We all love spending time in our gardens, relaxing, and looking at the birds and other wildlife we find there. What can you do to enhance your garden to optimise its appeal to birds, and to make your garden safe for birdlife?
Notice and connect with birds & nature
Spending more time at home over the past two years has shown us how being outside in the garden or in nature improves our well-being.
Take an hour during this year’s survey to re-connect, to listen to the world around you, and do your bit for science at the same time.
Plant native species for fruit, foliage, and nectar
Native birds love eating from native plants
Make your garden appeal to birds with a range of plants that provide a year-round supply of food.
Different species like different foods, so think about fruit, foliage and nectar. You could include kōwhai, flax, kakabeak, and tarata for nectar; and wineberry, karamū, and korokia for fruit.
What to plant
There are many native trees, shrubs and climbers that look attractive in the garden and also provide shelter and food for wildlife. The Department of Conservation has provided a selected list, and not all will grow in every part of the country.
Try to use ecosourced plants (plants that are native to your area). The advantage of these is that native wildlife has coexisted with them for thousands of years, and has adapted to using them as a food source. Your local plant nursery should be able to advise further.
Who eats what?
Some common species and their diet (Source: Department of Conservation)
|Bellbird | Korimako||Y||Y||Y|
|Fantail | Pīwakawaka||Y|
|Grey warbler | Riroriro||Y|
|Kākā||Y||Y||Y||Seeds and tree sap|
|Kingfisher | Kōtare||Y||Lizards, small rodents|
|Shining cuckoo | Pīpīwharauroa||Y|
|Ruru | Morepork||Y||Small rodents, birds, lizards|
|Tūī | Kōkō||Y||Y||Y|
|Silvereye | Tauhou||Y||Y||Y|
Where do birds feed?
Gardens are like layer cakes, and different bird species enjoy food from the different layers.
On the ground, especially in leaf litter, you might find sparrows (tiu) and blackbirds (manu pango) feeding on seeds and insects.
Bellbird (korimako), tūī, and starlings feed on nectar in flax flowers in the shrub layer.
You may find kererū and tūī in the trees, eating nikau fruit or kōwhai flowers.
Above the treetops, welcome swallows (warou) and fantails (pīwakawaka) could be seen catching flying insects.
Supplementary feeding with care
Our native birds have evolved to feed on native plants and other wildlife so if you are going to supplement their winter food supply, please do so with care.
Their normal food sources can be in short supply in winter months, and you can attract birds to your garden by setting up a feeding station.
Different bird species like different types of food, so provide a number of options:
- Sugar water or nectar is a great supplementary food for nectar-loving birds like tūī, bellbirds (korimako), and kākā.
- Hang cut fruit on a wire, or try hammering some nails into a board and securing pieces of fruit to the table. Half-cut oranges, apples, and pears can attract silvereye (tauhou), bellbirds, and tūī, as well as kākā and hihi if they are present.
- If you’re going to feed with seed, make sure that the seeds are formulated for wild birds, and be aware that this will attract introduced species.
- High-energy truffles, suet, lard, or off-cuts of fat can provide a source of energy in winter.
- Make sure that your station is over 1.7m high, or hanging from a sturdy branch, to keep it out of reach of predators and pets.
- Remember: keep your feeding station clean to minimise the spread of disease.
What to avoid
- Human food, such as corn, pasta, potato, rice, beans, bread, crackers, cake, cheese. Birds are likely to become malnourished, and developing chicks can develop fatal abnormalities as a result of metabolic bone disease.
- Milk can’t be digested by birds and causes stomach upsets.
- Kākā and cheese don’t mix – try parrot pellets instead.
- Honey or honey water. Never put out honey or honey water for birds. Birds love it – but so do bees so this practice can spread bee diseases.
- Cooked oats or porridge, which can harden around a bird’s beak.
Protect & create habitat
Building a bug hotel can encourage all sorts of creatures into your garden, and can provide a great food source for visiting birds.
There are no rules – old bricks, twigs, bamboo, wood chips, broken crockery, moss, sticks, mulch – the list is almost endless! Use your imagination and create different ‘rooms’ to accommodate different creatures.
The birds will thank you for the additional invertebrate food source, and geckos and skinks will be delighted with their new lizard lounge!
Keep areas in your garden a bit messy
Insects are a popular food source for many of our garden birds, and leaving mulch, leaf litter or piles of sticks makes an ideal habitat for them to grow. A good layer of leaf litter will attract spiders, moths, beetles and more. The insects will in turn attract insect-eaters like fantails (pīwakawaka) and grey warbler (riroriro).
What about weeds?
Invasive weeds can out-compete our wonderful native plants, reducing food sources for wild birds. Think about removing the invaders, and replacing with bird-friendly natives.
Manage predators & pests and keep your garden safe
If you want to keep wild birds flourishing in your garden, controlling predators is a must.
Stoats, rats, possums, and hedgehogs are common pests that prey on birds, eggs and chicks.
Trapping is a simple measure you can do at home to make a difference. Why not find out if there are community initiatives where you live to reduce pest numbers in a wider area?
If you have a cat that goes outside, you can make it more bird-friendly by fitting a bell on its collar, feeding it at regular times and keeping it inside at night.
Remember that feeding stations should be over 1.7m high, or hung from a sturdy branch, to keep them out of the way of predators and pets.
Many birds love a quick dip, so adding a water bath to your garden can attract them in numbers. In summer, the water will help prevent dehydration.
Just remember to keep it out of the reach of cats and other predators, and keep it clean to prevent the spread of disease.
Get involved in community initiatives
Have you thought about helping make difference to the wider area where you live? Could you advocate for nature?
There are numerous initiatives across Aotearoa New Zealand that work towards enhancing our environment for the birds and other wildlife that live around us.
The Department of Conservation runs volunteering, training, teaching, activities and projects.
Get involved in a local predator control project. Predator-Free NZ has a comprehensive list of projects running across the motu.
Conservation Volunteers manages a variety of short and longer projects for people with a love of the outdoors and an interest in the environment.
Kiwi Conservation Club – Hakuturi Toa runs events and adventures across Aotearoa New Zealand. Run by Forest & Bird, it’s a great way to develop your children’s practical interest in nature.