BIRDS BIRDS BIRDS!
I gave a talk at the inaugural Australasian Bird Fair in late October, so I’m inspired to devote this newsletter to our native feathered friends, who have such a valuable role to play in our gardens. A landscape full of the most beautiful plants will be even more so with the addition of visiting wildlife. Australian birds come in a delightful variety, from tiny exquisite finches to the boofier larger birds to towering emus and cassowaries. There are a number that seem to embody the Aussie larrikin humour too- just think of galahs swinging upside down on telephone wires, willy wagtails hopping just out of reach of a frustrated cat with a cheeky chirp, an emu with a beady eye on your sandwich, young currawongs rolling around on the grass with each other!
Birds are handy as part of your pest control, eating insects and some tackling troublesome rodents. Nocturnal meat eaters like tawny frogmouths will eat slugs and snails as well as mice, and insect eaters can demolish thousands of evil sap suckers.
In keeping with my theme of extreme gardening, Australia’s powerful owl is one bird to have on your side. For a bit of rampaging and out there pest control, they will not only chow down on mice, but will also tackle large rats and those garden scourges, possums and rabbits! Find out more about the powerful owl at the Birds in Backyards site. They have a handy bird finder ID page too, which acts a bit like my plant finder tool.
Birds also play an important part in pollination, ensuring healthy native bushland survival, as well as dispersing seed. Though seed dispersal can sometimes include weedy plants, so it pays to think of this when planning your garden if you live near areas of natural bush.
So, let’s help our native birds- give a thought to designing our landscapes for them as well as us.
NATIVE PLANTS – Finding the best plants for the birds
Plants serve as a bird’s home and as part of their territory, as well as providing food. In choosing plants for enhancing bird life, look into these aspects-
SHELTER AND NESTING SPACES
Birds need to be comfortable and to have safety in order for them to live well and to breed new generations of young ones. Predatory animals and birds can wreak havoc on bird numbers. We can intervene- by keeping control of cats and dogs in their space, and by providing a safe haven from predators. This will often depend on the type of bird in your area. Small birds need shrubs and low growing trees with dense and/or prickly foliage which can deter attacks and to provide nesting spots.
Larger birds will be more comfortable with trees that give them a view onto their territory, but these alone are likely to lead to fewer or no small birds, so groupings of smaller shrubs are a good idea. Layers of plants will help fledglings- a lone plant doesn’t provide good flying practice. But don’t feel limited if you only have a small area to work with, as birds can be remarkably resourceful. Potted plants and hanging baskets have all been used by birds for nesting. Have a look at how your garden connects with other plantings in your area too, as one garden won’t be enough to supply all of a bird’s needs.
FOOD PLANTS FOR BIRDS
There is a range of ways that birds will use plants for food, depending on the species. Insects that feed on plants are one source of nourishment, and birds can be a useful tool in keeping harmful insects under control. Market gardeners and farmers who want to keep insecticides to a minimum will encourage the local bird life. Plants like wattles provide food for seed eating birds. Shrubs such as lilly pilly have larger fleshy seeds that birds love, and new varieties come in great foliage colours with red, pink, lime and orange new growth, making them a great native hedging choice. The dense growth can provide great cover for birds. Native grasses are still maintaining their popularity for landscaping, and seeding grasses, both native and exotic, are brilliant food for little birds. Nectar bearing plants often are the most flamboyant natives, and are easy choices for the garden for their great floral displays.
Grevilleas, flowering gums, bottle brush, kangaroo paws and banksias are popular choices and are much loved by larger honeyeaters, but be sure to include some of the more petite nectar bearers like Correas and the smaller grevilleas too for the small honeyeating birds. One more addition to the garden that will be a great bird drawcard is a source of clean water. A bird bath for drinking and bathing can be a simple bowl or more decorative affair, but it is essential that it be protected from cats and dogs, and that it is cleaned from time to time.
Have a look at my advanced search page, and go to the ‘Attracts Wildlife’ box to find a range of plants for birds.
Some of the plants in my own range of ‘Gardening With Angus’ plants are great bird attracters. The newly released Anigozanthos Landscape Yellow, Anigozanthos Landscape Orange and Landscape Lilac- as the name indicates, are excellent landscaping kangaroo paws- tall and tough, and a great source of nectar. Birds love perching on the flower stems for a feed!
Callistemon Perth Pink and Callistemon Horse Paddock are great for hedging and screening. The abundant bright bottlebrushes are wonderful nectar producing flowers and the plants will provide great cover for smaller birds. They both have beautiful new foliage growth too, in shades of pink.
Themeda triandra ‘Quokka’, a dwarf form of kangaroo grass, is a great low growing native grass and the seed heads can provide food for seed eaters, as well as being wonderfully decorative.
Ask for these plants at your favourite nursery. There are some great specialist native nurseries around-
NSW Central Coast has The Wildflower Place
Sydney has Sydney Wildflower Nursery, and they also do mail order!
Canberra has Cool Country Natives
Queensland has Nielsen’s Native Nursery
Melbourne has Austplant Native nursery on the Mornington Peninsula
Perth has Zanthorrea Nursery
I have been busy writing my new book, which will be about creating your own Australian garden, and it will include plenty of information about new release native plants. This month I’ll also be touring Tasmania with my good friend Tino Carnivale, taking a group to some of the lovely gardens and wild places of our island state. I love gardening tours- so inspiring.