How to bring birds to your garden

The double-collared sunbird on an indigenous pincushion (Leucospermum oleifolium). Picture: Alice Notten, Kirstenbosch

The double-collared sunbird on an indigenous pincushion (Leucospermum oleifolium). Picture: Alice Notten, Kirstenbosch

Published Jun 22, 2011


Birds are an essential feature of any garden. They provide a pollinating function for many of our flowering plants, and delightful to look at and listen to.

There are many myths associated with having birds in the garden, but most people seem to think they bring good luck. Even birds such as hadedas are helpful in reducing crickets in our lawns.

In the depth of a freezing winter, birds work hard to find enough food. Now is the time to think about putting up a feeding station in the garden, installing a bird bath or planting up the shrubbery with bird-friendly plants such as winter flowering proteas, ericas, lion’s ear (Leonotis leonuris), aloes or seed-bearing restios.

Feed the birds

When deciding where to put your bird feeder, there are a few things to keep in mind. Birds feed at different levels in the garden. They feed from the berries at the tops of trees all the way down to the worms in the mulch layer. To encourage as many different species as possible, try to feed on as many different levels in the garden as possible.

Avoid placing your bird feeder in high traffic zones, as this will disturb the birds too much. If you or your neighbours have a cat, place your bird feeder on a tall pole or suspend it from a tree. Place your bird feeder in partial or full shade if possible. Birds like the protection offered by trees and shrubs close by. Remember, however, that you want to be able to see the birds while they are feeding, so place it in full view of your windows.

Types of feeders

There are many different shapes and sizes of bird feeders available. Most nurseries or garden centres will stock a range of hanging feeders. Of these, the gravity fed plastic types have their advantages. They are easy to fill, are rain and wind proof and hang out of the way of cats and rodents.

However, because the seeds are concentrated in a small area, there is often a lot of fighting among the birds as they compete for the food. The commercially available seed feeders are great for weavers and sparrows. A wire mesh shelter around the seed will help to exclude the large varieties such as the doves.

A wire mesh feeder filled with peanuts (unsalted peanuts only) is a simple structure to build. Hang this feeder from a tree where you will be able to watch the antics of the crested barbets and weavers. Squash a banana either into a pine cone or into the crevices of a piece of driftwood – both of which form novel feeders.

Suet recipe

“The bird-friendly chef can create a wonderful suet pie for a number of hungry customers in winter,” says gardening for birds expert Roy Trendler. “Melt down scraps of fat in a pot and mix pieces of bread, seed, cheese and fruit into the molten fat. When it is thoroughly mixed, allow it to cool into solid lumps, which can be kept in the freezer and fed at intervals to the eager beaks waiting in the garden.”

It’s also important to remember the wildlife species in the garden that thrive on an insect diet. “To cater for this group, hang a light bulb from a tree and switch it on at night. The light will attract moths and a variety of other insects. The insect eaters will all congregate under the light,” he adds.

Plastic mesh bags, such as the kind onions come in, are good feeders for putting fruit or nuts in. The number of birds using this type of feeder will be limited, however, as not many bird species like to feed upside down.

Grand platforms

Feeding platforms are the most common bird feeders. They can be fairly easily constructed at home or you can buy a deluxe model from a garden centre. If you are going to make your own platform feeder, you will need to build these features to keep all your birds happy: a platform for grain, breadcrumbs and fruit; a mesh holder for kitchen scraps and nuts; a tin can to hold suet puddings; a seed holder.

And finally, don’t forget the butterflies. Now is the time to plant the pearl butterfly bush (Buddleja auriculata). Its cream, scented flowers appear from July through to September and will attract butterflies from far and wide. - Saturday Star

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