Bird Observers' Club

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Birdwatching in Sydney since 1979

Birdscaping Your Garden - bringing the birds to you
by Dr Tony Saunders*

Many of us go out into the bush to spend time with nature and usually return home with fond memories. As you look around your garden you may wonder what it would have been like before the bush was cleared and houses built. Many people are looking for ways to create natural gardens so that they can experience the joy of having wildlife at home and know that they have put back some of that which has been taken away.

Laughing Kookaburra
Laughing Kookaburra

Birdscaping is the designing of a garden to attract the variety of birds that would have occurred originally in the area. Birds need many types of foods including insects, reptiles, seeds, nectar, and fruit. Plants should be selected to provide as wide a variety of each of these as possible and over as many seasons as possible. They also need nesting material and shelter from the weather and predators. Plants that provide nesting material include grasses and stringy barks. Dense foliage plants or those with spiny foliage provide good shelter. Birds also have very different foraging and nesting requirements and the garden needs to be planned so that there is a diversity of shrub and tree heights, as well as leaf litter/mulched areas and areas of mature grasses. To achieve this you need to be conscious of their needs and then set out to provide them. A balanced garden will attract a wide range of other wildlife such as insects, spiders, reptiles, frogs and possibly even mammals. Your garden will then resemble the bush.

The best way to provide for the local wildlife is to plant local native plants. Not only are these best suited to the conditions where you live but the wildlife is best adapted to them. Choose from a list of natives that give you the greatest diversity of food types and heights. If you need to remove existing exotic plants or plants that have the potential to become weeds then these should be removed gradually so that the birdlife does not loose shelter before those you have planted can take over the job. Keep in mind that many native plants can become invasive weeds when planted outside of their normal range and some are threatening endangered local native plants either because they colonise more readily or because they hybridise with local species.

Hybrid native plants are often chosen because they appear more spectacular having larger flowers and longer flowering periods; but they can present problems. Birds visiting these hybrids will spend less time pollinating local native plant species and the reduction in seed set could lead to their extinction. In addition, these hybrids are often more attractive to large aggressive honeyeaters and lorikeets which defend the flowers and prevent other smaller birds from entering the garden, even those that don't take nectar. In particular the Noisy Miner can be a serious pest. Our habit of clearing bush for housing development, leaving a few trees and then planting hybrid grevilleas creates ideal habitat for the Noisy Miner. Use of shrubs with smaller flowers that provide less nectar and more dense cover make it less worthwhile for the Miners and also more difficult for them to defend territories. If you live within a Noisy Miner colony you need to take this into consideration. It is suggested that you avoid selecting plants attractive to them for at least three years while the rest of the garden becomes established and other birds take up residence.

Plants that provide fruit and seeds need to be selected carefully as birds will carry seeds back into the bush where they may germinate and compete with the local native plants. This can be as much of a problem with non-local native plants as with introduced species.

Artificial food supplements should be avoided as these can cause nutritional imbalances, aid the spread of disease and are more likely to attract introduced rather than native birds. Water can be provided by means of a bird bath placed a safe distance from dense shrub cover and with a high nearby vantage point so that birds can check for predators. Water needs to be replaced regularly and the bath needs to be kept clean to minimise disease transmission between birds. The presence of water in the garden will increase the diversity of birdlife that visits your garden.

Protecting wildlife from domestic pets is always difficult. Cat bells do not work. When a cat is in "stealth-mode" the bell is silent and when the cat is attacking it is too late. Cats should be kept enclosed 24 hours a day and should be provided with a cat run. Nightly curfews and inertia bells (a new type of bell designed to make noise when a cat is striking) do not protect insects and reptiles from cats. Dogs can be trained to leave birds alone.

There are many reference books available for birdscaping gardens. They provide lists of plants, their requirements and the types of foods that they supply for birds. Take care however when consulting them as many suggest food supplements and do not specify which plants are local to your area. You will perhaps need to consult a local native plant guide, your local native nursery or local council.

*About the author
Dr Tony Saunders
Dr Tony Saunders has been birdscaping gardens for 25 years and teaching birdscaping to community education groups for 20 years. He has been a regular presenter at bird clubs, plant groups, conservation societies, wildlife care groups, variety and social clubs as well as ABC radio. He has also lectured for the University of the Third Age and Community Education, University of Western Sydney on the subject of attracting wildlife, particularly birds, to gardens.

Tony works as a consultant to Greening Australia, Landcare, Local Councils and Bushcare groups on bird survey techniques and managing habitat for birds. He has been a consultant to the Sydney Olympic Park Authority on management of waterbird and bushbird habitat. He has taught part time at the University of Western Sydney in the areas of environmental sciences and ecology.

