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Birds in the Garden

One of the great delights about living in WA is the array of beautiful birds that happily spend times in our gardens.  They add noise, movement and colour to the garden and often their behaviour is quite comical.  Some are just like clowns to watch as they hang upside down from branches, playing amongst themselves and then huddling up with each other for a nap.  Others flit from flower to flower so quickly that all that you can see is the splash of colour that catches your eye.

Some gardens seem to be constantly visited by birds and yet others are totally ignored.  Birds are just like every other animal, they seek out three simple things: water, food and a safe place to spend time.  To find out why birds aren’t visiting your garden, look around the neighbourhood.  If another garden seems more attractive to birds than your own, look at it through a bird’s eye and make a critical comparison.  This will help you to make a few adjustments to encourage them to wander into your backyard.

Providing a constant source of fresh water in the garden with a pond or a bird bath is by far the best way to encourage birds into the garden.  It is after all, a basic need of all creatures and something that is difficult to come across in the suburbs on a hot summer’s day.

Ensure that the water containers are not so deep that small birds will be reluctant to use it but not so shallow that the water will evaporate quickly on a hot day.  Placing some pebbles or a rock in the base will give birds somewhere to stand in the middle and a stick leaning against the edge will provide a safety ramp out of the water.  If they feel safe, they will be happy to hang around for longer.

If the water can be seen from the kitchen or lounge room window, this would be ideal as that way you can enjoy the birds without fear of scaring them away.

If possible, position several water sources throughout the garden.  Large birds such as galahs and cockatoos will look for water in open areas where they can fly in, see everything that is around, have a quick drink and then head off again.  Small birds prefer a water bath that is positioned high off the ground away from cats and where there’s plenty of thick shrubbery nearby for them to dart in and out of and hide in whilst having their bath.

Wild birds are perfectly capable of feeding themselves from the natural sources in their environment, even in the suburbs, and this is by far the healthiest option for them.  Many gardens are like well stocked supermarkets to a bird as they offer plant seeds, fruit, nectar and insects.  To encourage birds in to your backyard using food, the best method is to look at the plant varieties that you have on offer and perhaps add more variety to suit the needs of all the birds in your area.

Although some birds eat a variety of foods, generally their diet falls into four categories – nectar feeding, insect feeding, fruit and seed feeding and carnivorous:

Native birds are especially attracted to red and yellow flowers.  Try to have a garden that has plants flowering at different times of the year so as to provide a constant source of natural food all year round.

Using feeders to provide a constant source of meat, bird seed or commercial nectar in the garden will definitely encourage the birds to hang around but in some ways these can prove detrimental to them in the long term.  Birds can easily become dependent on these food sources making them less likely to search for food themselves and so problems arise when the home owner goes away on holidays for a few weeks or moves house.   To offer food but not allow the birds to become dependent, provide just enough pre-prepared wild bird seed or nectar for it to be a treat and not their total food source and allow the food to run out every few days forcing them to find more natural sources from the garden.  High quality wild bird mix can be used in attractive feeders and hung from trees or under eaves, they are easy to fill and keep the food dry.

Large birds such as pink and grey galahs, cockatoos and other parrots look for tall trees such as eucalypts that allow them to rest in whilst still perusing the area for danger.  They will spend time nestling together against the trunks, occasionally chewing on the leaves and branches and even preening each other but, at the first sign of trouble, they will launch themselves as one, heading off to another tall tree.  The great thing about these birds is that they tend to stay within the neighbourhood, moving amongst their favourite trees and so can be seen and heard visiting the garden time and time again.

Small birds will not spend time in a garden that is exposed and which offers little opportunity to escape.  They are on constant lookout for large, predatory birds that fly in from above and so seek out shrubbery that provides good cover and where possible, even a few thorns for extra safety.  But, they are also aware that many suburban backyards are homes to cats that, whilst may look harmless to us, turn into hunters anytime the opportunity arises.

To offer a truly safe backyard, keeping an indoor cat that can “look but not touch” through the windows is certainly the best option.  But, for cats that do venture outside, a little more planning is required.  Cat bells, whilst worth trying, do not necessarily save wildlife because a quietly stalking cat is able to move without the bell ringing.  As previously mentioned, ensuring that bird baths and feeders are off the ground and in areas that the cat can’t reach and where shrubbery is close by to offer an escape route helps to reduce the opportunity of attack.  Guards or wire barriers around the trunk of a tree or the post of a bird feeder will stop a cat from being able to climb up high to attack and commercially produced cat deterrents used around the base may also help to keep them away.  Even spiky plants around the base of trees and feeders are a terrific way to keep cats away.

Many large, established trees provide opportunities for birds to nest in.  Most look for hollows in eucalypts and some, like lorikeets and even kookaburras, will find holes in amongst the fronds of large palm trees. In the old established suburbs, these large trees still often exist but in newer areas, these have often been removed to allow for housing.

Providing nesting boxes for the birds in the area is a terrific way to encourage a family of birds to stay within the neighbourhood but as bird species have different nesting needs, it is important to know what varieties visit your backyard.

Owls roost near the top of their box on the inside, just back from the hollow entrance so a rectangular box sitting horizontally with the opening at one end of the front is best.  Parrots prefer tall, rectangular boxes hanging vertically in trees where the hole is at the top.  This allows their fledglings to bunch up together in the bottom and their parents to feed them from above when they come home with dinner.

Better Pets and Gardens has a wide range of painted and unpainted nesting boxes to suit most native birds.  They are strong, provide protection from the elements and are designed with the needs of specific bird species in mind.

Pardolates are tiny birds found throughout Perth and the south west.  The wings, tail and head of the male are black and covered in small white spots.  They have a pale eyebrow, yellow throat and a red rump.  The females are similar but have less distinct markings.  They feed on insects and psyllids and are found in areas where there are well-established eucalypt canopies.  Whilst they do occasionally nest in carpet rolls or garage roll-a-doors, they may use a small nesting box with an attached tube for an entrance. They prepare the bottom of their small box with pieces of grass that form a chamber and then a small tunnel leading up to the entrance.

Of course, nests need to be positioned well away from predators and in the crooks of tall trees where birds would normally look for hollows.  When breeding season is over and the baby birds have left the nest, the boxes should be checked for damage and insects and repainted if necessary and returned to the location ready for the next year.


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