Environment - Helping Hungry Birds

By: Isabel Harris

Mahurangi East bird enthusiast Isabel Harris offers some tips on ensuring birds have plenty to eat during the cold winter months.

I was disappointed to hear the results of last year’s bird count confirming that the populations of many bird species have declined over the last few years. Fewer blackbirds and even fewer thrushes were seen in our urban gardens, along with very few silvereye and finches – all birds that used to be quite a common sight.

I have also noticed fewer finch species – chaffinch, goldfinch and yellowhammer – out in rural areas. They are usually seen at this time of year around where hay is fed out to cows and horses. They are there picking up the seeds. Seed-eating birds must find the wet winter hard after the abundance of dry grass and wild seeds in late summer and autumn.

Now is a time we can help these hungry birds. Hang an apple or half an orange out in a tree for the silvereyes. Tui will also enjoy this treat. Tui being nectar feeders will appreciate some sugar water, don’t use honey. I use brown sugar – two generous tablespoons full in a cup of water. Blackbirds and thrush will eat bread, cooked rice and pasta if it’s going spare. Don’t feed out mouldy bread or junk food and chips. An elevated feeding platform works well for the seed eaters as the birds are out of the reach of their main predator – cats!  Put food out early in the morning, which will be quickly gobbled up, leaving nothing to attract vermin. If you are worried about attracting vermin put out some rat baits, which will also be a big help towards the aim of a predator-free New Zealand.

I don’t want to encourage the aggressive, territorial myna birds, which I see in ever increasing numbers. These birds kill other birds’ chicks, ripping them out of the nest. If you have a lot of mynas around don’t try feeding out as they will dominate and drive other birds away. I have dispatched many myna birds on our property and am now pleased to see many more bird species around, including  spotted doves, Californian quail and many finches – all non-native, but it’s nice to have more birds around now. Our neighbour reported seeing for the first time a pair of native pipit on their lawn.

The plastic mesh bags used in the supermarket to bag fruit and onions make useful feeding containers. They can be filled with bread or fruit then hung up in a tree. If you want to attract tuis, make a nectar feeder out of a plastic drink bottle – cut in half with string then attached so it can be hung out in a tree. Alternatively, try using a small shallow plastic container with a lid. This stops hungry bees that are attracted to the sugar water from drowning. Heat the tip of a meat skewer to punch a few holes in the lid. Attach string so you can hang the container in a suitable spot outside. Tuis are attracted to red and yellow, so artificial flowers in these colours may help attract a tui to your new feed station, then it’s a case of wait and see.

It’s wet and cold right now, spring is almost here and the birds will soon be pairing up and nesting. It’s a good time to give them some extra food to help them survive and thrive.

Isabel Harris


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