Gardening with birds

Encourage birds to your garden by growing plants to suit their needs.

Life is a garden filled with the sound of birds! To ensure that your garden is attractive to our feathered friends, you will have to put in plants whose fruit, nectar or seeds are relished by birds. Many shrubs and trees that make attractive garden subjects are a natural source of food for birds, while large shrubs will provide shelter and a place to rear their young, and grasses can be used for building nests.

Nectar source

Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) is an indigenous evergreen shrub with tubular flowers of orange, yellow or salmon that attracts sunbirds. It is useful for screening and hedges. In early summer, the deep red flowers of the weeping boerbean (Schotia brachypetala) provide a feast for nectar feeding birds. This schotia makes an attractive ornamental tree with a spreading growth habit.

Tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida) is evergreen and multi-stemmed in gardens. Sunbirds are attracted to the curved orange flowers that cover the trunk and branches. Berry-like green fruits turn black and are enjoyed by small fruit-eaters like white-eyes. Phygelius, both the species and its cultivars, grow into metre-high shrubs that are attractive in mixed flower borders. Drooping tubular flowers in salmon and yellow attract sunbirds.

TecomacapensisOrange008Tecoma capensis


Every garden should have a Mickey Mouse bush (Ochna serrulata) with tiny glossy leaves, yellow flowers, and shiny, black, berry-like fruit attached to red sepals that look like Mickey Mouse’s face. It can be grown as a shrub, and makes an attractive small tree in a townhouse garden. Bride’s bush (Pavetta lanceolata) is ideal for a bird garden. This evergreen shrub is in full flower by Christmas time with sweetly scented clusters of white flowers, followed by fruits in the form of small black berries loved by birds.

Indigenous dogwood (Rhamnus prinoides) is frost hardy with shiny evergreen leaves and small red berries that will attract birds to your garden. Grow as a tree or keep clipped as a screen. Wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana) is evergreen with leaves that are grey-green above with the underside a paler shade. Tiny flowers are followed by black berries. Olea can be grown as a screen or tree. It is frost and drought hardy. 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.

Seed and insect eaters

Enjoy watching birds as they perch on grass stems and feast on the seed of grasses such as Natal red top (Melinis nerviglumis) with fluffy red seed heads, and heart-seed love grass (Eragrostis capensis), a tufted grass with whitish seed heads. Grasses also provide birds with nesting material. If the garden is very small and cannot accommodate many shrubs, make use of bird feeders and bird tables filled with fresh birdseed every day.

Feeders should be hung near a large shrub or tree so that birds can fly there for protection from birds of prey, but shrubs should not be so dense that cats can lie in wait. Mulching with leaves and bark not only conserves moisture in the soil and discourages weeds from germinating, it also provides a ‘pantry’ of insects for robins and thrushes.


Don’t be too tidy in a bird garden. Leave some spent flower heads, such as sunflowers, to go to seed and watch the birds enjoy this feast. Instead of cutting back the long stemmed seeds of Japanese anemones that follows their dainty white or pink flowers in summer, let the birds use the soft downy seeds to line their nests. Grasses and palms will provide material for nesting, and thorny shrubs and trees offer shelter and protection from predators. Dead trees make ideal nesting holes, but alternately, 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.

water-birdsBird Bath


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 few stones 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 kept clean and will require periodic scrubbing to remove algae.

Note: An environment friendly garden should have a limited use of chemical insecticides.

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