How do I attract birds to my garden?
There’s little nicer than being surrounded by nature, hearing the magnificent dawn chorus, and having one’s garden host a diversity of birds and other animals. With careful planning, even the smallest garden can host a variety of birds and provide one with the opportunity to hear their calls, watch them as they carry out their daily activities, and even study their behaviour. In order to attract birds to your garden you need to create the right environment, and this can be quite easily done through consideration of the following four factors:
• Food: Birds will be attracted to your garden if it contains suitable and a variety of food. Wild bird seeds in feeders will attract seedeaters, fruit will attract barbets and other frugivores, and mealworms will attract flycatchers. Most birds cannot resist a suet ball. Feeding birds can however become costly. An alternative to feeding birds is to provide natural food by planting indigenous trees, bushes, grasses and other plants from which the birds can feed. After the initial cost of creating an indigenous, bird-friendly garden, maintenance will be low and cost very little.
• Water: Birds need water to drink and bath. Make sure that the water in the bird bath is not too deep; smaller birds must be able to stand in the water. Small fountains which can be bought at nurseries are favoured by garden birds. Ponds attract insects and if stocked with fish might attract kingfishers. This will however be more expensive and require some maintenance.
• Security: Birds will not use your garden if they feel insecure. Position bird feeders and bird baths where cats and dogs do not have access or where there is limited human activity.
• Nesting space: An added advantage of planting trees and bushes in your garden is that they also provide nesting habitat for birds. You can also install a sisal nesting log, which could be used by barbets. Nesting logs should be attached to the vertical trunks/branches of large trees or even to a downpipe on the side of your house. Ideally, the entrance should not face north. It should also face away from the direction from which most of the rain comes (however this is not a crucial requirement). The logs should not be close to a horizontal branch which could allow cats access to the nesting birds. Nesting logs should be covered at the top and bottom with plastic or metal lids to ensure that barbets do not start a hole at the top, where the plant material is soft, or excavate a hole through the bottom of the log.
It is very important not to use pesticides and other poisons in your garden, as these will be harmful to birds. Insects, the food of many species of birds, will also be affected by poisons.
Also see BirdLife South Africa’s policy statement about the feeding of birds - click here
How can I get rid of mynas?
The Common Myna was introduced to South Africa in the early-1900s, initially in Durban but later in the interior of the country. Since then the species has spread far and wide and can now be found in most provinces, except the Western Cape. For the latest distribution map of this species follow this link to the SABAP2 website: http://sabap2.adu.org.za/species_info.php?spp=734. There must now be hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of birds in South Africa and it is now almost certainly impossible to eradicate them from the region. If you do not like to have these birds on your property, there are a few actions you can take to limit their numbers in your garden:
• The Common Myna depends on food discarded by humans to survive. This is one of the reasons why their distribution is largely linked to human settlements. By keeping your yard clean, mynas may not settle in large numbers in your garden.
• The Common Myna breeds under the eaves of houses. During this period they will become extremely aggressive to other birds. The nests can be removed and the next entrances can be sealed.
It should be noted that shooting Common Mynas will not resolve your problem. As soon as one bird is killed, another bird will replace it. It is also illegal to fire a firearm in an urban area. The territorial pair which is resident in your area may also exclude other mynas.
To view BirdLife South Africa’s Position Statement on invasive species, click here
Where do I obtain an owl box for my garden? Why do I not have owls in my owl box?
For more information about how to build an owl box and where to buy one, follow this link:
A few cautionary notes. There are more owl nest boxes in urban areas than there are owls, so the local owls may not use your box. Also note that bees like to make use of the owl boxes and it can be costly to remove them.
In rural areas placing owl boxes on farms is an excellent form of rodent control. A family of ten Barn Owls can consume more than 3 000 rodents in one breeding season!
Very importantly, rodent poisons should not be used as they can cause the death of non-target animals, such as owls (and even dogs and cats).
How do I join a bird club?
We are very pleased to hear that you are interested in joining one of the more than 30 bird clubs which are affiliated to BirdLife South Africa. These clubs support BirdLife South Africa in various ways, including in the conservation of birds and their habitats. For more information about a bird club near you, click here. Please contact them directly for subscription information. If you still need more information, you can also contact Shireen Gould, BirdLife South Africa’s Membership Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where can I obtain a list of the bird species found in South Africa?
BirdLife South Africa has a List Committee which compiles an annual list of the birds which occur in South Africa. One am of the list is to have standard names for our country’s birds. The List Committee is chaired by Dr Chris Lotz, and a number of ornithologists and BirdLife South Africa staff serve on the committee. BirdLife South Africa also supports the work of the “Afrikaans Voëlnaamgroep” which fulfills that same function for Afrikaans bird names. Each year in January official checklists in both languages are published on the BirdLife South Africa website. An English checklist is also printed and distributed in African Birdlife magazine. To download PDF versions of these documents, click here
How can I make a donation to BirdLife South Africa or to a specific project?
