Birds make the perfect garden feature

In Fiona's Garden | Birds make the perfect garden feature

Life & Style
The unique, brush-like tongues of rainbow lorikeets enable them to lap up liquid.

The unique, brush-like tongues of rainbow lorikeets enable them to lap up liquid.

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Not only is presence of the birds an ongoing pleasure, they are an essential element of the garden's ecology.

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Birdlife is among a garden's greatest pleasures. The previous owners of our property had cats, so when we moved here there wasn't much evidence of birds in the garden.

This soon changed when word got around among the local avian population. During our first spring willie wagtails nested in the grapevine, fairy wrens built dome-shaped homes in shrubs and most exciting of all, a pair of diamond firetail finches took up residence in a prickly 'Paul's Scarlet' rose.

Sadly, the diamond firetails disappeared long ago, but wagtails and wrens flourish and dozens of other species have joined them.

We have rosellas and king parrots, kookaburras, dollar birds and golden whistlers, pardalotes and finches, even an occasional brown owl and a wickedly haughty peregrine falcon.

One day I saw a massive wedge-tailed eagle gliding slowly up the valley, before plummeting like a stone onto its prey.

Not only is presence of the birds an ongoing pleasure, they are an essential element of the garden's ecology, partly because of their role in pollinating our flowering plants, along with bees, beetles and other insects.

Some birds in their turn depend on insects for food and keep the plant-eaters under control, it being a law of nature that carnivorous animals only eat herbivorous ones in order to obtain essential carbohydrates. Watch how ibis follow grasshoppers.

Many gardeners want to feed birds, but worry this will encourage them to depend on being fed and lose their ability to forage.

Not only is presence of the birds an ongoing pleasure, they are an essential element of the garden's ecology. - Fiona Ogilvie

Your Backyard Birds by wildlife ecologist Dr Grainne Cleary (Allen & Unwin) disproves this concern. This lovely book is full of endearing stories of people and their relationships with birds, and shows how reaching out to birds will reward us a hundredfold.

Dr Cleary's primary interest is working with the public through citizen science, especially in how Australians react with their backyard birds. She explains how humans have fed and interacted in other ways with birds for thousands of years, and that birds adapted long ago to finding alternative food supplies if their primary source disappeared.

I saw this in action while on holiday this summer. A pair of friendly rainbow lorikeets flew onto our balcony every afternoon expecting food, which we assumed an earlier tenant had provided.

Rainbow lorikeets have unique, brush-like tongues, enabling them to lap liquid as dogs do. In the wild they feed on nectar from bottlebrushes and grevilleas, so we tried offering them honey flavoured water, which they loved.

I then discovered them every morning (easily identified as one had a missing claw) happily feeding on grevilleas in the back garden, a routine unaffected by their late afternoon snack.

Darryl Jones, chatting recently on the ABC's The Conversation advises to avoid feeding birds with processed food and items containing salt and sugar. Seed or commercial pet food is best for grain eating birds.

Offer a supplementary feed rather than a full meal to discourage dependency, and clean the feeding area every day to avoid spreading disease.

Follow Citizen Science at www.citizenscience.org.au/ 

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