Tony was the manager for the club's Bird Database for fifteen years, as well as being a regional organiser for Sydney and the Blue Mountains for the National Bird Atlas for Birds Australia. He was NSW Facilitator and represented NSW/ACT on the Steering Committee for the National Atlas, and was a consultant to the Birds In Back Yards Project for Birds Australia. He has also represented Birds Australia on the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service's Wildlife Issues Advisory Panel. He has completed a PhD in honeyeater ecology, spent the last 20 years studying the relationship between birds and their foods, particularly plants and has published several papers and articles on various aspects of bird ecology.

His prime interest is creation and rehabilitation of bird habitat.

References and further reading:
Adams, G.M. 1995 (2nd. ed.) Birdscaping Your Garden. Rigby, Sydney.
Australian Plant Study Group 1980 Grow What Where. Nelson, Melbourne.
Dengate, J. 1997 Attracting Birds to Your Garden in Australia. New Holland, Sydney.
Elliot, R. 1994 Attracting Wildlife to Your Garden. Lothian, Melbourne.
Hutchinson, F. 1993 Creating A Native Garden For Birds. Simon & Schuster, Roseville.
McCulloch, E. 2000 Birds in Your Garden. Hyland House, Flemington, Victoria.
Pizzey, G. 1988 A Garden of Birds Angus & Robertson, North Ryde.
Wilson, Z. 1994 BOCA-Birds and Gardens Survey 1991 BOCA Report No. 3
Wrigley, J. W. & Fagg, M. 1990 Bird Attracting Plants. Angus & Robertson, North Ryde.