Conserving South Africa’s 845 bird species needs considerable funding. We therefore welcome any donations towards this very important cause. Donations can be made online - click here. There’s provision on the form for you to indicate the project you want to support. If you do not want to make an online donation you can also make a payment directly into BirdLife South Africa’s bank account. The back account details are as follow:
Bank: First National Bank
Branch: Randburg 254-005
Please note that BirdLife South Africa can provide you with a Section 18A tax certificate for donations of more than R500.
If you still are unsure how to make a donation, please email Fanie du Plessis at email@example.com.
How do I subscribe to the e-newsletter?
BirdLife South Africa produces an attractive and informative monthly e-newsletter with information about our country’s birds and BirdLife South Africa’s work. One does not need to be a member of BirdLife South Africa to receive the e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe or download previous issues.
What do I do when I find a bird with a ring on its leg?
Thousands of birds are ringed worldwide each year as part of research to understand their movements and other aspects of their biology. The ring numbers are unique, allowing researchers to identify an individual bird. When a bird with a ring is found dead or recaptured, valuable information about its movement, age and life history can be determined. Therefore, if you find a bird with such a ring, it is extremely important to submit this information to SAFRING at the University of Cape Town. Follow this link to obtain more information: http://safring.adu.org.za/found_ring.php You can also contact the coordinator of the project, Dr Dieter Oschadleus, at Dieter.Oschadleus@uct.ac.za.
What can we do about Hadedas and Egyptian Geese on our properties?
Certain species, such as Hadedas and Egyptian Geese, have adapted well to the “habitats” created by humans. Lush green parks, school playgrounds, expansive lawns in housing estates, and golf courses are ideal habitats for these birds. In addition people sometimes feed Egyptian Geese, especially in places such as estates and parks. The result is that there has been an increase in their numbers in urban areas. If they have become a problem in your estate or property you need to determine the reason for their increase and then try to eliminate the problem. For example if people are feeding birds, this practice should be stopped. Removing nesting sites or providing less water on lawns could also make the area less attractive to these birds. Only as a last resort should one consider removing the birds. This will have to be done in co-operation with the local conservation authorities, especially as these birds are protected (and killing them or harming them without a permit could result in prosecution).
What is BirdLife South Africa’s position on wind farms?
BirdLife South Africa has spent considerable resources to address the possible impact of wind farms on birds in South Africa. Follow this link to read our policy statement about this matter: http://www.birdlife.org.za/about-us/our-organisation/position-statements. Also see this link for more information about our work in this regard: http://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/terrestrial-bird-conservation/birds-and-renewable-energy
What do I do about birds flying into windows?
Birds unfortunately fly into windows, and many are injured or killed. In order to resolve this problem a window should be made more visible. This can be achieved by attaching a decal to the glass which will make the window more visible. One can also consider installing vertical blinds on the inside which will also make the window much more visible. Although these measures will reduce the collision risk it might never totally resolve the issue. BirdLife South Africa sells a set of 5 Black Harrier window decals for R60, plus R10 for postage. To order, contact Linda van den Heever on 011 789 1122 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about other possible solutions follow this link:
How can my lodge or B&B become a Birder Friendly Establishment (BFE)?
In order to promote avitourism in South Africa, BirdLife South Africa established a programme to recognize and promote accommodation establishments which cater for the needs of birdwatchers and support bird conservation projects. In order to qualify as a BFE, an establishment needs to meet certain criteria. Once registered there are a range of benefits for registered BFEs, including reduced fees for advertising in African Birdlife magazine. For more information about the criteria, subscription fee and the benefits for a BFE, go to:
http://www.birdlife.org.za/gobirding/birder-friendly-establishments. For more information about this programme, please contact Natasja Retief at email@example.com.
Which bird field guide(s) do you recommend?
Birders in South Africa are extremely lucky to have a wide range of field guides to choose from. These guides can be categorized into a number of categories:
• Guides using sketches or photos to depict birds. Some birders prefer sketches as the most important features of a bird are highlighted in these sketches. Others like photographs to get a “real” image of the bird.
• Field guides targeting birds of a specific place, such as the Kruger National Park, versus a regional guide covering for example the birds of Southern Africa.
• Field guides that target a specific group of birds, such as LBJs or raptors, versus guides covering all the bird species in South Africa.
• Electronic field guides have become extremely popular as they can easily be loaded on a smartphone or tablet.
• Reference books which are more scientific in nature; for example the large Roberts Birds of Southern Africa VII.
Field guides also vary in the amount of information they provide in the written descriptions, maps, and illustrations. It is therefore difficult to suggest which field guide to purchase. Birders should spend time in bookshops browsing through the available field guides and weigh up the pros and cons of the alternatives. It may also be an idea to purchase more than one field guide or maybe a general guide and a specialist guide such as one for the more difficult to identify LBJs. Generally, as the birding bug bites, one keeps adding to one’s library.