For the birds

The annual Garden Bird Survey asks participants to choose an area, such as a garden, and list all the birds heard and seen in an hour. The one-hour snapshot can be made any time from June 29 to July 7. Fill out the form in a pamphlet available from libraries and post or enter results online. More details here.

Having birds – whether it’s fantails and their crazy flight paths or blackbird song – in a garden is a joy. But how can we encourage them?

A birdbath is something birds enjoy whatever the season, both for drinking and washing. The receptacle needs to be off the ground and cleaned regularly to keep them coming.

Any food also needs to be off the ground, both to keep birds safe from cats and to stop it attracting vermin.

  • Seed eaters include finches and sparrows (seeds from a pet shop or supermarket can be mixed with melted lard and put in a fine-mesh bag for hanging outside)
  • Nectar eaters include waxeyes, tui, bellbirds and starlings (put out sugar water if there is nothing flowering, 1 tablespoon of sugar dissolved in hot water then made up to 1 litre with cold water)
  • Insect eaters include fantails, kaka, moreporks, kingfishers, thrushes and starlings
  • Fruit eaters include waxeyes, tui, kereru, kaka, blackbirds and rosellas (cut citrus or pipfruit in half; don’t offer kiwifruit as the spread of wild plants is a problem).

A waxeye feeds in a persimmon tree at Te Puna (the fruit are astringent so the owner doesn’t mind). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Birds BOP co-ordinator Eila Lawton warns supplementary feeding can cause problems, especially if you go away.

“It’s best to provide a continuous source of plant food for birds to forage themselves so they’re not reliant on an artificial food source.”

Eila also encourages going spray-free and having native plants as food. “By feeding on exotic plants native birds aren’t doing their essential pollination and seed distribution of native plants.”

For native birds try, among others, flax (seeds and nectar), kowhai (nectar), puriri (flowers and fruit), coprosma, corokia and miro (berries), cabbage trees (flowers and berries) and muehlenbeckia (nectar and seeds).


A bellbird enjoys the nectar from flax flowers while at the same time pollinating the plant (note the patch of pollen on the bird’s head). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Manuka and kanuka offer nesting sites for fantails, while manuka and olearia are good hosts for insects. Leaf litter or biodegradable mulch also encourage insects.

Over winter exotic food species include aloe flowers (nectar), camellia flowers (nectar), grevillea flowers (nectar), banksia (nectar and seeds) and tree lucerne (foliage, particularly liked by kereru).

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

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