This list is available as a tab delimited text version (6Kb), a pdf file (111Kb) and a MS Word 2000 version (140Kb).
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101 Bird-attracting Native Plants for Sydney
Only local native species that are generally available in cultivation and not hybrids have been included here.
Common name Scientific name Size Soils Provisions
White Sallow Wattle Acacia floribunda 3m x3m sd,cl sh,s,i
Sydney Golden Wattle Acacia longifolia 3m x 3m sd,cl sh,s,i
Myrtle Wattle Acacia myrtifolia 1m x1m sd,cl sh,s,i
Parramatta Green Wattle Acacia parramattensis 3m x 6m cl sh,s,i
Sweet-scented Wattle Acacia suaveolens 0.5m x1m sd s
Lillypilly Acmena smithii 20m cl sh,f
Black She-Oak Allocasuarina littoralis 6m cl nm,s
Dwarf She-Oak Allocasuarina nana 2m sd,cl nm,s
Forest Oak Allocasuarina torulosa 8m sd,cl nm,s
Sydney Red Gum Angophora costata 25m sd,cl n,i
Dwarf Apple Angophora hispida 4m x 4m sd n,i
Twiggy Heath-myrtle Baeckea virgata 2m x 4m sd,cl sh,n,i
Wallum Banksia Banksia aemula 2m x 2m sd s,n,i
Heath Banksia Banksia ericifolia 2m x 3m sd,cl sh,s,n,i
Coast Banksia Banksia integrifolia 3m x 5m sd,cl s,n,i
Silver Banksia Banksia marginata 3m x 3m sd,cl sh,s,n,i
Fern-leaved Banksia Banksia oblongifolia 2m x 2m sd s,n,i
Swamp Banksia Banksia robur 2m x 1m cl s,n,i
Old Man Banksia Banksia serrata 3m x 5m sd s,n,i
Hairpin Banksia Banksia spinulosa 2m x 2m sd s,n,i
Pinnate Boronia Boronia pinnata 1m x1m sd i
Blackthorn Bursaria spinosa 2m x2m cl sh,i
Red Bottlebrush Callistemon citrinus 2m x 2m sd,cl n,i
A Bottlebrush Callistemon linearifolius 2m x 3m sd,cl n,i
Narrow-leaved Bottlebrush Callistemon linearis 1m x 2m sd,cl n,i
Pine-leaved Bottlebrush Callistemon pinifolius 2m x 2m sd,cl n,i
Willow Bottlebrush Callistemon salignus 2m x 3m sd,cl sh,n,i
Alpine Bottlebrush Callistemon sieberi 2m x 4m sd,cl sh,n,i
Port Jackson Cypress Callitris rhomboidea 6m sd,cl s
River Oak Casuarina cunninghamiana 35m cl nm,s
Water Vine Cissus antarctica Climber sd,cl f
Five-leaf Water Vine Cissus hypoglauca Climber sd,cl f
Orange Thorn Citriobatus pauciflorus 1m x1m cl f
Old Man's Beard Clematis aristata Climber sd,cl sh
Common Correa Correa reflexa 1mx1m sd,cl n
Native Seaberry Einadia nutans 1m x p sd,cl f
Blueberry Ash Elaeocarpus reticulatus 5m sd,cl f,i
Ruby Saltbush Enchylaena tomentosa 1m x p sd,cl f
Corkwood Endiandra sieberi 30m sd f
Fuchsia Heath Epacris longiflora 1m x 0.3m sd n
Amulla, Winter Apple Eremophila debilis 1m x 0.3m cl f
Narrow-leaved Ironbark Eucalyptus crebra 30m cl n,s,i
Yellow Bloodwood Eucalyptus eximia 20m sd,cl sh,s,n,i
White Stringybark Eucalyptus globoidea 30m sd,cl nm,s,i
Red Bloodwood Eucalyptus gummifera 30m sd,cl sh,s,n,i
Spotted Gum Eucalyptus maculata 30m cl sh,s,n,i
Narrow-leaved Stringybark Eucalyptus oblonga 6m sd,cl nm,s,i
Grey Gum Eucalyptus punctata 35m sd,cl n,s,i
Swamp Mahogany Eucalyptus robusta 30m cl sh,s,n,i
Mugga Ironbark Eucalyptus sideroxylon 25m cl n,s,i
Forest Red Gum Eucalyptus tereticornis 40m cl n,s,i
Sandpaper Fig Ficus coronata 4m cl f
Moreton Bay Fig Ficus macrophylla 50m cl f
Port Jackson Fig Ficus rubiginosa 10m cl f
Prickly Spider-flower Grevillea juniperina 0.5m x 1m cl sh,n,i
Long-leaved Grevillea Grevillea longifolia 3m x 3m sd,cl s,n,i
Green Spider-flower Grevillea mucronulata 2m x 2m sd s,n
Red Spider-flower Grevillea oleoides 1m x 2m sd s,n,i
Pink Spider-flower Grevillea sericea 1m x 1m sd,cl s,n,i
Mullet Creek Grevillea Grevillea shiressii 2m x 3m sd,cl s,n
Red Spider-flower Grevillea speciosa 1m x 1m sd s,n,i
A Hakea Hakea bakerana 1m x 2m sd s,n,i
Broad-leaved Hakea Hakea dactyloides 2m x 3m sd,cl s,n,i
A Needlewood Hakea Hakea propinqua 1m x 2m sd sh,s,n,i
Willow-leaved Hakea Hakea salicifolia 2m x 5m sd,cl sh,s,n,i
Needle-bush, Silky Hakea Hakea sericea 1m x 2m sd,cl sh,s,n,i
Twining Guinea Flower Hibbertia dentata climber cl i
Prostrate Hibbertia Hibbertia diffusa 0.5m xp cl i
Golden Guinea Flower Hibbertia scandens Climber sd,cl i
Broad-leaved Drumsticks Isopogon anemonifolius 1m x1m sd i
Narrow-leaved Drumsticks Isopogon anethifolius 1m x2m sd,cl i
Dusky Coral Pea Kennedea rubicunda Climber sd,cl s,n
Mountain Devils Lambertia formosa 1m 2m sd sh,s,n,i
Prickly Tea-tree Leptospermum juniperinum 1m x2m sd,cl sh,i
Round-leaved Tea-tree Leptospermum rotundifolium 2m x 2m sd i
Coast Beard-heath Leucopogon parviflorus 1m x 2m sd f
Bracelet Honeymyrtle Melaleuca armillaris 3m x3m cl sh,nm,i
White Feather Honeymyrtle Melaleuca decora 2m x 2m cl sh,i
Pink Honeymyrtle Melaleuca erubescens 1m x 1m cl i
A Honeymrytle Melaleuca hypericifolia 2m x 2m sd,cl sh,n,i
Snow-in-summer Melaleuca linearifolia 3m x 5m cl sh,nm,n,i
Prickly-leaved Paperbark Melaleuca stypheloides 3m x 5m cl sh,i
Thyme Honeymyrtle Melaleuca thymifolia 1m x 1m cl n,i
Jasmine Morinda Morinda jasminoides climber cl f
Mock Olive Notelaea longifolia 3m cl f
Wonga-Wonga Vine Pandorea pandorana climber sd,cl n
Pine-leaf Geebung Persoonia pinifolia 2m x3m sd f
Conesticks Petrophile pulchella 2m sd s
Prickly Conesticks Petrophile sessilis 2m sd s
Rice Flower Pimelea linifolia 1m x1m sd,cl i
Rough-fruit Pittosperum Pittosporum revoltum 3m cl s,f
Sweet Pittosperum Pittosporum undulatum 8m cl s,f
Plum Pine Podocarpus spinulosus 1m x 1m sd,cl s,f
A Bush-pea Pultenaea pedunculata 0.5m x p cl i
Turpentine Syncarpia glomulifera 40m sd,cl n,i
Magenta Lillypilly Syzygium paniculatum 8m cl sh,f
Waratah Telopea speciosissima 1m x2m sd n
Kangaroo Grass Themeda australis grass cl s
Native Peach Trema aspera 4m cl f
Water Gum Tristaniopsis laurina 6m cl n
Tree Heath Trochocarpa laurina 6m sd,cl f

Size: Width in metres followed by height in metres, otherwise tree height (p=prostrate)
Soils: sd-sandy soils, cl-clay or heavy soils
Provisions: sh-shelter, nm-nest material, s-seeds, n-nectar, f-fruit, i-insects

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