🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Attracting birds to your garden

Black-headed Oriole enjoying an orange at one of my feeders

We all love to hear the sound of birds in the garden and the sight  of butterflies, but few of us design a garden that attracts them. The good news is that you don't have to dig out all your roses or  other exotic plants in favour of indigenous plants. Just ensure that at least  a portion of the garden contains plants and other facilities to encourage  urban "wildlife" into the garden.

Establishing a mini sanctuary in your back-garden will attract a plethora of birdlife for your viewing pleasure and is a relatively simple task. The task comprises of supplying the birds with three basic requirements for survival: food, water and cover.

Birds will visit your garden if there’s plenty of food available, so the first thing to do is get your seed and peanut feeders up and running. Then you need to work on providing natural food, cover and even nesting sites.

Suet feeder - a fatty snack loved by most birds

The best feeding programme for birds is to plant shrubs and trees which offer nature's menu. Aloes, watsonias, lion’s ear (Leonotis spp.), red-hot pokers ( spp.) and wachendorfias will attract nectar feeding birds such as the sunbird. Seed eating birds are attracted to the seed heads of grasses and grains.  Plant patches of mixed bird seed and you'll be fascinated to see the response from local birds.

The key thing is to ensure that you meet the needs of your birds all year round, and that you accommodate the changing requirements of both residents and seasonal visitors. While planting bushes with berries is good for thrushes in the autumn, they will soon strip the crop. So think laterally – if you live near a wholesale fruit market, buy trays of substandard apples for them to feed on when the berries have gone. Fat blocks are important in the winter and will attract flocks of starlings.

To birds, the typical suburban landscape resembles an inhospitable and hostile place with cropped lawns, sheared foundation shrubs, and deadheaded flowers mean no place to nest, no food to eat, and nowhere to hide. To produce a landscape that supplies birds with a year-round food supply, you need to plant an assortment of plant species that provide food throughout the year, such as seeds, berries, nuts. Plant an abundance of grasses and consider letting your garden go to seed rather than dead-heading flowers and removing spent plants. Indigenous plants are ideal choices as they are familiar and accepted as food sources, shelter, and nest sites by the indigenous birdlife.

Established trees will naturally provide a source of shelter and roosting spots for many birds and a garden which is well planted with indigenous trees will attract numerous birds throughout the year. Good roosting sites are provided by the Henkel's yellowwood (Podocarpus henkelii), fever tree (Acacia xanthophloea), karee (Searsia lancea), sweet thorn (Acacia karroo) or buffalo thorn (Ziziphus mucronata.

Buy bird food from reputable sources. This ensures that the seeds can provide the required levels of energy and have been grown with the environment in mind. Experiment with different sorts of feeders and seed mixes. For example, greenfinches adore sunflower feeders whilst goldfinches prefer niger seeds.

You might not think so, but security for your garden birds is also of high importance. Reduce the opportunities for predators like cats and sparrow hawks by placing feeders where the birds can spot danger easily. Avoid using garden netting, especially during the breeding season, and place feeders away from your house to minimise the risk of birds colliding with windows.

Planting indigenous trees that offers protection like thorns is a great favourite for nesting spots

Water is another essential ingredient. A shallow, rough-bottomed pool of still water with a depth between 2,5cm and 5cm is ideal. To accommodate smaller birds, it is advisable to add a few stones that stick out of the water for them to land on. To guarantee birds a sure footing, the texture of the birdbath ought to be rough, ideally achieved by including sand, stones, pebbles or concrete.

Organic gardening is another essential ingredient in any landscape that welcomes birds. One reason is that organic gardens are teeming with insects and other organisms that birds enjoy. Birds will help control garden pests and insects, such as gnats and mosquitoes. Don't rake up all your leaves, but rather leave them where they are. They make great compost and the Thrushes love scratching through them for a tit-bit. Instead of waging war against pests and diseases with an arsenal of chemicals, organic gardening nudges the ecosystem into a healthy balance.

Supplemental bird feeding will guarantee year-round bird watching enjoyment. Here are some ideas of what to provide for your garden birds:

·      Oranges (for nectar-eating birds)
·      Bananas, apples and pears (for fruit-eating birds)
·      Left-overs from dinner (for various types of birds)
·      Bread and seed mix (for seed-eating birds)
·      Bone-meal, suet, mealworms and minced meat (for meat-eating birds)

White-browed Sparrow Weaver enjoying the selections of seeds on offer

Interesting birds can appear and disappear frustratingly quickly, so have a pair of binoculars or your camera to hand so you can grab them easily when you spot something. And remember your sketch-book!

 Bigger birds like thrushes and Starlings don't mind a pool that is a bit deeper. But be sure to place some pebbles at the bottom for a better grip. If not cleaned regularly, bathing spots can build up algae and be quite slippery.


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