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Winter is a great time to attract birds into your garden. Birds can benefit your garden by controlling garden pests such as harmful caterpillars, snails and aphids, as well as provide excellent fertiliser. White-eyes, for example, thrive on the aphids in your garden.
The availability of food, water and superb nesting spots in gardens are great attractions for our feathered friends.
How do you create a bird-friendly garden? Follow these tips for attracting birds:
l Set aside an “exclusion area” for your bird-friendly garden. Increasing the diversity of garden habitats, such as creating a pond or planting up a pergola, will increase the species of birds attracted to your garden.
l Plan a framework of trees and shrubs, a dense shrubbery, hedge or climber-covered pergola. These provide protection and nesting possibilities.
l Plant winter- and summer-flowering aloes and gasterias to ensure a year-round sunbird population.
l Plant ornamental grasses and Plectranthus to attract seed-eating birds during late summer, autumn and winter.
l Plant scented, small-flowered plants to attract insects, which in turn will attract insect-eating birds.
l Mulch below trees to encourage insects and earthworms. These, in turn, attract the olive thrush and other woodland bird species.
l A fishpond will rapidly attract hamerkops, kingfishers and other water-loving birds.
l Provide a feeding platform where kitchen remains can be placed. Meat, dry bread, fruit and vegetables are all suitable. Bonemeal and meat-like products will attract bokmakieries, fiscal shrikes, white-eyes, olive thrushes and Cape robins.
l Avoid removing dead trees (except if they are a hazard) as they are ideal for attracting barbets and woodpeckers into the garden. Leave old decaying tree stumps in the ground. They attract a wealth of insect life, which will be enjoyed by insect-eating birds.
l Sisal nesting logs, sold in garden centres, will be used by barbets, woodpeckers and other tree nesters. An old abandoned sisal log may be taken over by tree nesters that cannot hollow out log nests themselves.
If the log is already hollowed out, tie the log to a tree branch, at least 2m off the ground, with the opening pointing towards the ground to avoid rain entering the nest cavity. Place the log in a position where it will be shielded from the midday sun as the heat will prevent birds from using it.
l Owl nest boxes are available in different sizes to attract different owl species. Owls are enormously efficient in controlling rodent populations. If you can encourage owls to nest in your garden, you are almost guaranteed a complete lack of rats in the area.
l Plant a host of shrubs that provide nectar and fruit for birds.
“The most conspicuous group of nectar gatherers are the sunbird family,” says birding author Peter Ginn. “They all have more or less curved beaks that vary in length from the slightly curved short bill of the collared sunbird to the long curved beak of the malachite sunbird. Plants with curved flowers will therefore be most attractive to this group – especially as other birds usually cannot access the nectar as their beaks are too short and not curved. Obviously, the more nectar a plant produces, the more attractive it will be to birds,” he says.
“Aloes are the best indigenous plants with curved flowers. There are so many varieties that it is possible to have one or other variety flowering in a large garden throughout the year. One of the most popular bird-friendly varieties is the krantz aloe (Aloe arborescens),” he says.
The Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida) are also excellent creators of nectar. “The original orange Cape honeysuckle form seems to be the best nectar producer, although other dark varieties are also attractive,” says Ginn.
The tree fuchsia is sensitive to extreme heat, so should not be placed in the open in hot areas. The greenish-white or pale orange flowers of the tree fuchsia attract sunbirds, while the masses of small fruits attract white-eyes, bulbuls, thrushes and many others.
“In urban areas these trees attract every fruit-eating bird from blocks around,” says Ginn.
“The most unlikely looking candidate for a bird-attracting plant is the lion's ear or wild dagga (Leonotis leonurus),” says Ginn. It needs to be pruned regularly if it is to bear lots of flowers. The flowers of the lion’s ear are prized by long-billed sunbirds, probably because the long tubes are too long for the short-billed species. - Saturday Star