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