Bird friendly gardens
Welcome birds to your garden by growing a variety of plants for food, nesting material and shelter from predators.
Life is a garden that encourages all sorts of wildlife - from insects to lizards, frogs and birds - to visit. What can you do to encourage our feathered friends? Birds are attracted to a garden for a number of reasons. They will come for food in the form of nectar, seed and insects, for water, for shelter, and for nesting.
Birds are attracted to orange and red, colours found in the nectar-filled flowers of aloe, Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis), Natal bottlebrush (Greyia sutherlandii), wild pomegranate (Burchellia bubalina), erythrina, fuchsia, hibiscus, red hot poker (Kniphofia species), Leonotis leonorus, protea, russellia and Strelitzia reginae.
ther shrubs that attract birds, and at the same time add colour to your garden, include yellow and apricot phygelius, pink sage (Orthosiphon labiatus), cream September bells (Rothmannia globosa), Cotyledon orbiculata with round succulent leaves and salmon-red tubular flowers, the orange-brown flowers of Salvia africana-lutea and the autumn flowering mauve ribbon bush (Hypoestes aristata).
In late spring, the red flowers of the weeping boerbean (Schotia brachypetala) provide a feast for nectar feeding birds. This schotia makes an attractive ornamental tree, as does the tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida). Sunbirds are attracted to the halleria's curved orange flowers that cover the trunk and branches, and the berry-like green fruits that turn black and are enjoyed by white-eyes.
A favourite of birds is the Mickey Mouse bush (Ochna serrulata), with small glossy leaves, yellow flowers, and shiny, black, berry-like fruits attached to red sepals that look like Mickey Mouse's face, that can be grown as a shrub or small tree. Bride's bush (Pavetta lanceolata) is ideal for a bird garden. This evergreen shrub is in full flower by Christmas with sweetly scented clusters of white flowers, followed by small black berries. The African dog-rose (Xylotheca kraussiana) grows naturally in coastal forest edges and in coastal grassland and needs a frost-free garden. Sweetly scented large white flowers cover the bush in summer, followed by fruit that, when ripe, will attract a variety of birds.
Dogwood (Rhamnus prinoides), the indigenous dogwood, is frost hardy with shiny evergreen leaves and small red berries. Grow as a tree, or keep clipped as a screen. Wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana), with grey-green leaves and tiny flowers followed by black berries, is frost and drought hardy.
Seed and insect eaters
Rough barked trees, such as Acacia species, harbour insects and make good nesting trees. Don't be too tidy in a bird garden. Leave some spent flower heads, such as sunflowers, to go to seed. Enjoy watching birds as they perch on grass stems and feast on the seed of non-invasive grasses.
Mulching with leaves and garden clippings not only conserves moisture in the soil and discourages weeds, it also provides a 'pantry' of insects for robins and thrushes.
If your garden is very small, bird feeders and bird tables filled daily with fresh birdseed will encourage birds to visit your garden. Hang feeders near a tree, so that birds can fly there for protection from raptors and cats.
Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing, and grinding stones, or replicas of these, make attractive natural birdbaths. If too deep for small birds, place a stone in the centre. A birdbath on a pedestal is the answer if there is any chance of a visit from cats. The water in birdbaths should be fresh and birdbaths scrubbed regularly to remove algae.
Shelter and nesting
The coastal amatungulu (Carissa macrocarpa), num-num (Carissa bispinosa) and the kei-apple (Dovyalis caffra) have spines that give protection from predators, and the dense growth of Bauhina tomentosa, Bauhinia galpinii, Mackaya bella and plumbago offers shelter to shy birds like coucals and thrushes.
Leaves, twigs, grasses and palms provide material for nesting. Dead trees make ideal nesting holes, but alternatively, sisal nesting logs or nesting boxes can be bought and attached high up in trees. Position boxes so that the entrance is protected from rain.
A bird friendly garden can be a wonderful hobby and provide year-round interest.