Gardens and birds

Roaming out in the bush does provide lots of fun when looking for birds, but in reality you can observe many species at home if you make some adjustments to your surroundings to provide suitable resources preferred by a range of birds. Some improvements such as extra vegetation takes time, but other changes such as water points and nest boxes can be added quickly.

Rufous Whistler having a good splash on a hot day – I love the way you can see the pink tongue of the bird as he cools off.

When aiming to attract birds to your garden the main things to remember are:

• Water is essential
• Birds will utilize all plants – native and others
• Importance of cover cannot be over-emphasized
• Nesting sites – consider adding some nest boxes

All the photos for this article have been taken in our garden – I have carefully located watering sites close to windows so that the house is really my bird hide. As I sit at my desk writing this I am watching a Crimson Rosella splashing in the water – very distracting when work needs to be done! In time, with a little patience you will see quite a range of birds, even if you live in an urban area. Birds are not fussy as long as you provide suitable resources that they need.

One of the ratbags of the area – a Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Although native plant species are often recommended, in reality birds will utilize a range of introduced species. In our garden the Eastern Spinebills love the Correas, but also spend a lot of time on Salvias and even the Tree Lucerne in flowering season. Silvereyes can often be seen around my fruit trees as well as foraging for insects amongst the roses. The neighbors’ butterfly bush that hangs over our fence attracts a lot of insects as well as a range of honeyeaters.

The closest we have to the flight of a humming bird – the Eastern Spinebill hovering as it takes nectar from a Salvia

Although it may be controversial to the purists, I prefer a mixed garden. In fact, some native gardens with a preponderance of heavy nectar plants can become over-run with aggressive species such as the Red Wattlebird that tends to drive smaller species away. Besides, I like to grow my own food, as well as bird food, so I will never have a purely native garden.

The Red-browed Finch is common in our garden and is often to be seen in groups of a dozen or more foraging on the ground in search of seeds

Feeding birds

On the vexed question of feeding birds there is a lot of controversy. Some take the hard line of “never”, which I feel will only alienate people. If you have ever visited RSPB reserves in the UK you will see a lot of bird feeders – in fact it is very common for people to feed birds in their gardens. In my view, it is important to have people interacting with wildlife and the home garden is a great place to start. We need to encourage engagement, not put people off with rigid rules.

Clearly there are bad practices and disease risks but on balance, limited provision of resources can be a plus for both people and the birds. If you are interested in recent research on supplementary feeding of Australian birds have a look at the work of Professor Daryl Jones of Griffith University.

See also Birds in Backyards advice.

In summary, Daryl Jones recommends:

Ensure that the feeding station is cleaned daily and is located out of reach of potential predators such as cats.

• Provide high quality food. Do not provide bread, fatty meat or honey and water mixes. Instead use nectar mixes, good quality seed or meat with a low fat content.
• Vary the type of food provided and when it is available. Alternate between
nectar mixes and seed for example. Set it out at different times and not every day.
• Monitor the types of birds using the feeder. If introduced birds are becoming more common or populations that are visiting the feeder are becoming very large, then take a break from feeding for a while and then recommence with a different food type.
• Provide a bird bath

The single best thing to encourage birds is a supply of water. A simple flat, shallow bowl kept topped-up with fresh water will attract a range of birds. Make sure that the water bowls are sited near some cover, as smaller birds are often reluctant to approach open water sites – they prefer places where they can quickly dive back into cover. The image below ​shows a Rufous Whistler and a White-naped Honeyeater sharing the same bowl. It is interesting to watch different species sharing the same water source at times, particularly in hot weather.

Rufous Whistler and White-naped Honeyeater share the water bowl

Striated Pardalote

The Striated Pardalote breeds regularly in our garden – this year inhabiting a hollow in the wall. I must get some proper pardalote-friendly nesting sites ready for next season.

The Common Bronzewing with its trademark underwing pattern in full view

These birds prefer a deeper water source than the shallow bowls frequented by our honeyeaters and thornbills. They seem to like foaraging beneath our fruit trees and a group of Tree Lucerne for the seeds.

A tiny Spotted Pardalote

Has nested beneath my raised vegetable garden beds, digging out quite a deep tunnel for the nest.

The Silvereye is one of the more common birds in our garden, often seen in small flocks of a dozen or so foraging amongst the fruit trees, roses or anywhere else for that matter.

All of these birds can be seen in our garden near the centre of town – you don’t need to be out in the bush to enjoy the birds!

7 thoughts on “Gardens and birds”

  1. Great article and photos Damian. Am looking forward to moving up your way soon as both of my kids and 2 grandkids live in Castlemaine.
    We all love our Aussie birds!

  2. hi Damian
    Great article. You are very fortunate to have such a variety of birds inhabit your garden – especially the pardalotes. Keep up the good work.

    cheers Bob, avid bird photographer

  3. Love your book and this site. We have most endangered birds on our acoustic sanctuary in Fryerstown . 20 hectares of acoustic corridor regenerating box iron ark. Really enjoy your book and meeting Lynne through Andrew Skeoch a few years back,
    Excellent contribution and brilliant tips. Bravo. Our digital calendar is here hearing Jaarajaara

    1. Thanks Ros. I like your phrase ‘acoustic sanctuary’ – sound is such an important part of experiencing nature. The bush is alive with bird sounds at this time of the year.

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