!

Little Wattlebird; photo: Mick Roderick, BirdLife Australia

Native plants are ideal for this purpose, some examples being grasses such as Poa labillardieri and strappy-leaved Lomandra species; groundcovers including Hibbertia sericea and low-growing Grevillea species; taller shrubby Grevillea, Banksia and Callistemon; and trees such as Acacia and Melaleuca. Having plants that flower at different times of the year is beneficial, so as to offer food continuously. Low, dense shrubs provide the best shelter for smaller birds. However, many exotic plants are also frequented by birds, so a wide variety of specimens is likely to work. The eastern spinebills that once visited my garden, for example, loved my Salvia plants!

Grey Butcherbird; photo: Mick Roderick, BirdLife Australia

Avoiding the use of harmful chemicals in the garden is an important point to remember if you hope to attract birds to your garden, as it destroys the very ecological balance that we hope to create by bringing birds into our backyards! The less we spray of these nasty products, the more likely it is that birds will visit our gardens and dispatch the caterpillars and other annoying insects that infest our plants.

During National Bird Week, BirdLife Australia, the country's largest bird conservation charity, which aims to stop extinctions of Australia's birds, is running the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, which everyone is invited to be involved with by simply counting birds for 20 minutes during the coming week 21 to 27 October 2019 and submitting the data. The observation point can be in your own garden, in a local park, at the beach or even in the middle of a city! This will provide invaluable information about biodiversity trends in bird communities at the present time, and give people the chance to connect with their natural environment and the amazing birds that live in it. BirdLife provides a handy app to help identify birds. All the information about the bird count can be found here.

Plant of the week
Flowers in January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.
See everything that's out this month »

My previous blogs at this time of year:
17 Oct
23 Oct
21 Oct
19 Oct
23 Oct
29 Oct
21 Oct

Reader Comments

  • By Suzanne - 2073 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 21 October 2019

    We love watching the native birds in our garden. Yesterday we had a pair of crested pigeons which have returned after some time. Find the noisy minors annoying as they appear to gang up and chase the other birds away, they even chase the brush turkeys! Thanks, Suzanne. I agree the noisy miners seem to be everywhere and very bold. We also have gangs of brush turkeys! Deirdre

  • By Paula - 4209 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 21 October 2019

    Would your Salvia Amistad also be known as Blue Black Salvia? If they are one in the same then yes, despite the beautiful flowers, it does sucker in my Gold Coast garden. I pulled it out last year to plant Dahlias and this year I am still taking out suckers. As it is trying so hard I will pop it in a pot. Love the birds. I think you Blue Black is a different one - Amistad is quite purple. But as noted in Pamela"s comment (below) Amistad also suckers a bit. I just keep a close eye on it and remove excess suckers. It is such a gorgeous plant! The suckers on my plants tend to be fairly close to the main specimen - they don"t come up a long way away (so far, anyway!). Deirdre

  • By Patricia - 2100 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 21 October 2019

    Birds, the only twitterers worth following! 100% agree! Deirdre

  • By Janet - 2322 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 21 October 2019

    The grey butcher bird comes into my garden everyday especially for my Amistad Salvia and i love to watch the precarious antic"s they get up to just trying to reach the flowers. When the sun catches the Amistad Salvia it is a very deep purple color and so beautiful. I too love this plant. I do keep an eye on the suckers though! Deirdre

  • By Pamela - 2158 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 22 October 2019

    I simply cant imagine my garden without the birds, whip birds, parrots of every colour, water birds and the gorgeous kookaburras delight me every day.I discovered a Bower bird nest a few months ago (thought my neighbour was tipping his rubbish over our fence at first) fascinating to watch these OCD birds tidy their territory. I have Salvia Amistad all over my garden and it definitely suckers so Im constantly ripping pieces out which is fairly easy but I love it and the birds adore it. What a lovely collection of birds you have! Agree re Amistad - I have to have it and keep an eye on the suckers. Hope the weekend open garden event went well! Superb weather for it. Deirdre

  • By Anhtuan - 4207 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 29 October 2019

    Hi Deirdre. I have been looking for a plant then, I found your website. I immediately love it, the way that you love gardening and the benefit is not directly from the capital but admiration for beautiful creation from gardening. Thank you for your admission. I am not speaking English born, sorry for my poor English. Thanks so much for your feedback. Deirdre

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