Tuesday, December 11

Banquet for the birds

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Garden by growing the plants that suit their feeding, roosting, nesting and shelter needs

The sites and habitats of birds are important environmental indicators and on Birding Big Day today, November 24, bird enthusiasts have 24 hours to monitor and record all bird species seen or heard in a garden, local park, nature reserve or suburb.

Teams will log their sightings on the mobile app BirdLasser. The sightings will automatically be displayed on a dedicated BirdLasser Birding Big Day event page.

Birds in your garden

How many birds visit your garden? Local indigenous plants suitable for your area and conditions will attract the most birds to forage in your garden, and in return, they will fill your garden with birdsong, pollinate plants and eat insect pests.

Different birds need different heights and layers of vegetation for feeding, roosting, shelter and a place to build safe nests. Indigenous acacias (vachellia) are a great food source for insect, seed, fruit and nectar feeders.

If your garden is too small for a tree, birds can still find protection and a place to build their nests in a thicket of shrubs, such as Pride of de Kaap (Bauhinia galpinii), Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and plumbago, in a secluded part of the garden.

A Cape canary perches on Cape-forget-me-nots (Anchusa capensis). Picture: Alice Notten/KNBG

Feathered banquet

Birds need food for different reasons – to feed themselves and their young, to survive winter and to build fat reserves for migration. Plants that provide nectar, berries, seeds and fruits through the seasons will bring birds to your garden.

Birds are attracted to red, orange and yellow flowers of aloes, kniphofia, watsonia, lion’s ear (Leonotis leonurus), Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and tubular flowers of succulent pig’s ears (Cotyledon orbiculata).

Nectar sources

A sugarbird male and female pair perch on orange pincushions (Leucospermum cordifolium). Picture: Alice Notten/KNBG

A must for a bird garden is the tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida). Sunbirds are attracted to the curved orange flowers that cover the trunk and branches, and the berry-like green fruits that turn black are enjoyed by Cape white-eyes.

Proteas and pincushions of the fynbos, Cape honeysuckle and lion’s ear will ensure a nectar supply for sunbirds and sugarbirds. Water-wise aloe cultivars have an extended flowering time, but it is in winter, when there are fewer plants, that aloes are an important source of nectar.

Weeping boer-bean (Schotia brachypetala) is an attractive ornamental tree with deep red flowers in early summer that provide a feast for nectar feeding birds. Grow this plant where the dripping nectar does not cause a problem on parking areas and pathways.

Other shrubs that attract birds, and at the same time colour your garden, include phygelius, pink sage bush (Orthosiphon labiatus), pig’s ears, beach salvia (Salvia africana-lutea), pineapple sage, salvias, fuchsia, wild pomegranate (Burchellia bubalina), erythrina, kniphofia, russellia and the crane flower (Strelitzia reginae).

Fruit eaters

To attract fruit eating birds, plant Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa), tree fuchsia, assegai (Curtisia dentata), bladder-nut (Diospyros whyteana), karee (Searsia lancea) and wild plum (Harpephyllum caffrum). Blinkblaar (Rhamnus prinoides), the indigenous dogwood, has shiny evergreen leaves and small red berries.

The water-wise wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana) is evergreen with leaves that are grey-green above with the underside a paler shade. Tiny flowers are followed by black berries. The Mickey Mouse bush (Ochna serrulata) has glossy leaves, yellow flowers, and shiny black berry-like fruit attached to red sepals that look like a Mickey Mouse face. It makes an attractive small tree for a townhouse garden.

Seed and insect varieties

The laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis) is a common resident in gardens throughout the country. Picture: Doug Newman

The Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, house sparrow, Cape sparrow and Cape canary will visit your garden for seed, as will insect eaters, Cape robin-chat, Cape white-eye and the Cape wagtail.

Birds will perch on grass stems and feast on the seed of tufted bristle-leaf red top (Melinis nerviglumis), Natal red top (Melinis repens), ngongoni (Aristida junciformis), broad-leaved bristle grass (Setaria megaphylla), weeping anthericum (Chlorophytum saundersiae) and heart-seed love grass (Eragrostis capensis).

Providing feeders

A feeder filled daily will encourage seed-eating birds to visit. Picture: Alice Notten/KNBG

If the garden is small and cannot accommodate many shrubs, supplement with bird feeders and bird tables filled with fresh, good quality birdseed every day. Feeders should have a roof as protection from rain as damp seed can become mouldy.

Water

Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing and grinding stones make attractive birdbaths. A birdbath on a pedestal is the answer if there is any chance of a visit from cats or dogs. If the birdbath is too deep for small birds, place a few stones in the centre. The water in birdbaths should be kept clean.

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