Plant enthusiast offers top tips for pulling in the birds

One of the joys of looking out on to a beautiful garden is spotting the many native birds who come to enjoy it too. Warkworth plant and bird enthusiast Vivienne Paterson offers her thoughts on making a garden attractive to feathered visitors …

1.  Consider the bird’s point of view
Birds will be attracted into your garden when you provide them with food, shelter and water. Careful choice of plants, plenty of places to perch, a lack of predators and a source of water in summer will encourage a variety of feathered visitors.

2. Pick the right plants
Choose plant species that provide food for birds to eat, such as those that produce plenty of nectar, fruit or seeds. Also, those that encourage insects, which birds also like to consume. Tui and kereru like nectar and fruit and fresh spring leaf growth, while fantail can be seen chasing flying insects. Lots of leaf litter will increase insect numbers and other creatures which many birds will enjoy. Some suggestions: nectar-producing plants for a small garden include flax species such as phormium cookianum and kowhai. Meanwhile, coprosma species (such as taupata and karamu) and corokia species are also suitable for a small garden and have attractive red berries for birds to peck.

3. Pick the right trees
Cabbage trees with flowers or fruit attract many birds but plant away from a lawn where their dead leaves will be a nuisance. If you have room, medium-sized native trees with fruit that attract native birds include mahoe, five finger, wharangi, mapou/red matipo, karo, pate, tree fuchsia and pigeonwood. Some native trees are too big for typical suburban gardens but could be grown on larger properties. These include karaka and titoki. Speaking of larger trees, nikau berries are favoured by kereru but be aware these palms are very slow growing, so plant for the future and enjoy their foliage.

4. Take care with exotics
Many exotics are attractive to tui, who fight for the best nectar sources. Choose species that don’t easily self-sow such as protea, bottle brush and banksia.

5. Keep predators at bay
Make your garden safe from predators with suitable traps and you will encourage birds to nest in your community. Rats, possums, stoats and hedgehogs all visit suburban gardens and will eat eggs or chicks. As you might expect, birds also prefer a garden free of visiting cats, so try to minimise their impact and keep cats inside at night.

6. Watch out for weeds
The downside of a bird-friendly garden is the weeds brought in by visiting birds. Kereru and other fruit eaters will deposit privet seeds, monkey apple, woolly nightshade, non-native palm trees and many other invasive pest plants. Kereru love guava but they are a weed in tropical climates and climate change could make them a weed in our native bush too. Be vigilant and remove weeds, particularly anything that has seeds that birds eat and later deposit in native bush. These weed species invade natural habitats and upset the balanced ecosystem, ultimately negatively affecting bird life.

7. Consider your garden
Before introducing bird-friendly plants and trees make sure they are also suitable for your garden. Research plants and trees online and check their size and soil requirements.
Check out the Department of Conservation website for more information:

Vivienne Paterson