The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
Daphne Lane offers some ways of encouraging birds into the garden
Australia has over 700 species of native birds. Some of these can be attracted to your garden by providing just three things, food, water and shelter.
Food can be provided by growing suitable plants to provide either nectar, fruit or seeds. Flowering plants also attract insects which provide another food source. Some of the nectar-producing plants that will attract Honeyeaters, Spinebills and Wattlebirds etc. are the Callistemons, Melaleuca, Banksia as well as many Eucalyptus species. The Acacias and Eucalyptus and other species such as Ficus provide fruit as well as seeds. In contrast to a manicured lawn, which may appeal to humans, a thick layer of natural mulch will attract many birds looking for grubs and other insects. Generally, the wilder or more natural the environment, the greater bio-diversity of plants and animals. Supplementary sources of food should only be provided when other sources are scarce to avoid dependence and population explosions.
A permanent supply of water is essential to attract birds, both for drinking and bathing. The two most common sources of water in the garden are the pond and bird-bath. Bird-baths are quick and easy to erect but need to be regularly cleaned out and refilled. We have a traditional concrete bird-bath on a pedestal but the birds prefer one made from an old garbage tin lid attached upside-down to the top of a post. Pools or ponds require a lot more work to construct but will also attract frogs, lizards and other forms of wildlife as well as benefiting the surrounding plants by modifying the micro-climate.
Birds will be more likely to become permanent residents of your garden if they are provided with shelter to protect against predators as well as provide secure nesting sites. Prickly plants such as various Acacia, Grevillia and Hakea will provide a haven to many small birds including finches, wrens, pardalotes etc.
Older, mature trees, especially those that have died should, if not posing a safety hazard, be retained as the hollows they contain are favoured by many birds as nesting sites. Plants such as Melaleuca and Leptospermum and most types of grasses provide nesting materials. Nesting boxes may be useful but in our particular case were not. After constructing half a dozen of these and placing them high up in several Box Eucalypt we observed that they were used by Indian Mynas which raised several broods, so we removed them again. However a neighbour on ten acres who erected one reported that at least one brood of Eastern Rosellas had been successfully raised.
As birds are very efficient predators of insects, a regular stream of avian visitors will generally keep the number of insect pests to an acceptable level. Insects form part of the diet of all birds including members of the nectar feeing family, so it is important to allow a small residual population of insects to remain. In return the birds will provide effective pollination of most native flowering plants as well as a source of manure.
Pesticides and herbicides should not be used as they become more concentrated as they pass up the food chain, causing the depletion of many birds and possibly other forms of wildlife.
About the only down side of birds in the garden is their habit of helping themselves to your fruit just as its starting to ripen. Plastic hawks, noise-makers and bright reflective baubles are all supposed to keep birds at bay, but the only certain method is a bird net completely covering the tree. We are more or less resigned to sharing most of our crop of mulberries with the pair of Koels that visit us each October but were delighted with their company.
By far the most destructive are cats, both tame and feral. Our two cats are both de-sexed and are locked up at night to stop them straying and making a nuisance of themselves as well as giving the native animals a better chance of survival. The normal cat collar with bell is next to useless at warning off birds. We use a small dog collar for our cats, with a brass Indian bell. When younger and more active they also carried additional bells, spare keys, metal name tags etc as well as an old toothbrush which dragged along the ground causing the bells to ring, even if the wearer was trying to sneak up on prey. These extra adornments have been gradually removed over the years so these days its only very rarely that a bird gets caught. As for stray and feral cats, we are fortunate to have resident in the same street with a silenced .22 that has successfully cleaned up scores of marauding nocturnal feline prowlers. As well the neighbour over the back fence has a wire cage type trap that he occasionally sets at night.
This will definitely bring birds to your garden but has a number of drawbacks. If the bird population is fed consistently by artificial means they will become reliant upon it and possibly breed up in response. If the source of food is then cut off suddenly eg. due to a holiday, sale of house, sickness etc, then the birds will suffer. A second reason is that an easy source of artificial food will deter birds from following their traditional diet, causing nutritional deficiencies. So, food should be restricted during the warmer months when natural sources are readily available. If birds consistently return to your bird-feeder or hang for long periods and just look hungry, then you may deduce that there us very little food around and therefore it is probably okay to put feed out.
J22 Winter 98