I am watching wattlebirds, parrots and a flock of silvereyes having fun in my fruit trees. They are feeding on the ripening apples with a lot of flashing wings and bird chatter. All fruit trees and shrubs are bird-attracting plants but these are the very plants we don’t want the birds to find attractive. Luckily the apple crop is so heavy there are plenty for me, and the birds. If your crops are smaller, you may need to net fruit trees (using bird-safe nets) or grow fruit trees in a wire-enclosed orchard and turn your attention to growing other bird-attracting plants.
Shelter, safety and food
Gardeners who want to enjoy watching birds flitting about the garden need to take a three-pronged approach to planting, including plants for shelter, safety and food.
Shelter includes dense shrubby thickets and trees for safe nesting and protection from the heat or cold. Sheltering plants also improve safety by providing safe territory for smaller birds to escape larger birds especially in and around birdbaths and ponds. Safety also means a garden free of predators, particularly cats. With a sheltering and safe habitat in place, food plants come to the fore.
Birds have varied diets. Some are nectar feeders while others eat seeds or insects. Some nectar eaters and seedeaters also need insects to feed their young. From my observations in the orchard, they’ll all turn their beaks to a tasty piece of fruit!
Our feathered friends eat all year round. Gardens may be rich in spring and summer food sources but for a truly bird-friendly garden, plant to provide food in the leaner times through autumn and winter.
Banksia, grevilleas, bottlebrush and hakeas are top bird-attracting plants. They provide shelter, safety and, by selecting a range of varieties, flowers year round. Other top natives for birds are tall-growing kangaroo paws and grass trees (Xanthorrhoea spp.).
Many plants in the garden centre carry labels that flag their bird-friendly status. Adding insect-friendly and pollinator plants (also highlighted on plant labels) increases the bird appeal of a garden.
Non-native plants can be highly appealing to native bird species. Particularly valuable are sasanqua and japonica camellias. These dense evergreen shrubs flower from late summer until spring and their leafy branches also provide shelter and safety for birds.
Flowering perennials are also important food sources for birds. Salvias have flowers that are rich in nectar over many months. There are also species that flower in winter. Perennials that produce tall spires of flowers are also a food source for birds. Red-hot pokers (Kniphofia spp.) and aloes have flowers that birds love and include many winter-flowering varieties.
Considering the birds during garden maintenance is another aspect of creating a garden that works for the birds. It is important to delay pruning of plants that form seeds such as ornamental grasses so there is seed for birds, particularly through winter. It is also important to check hedges for nesting birds before pruning them, especially in early spring. Leaving lawn grasses unmown and tolerating seed-forming weeds such as winter grass, can also bring more birds to the garden.