BIRDS IN THE AUSTRALIAN GARDEN

Watching birds in the garden can be a real joy, whether viewed from a seat in the garden or looking out through a window.

How we plant our garden, including native plants that will provide food and shelter, and how we arrange our layout including bird baths, feeding boxes and the like, will determine whether we have a garden filled with birds or whether the birds will go elsewhere. There are two types of birds in Australia:

The native birds - there are hundreds of types. They feed on seeds, insects and other small animals. They include parrots, cockatoos, eagles, doves, finches, honeyeaters, kookaburras, blue wrens and magpies. In general, they complement the natural environment and are rarely destructive of the garden. They often have beneficial effects such as keeping a control on insect populations.

The introduced birds - there are only a dozen or so bird species that have become naturalised in Australia since European settlement. Charming as they may be, they ought not to be encouraged at the expense of our unique native birds in many areas. These include starlings, sparrows and Indian mynahs.

The introduced birds have been responsible for spreading weeds and, in some cases, turning native species into weeds by carrying their seeds into areas where they did not originally grow wild. For example, Pittosporum undulatum originally only grew in east Gippsland. It has been spread by non-native birds to central Victoria, where it is now competing strongly with natural vegetation in some areas.

How Native Plants Benefit Birds
 By providing protection from predators - such as cats, for example. Dense scrub such as a clump of paperbark or tea tree will provide cover for birds. Trees provide places where birds can perch out of reach of predators. Rotten cavities in trees can provide nesting places and should not be removed if possible.

 By providing an environment where food sources can grow - insects, slugs and other animals grow on plants. Some types of insects thrive in flowers. Dead foliage dropped from plants provides mulch on the ground where earthworms and other small animals grow.

 By providing nesting materials - twigs and laves collected by birds are used for nests. By providing protection from extremes of the weather, such as on hot days.

Other Things Birds Look For
Birds need water. A garden pond, a stream or even just a dish of water will attract birds. They also like a safe environment and bird boxes provide them with a place to escape predators. Birds will also be more inclined to visit a garden which is free of cats, or other predators. If you have a cat, have it de-sexed and put a bell around its neck. Cats are best kept indoors if you don’t want them killing native wildlife.

Birdbaths and feeding tables should be at least one metre above the ground in an open position where cats can’t creep up on them. Birds are also more inclined to visit a garden which is relatively quiet. Noisy children, barking dogs or loud music will scare some birds away.

Feeding
Using bird feeders or putting out feed such as nectar substitute or seed will certainly attract birds. Bread is not recommended. It tends to attract imported birds more than native birds; bread is also a low energy food and is not good for the health of the bird. Overfeeding with bread can produce dependant unhealthy birds which will fall prey to cats far more easily than a healthy bird will. Honey should not be used either.

Native bird seed mixes sold in pet shops may still attract non-native birds, but it will be more inclined to attract native birds. Wildlife groups such as the Gould League, the Bird Observers Club and zoos often provide recommendations on what can and should be fed to birds.

Bird Attracting Plants
By planting bird attracting plants near the kitchen window, beside a patio area or next to the washing line, you can bring birds to the parts of your garden which you are most often looking at.

Nectar feeding birds such as Honeyeaters, Wattle birds and Spinebills are attracted to Anigozanthos, Eremophila, Epacris, Hakea, Grevilleas (mainly red and pink flowering varieties), Banksias, Correas, Cllistemons, Calothamnus, Telopea and large flowering eucalypts such as E. caesia, E. leucoxylon and E. sideroxylon.

Berries, fruit and seed eating birds such as parrots are attracted to Acacia, Eucalyptus, Pittosporum, Eugenia, Syzygium and Ficus.

Plants which provide protection for nesting, perching and so on are Leptospermum, Grevillea rosmarinifolia, Hakeas, Acacia paradoxa, A. farnesiana, Bursaria spinosa, Clematis, Pandorea.

Plants which harbour insects and attract insect-eating birds are Eriostmon, Dodonaea, Grevilleas, Leptospermum, Melaleuca, Eucalyptus, Kunzea, Xanthorrhoea, Xanthostermon chrysanthus, Alphitonia, Commersonia and Tussock grasses.
 

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