The highlight of my work-from-home day is watching the rainbow lorikeets, honeyeaters and occasional kookaburra in my backyard.
It’s calming watching them nibble away on our plants and take a dip in our bird bath (although more often they bomb dive our pool).
And attracting native wildlife to your backyard or balcony benefits them too.
I spoke to bird fan and ecologist Tom Hunt from Adelaide for his top tips for bringing all the birds to your yard — no matter where you live.
Why attract native birds?
Where you live and whether it’s an urban or regional area will dictate what native birds you can attract.
But Tom says most of us have the potential to see birds like rainbow lorikeets, magpies, honeyeaters and finches.
“Depending on the city you are in, and the amount of bushland around, you have the opportunity to attract a really wide range and variety of bird species. Especially if there is some habitat nearby like a park or green spaces.
“But that’s not to say if you live in the most urbanised concrete jungle you still don’t have an opportunity. Even if you have a balcony you can create a habitat in pots.”
Tom says creating a safe haven for native birds at your home can help them survive.
“When we clear habitat there are species that disappear. Attracting birds to your garden is an opportunity to try and redress some of that imbalance we’ve created.”
Birds can also increase the health of your garden — as well as your mental health.
“Nature has proven to improve people’s wellbeing,” Tom says.
Five ways to attract native birds
Choosing the right native plants for your garden is one of the best things you can do to attract birds, says Tom.
You want to include a variety to suit different bird types. For example, dense shrubs to provide cover for smaller birds, nectar plants like grevillea (spider flower) for nectar feeding birds like honeyeaters, and eucalyptus (gum trees) for rainbow lorikeets.
“Make sure you include dense plants and have different structure in the garden; that way the more aggressive species won’t out-compete the smaller birds,” Tom says.
Native grass will also help attract insects for birds who like to forage.
If you’re working with a balcony, Tom recommends potted natives that produce nectar.
“Some that might do well are a compact form of candle banksia, kangaroo paws or a hardy grevillea species.”
All birds need to drink, especially those like finches and pigeons which have a dry diet, says Tom.
“But in hot weather all species need water, and providing a clean source of water like in a bird bath or trough is a great way to help the birds out.”
Make sure it is off the ground so birds feel safe, and have cover nearby so they can make a quick getaway if a predator does appear.
Tom says to add sticks in your water source to make drinking easier for the birds, and allows lizards and bees to crawl out so they won’t drown.
You’ll need to clean the water each day to prevent the growth of algae and bacteria.
If you have large trees, consider adding a nesting box where birds, possums and reptiles can live.
“We are the only continent other than Antarctica that doesn’t have woodpeckers and they create hollows just by drilling into tree trunks,” Tom says.
“Our hollows form over long periods of time, [like in] very old gum trees through fungus rotting them out. Yet we have so many species that need hollows — parrots and cockatoos [for example].”
You can buy pre-made boxes or kits from gardening stores, or look up designs online and build your own.
Many of us like to feed wild birds, yet it is discouraged by many bird groups.
Tom and some other bird experts say it’s OK as long as it’s done the right way.
“We know from research, regardless of what you tell people, they are going to do it. People like to see birds up close — and that’s a good thing. It’s engaging people in nature,” Tom says.
Seed will attract birds including finches, pigeons and doves. But Tom says there is also the risk of attracting non-natives like house sparrows — the little brown birds you see in food courts.
Nectar mixes and sugar water will attract honey eaters and lorikeets.
Other birds like currawongs, magpies and kookaburras prefer high-protein food.
Many people put our raw mince which can be dangerous because it can spread bacteria.
Tom says to instead purchase meal worms or native insectivore mixes, which have the perfect mix of macro and micronutrients, fibre and protein.
Fruit will attract wild birds like rosellas, lorikeets and king parrots.
It’s a good idea to not put out feed every day, and mix up the times you do it.
“That will prevent huge flocks of predators like magpies coming in,” Tom says.
He also says you need to keep the feeding area clean and hygienic to avoid spreading bacteria that can be fatal to wildlife.
Be mindful of pets
Attracting native birds to your garden means you have a responsibility to keep them safe.
“It’s on the pet owner to ensure their pets don’t harm our wildlife,” Tom says.
Pets like dogs and cats can kill birds and other wildlife.
Tom suggests keeping cats indoors or building an outdoor cat run.
With dogs, you may choose to supervise or limit their time in your backyard to give birds a chance to visit.
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