Wednesday, August 22

Garden for the birds

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As teams head out to do some spotting on Birding Big Day, learn how to attract more feathered creatures to your own green space

Today is the 33rd Birding Big Day, BirdLife South Africa’s annual celebration. Avid birders throughout the country will be heading to parks, botanical gardens, nature reserves and their own gardens to eagerly record the species they see during a 24-hour period.

On Birding Big Day last year, the Hadeda Ibis was the most commonly recorded species at 238, followed by the Egyptian Goose at 217. The team record is 325 species in 24 hours, held by team Zonke Inyoni since 2008 and equalled by them again last year. More than 800 birders in 265 teams documented a record-breaking 654 species on the day.

Could that record be broken today? With an estimated 840 bird species in South Africa, including residents, migrants and nomads, this achievement is not far off.

A new book on garden birds by Duncan Butchart.

New bird book published

Whether you are an avid birder or new to bird watching, a copy of Duncan Butchart’s new book, Garden Birds in Southern Africa, published by Struik Nature, will help you attract, identify and enjoy the birds that visit your garden.

“Birds are fascinating and fun to watch but also provide vital ecological services, such as pollination and the control of aphids, snails and caterpillars”, says Butchart, a keen observer of the natural world and eco tourism consultant. “If you cultivate trees, shrubs and other plants native to your region, you can create reservoirs of biodiversity, food webs of plants and invertebrates, with birds being the most conspicuous wildlife.”

Designing a bird garden

Birds aren’t fussy. If you provide for their basic needs of food, water and shelter, they will oblige by visiting your garden or make it their home.

Plants and shrubs not only provide roosting sites and nesting materials, but are a natural food source for birds. The species you attract to your garden will be determined by the food found there.

Placing seed in a bird feeder or on a bird table is the easiest way to encourage seed eaters to visit. Fruit trees attract both fruit eaters and insect eaters, who feast on bugs buzzing around the fruit. Dried meal worms, available at pet and DIY stores, also attract insect eaters.

Use a solution of white table sugar, one part to five parts water. Never use artificial sweetener. Butchart cautions birders not to add colourants to the mixture as some can be harmful to birds. Just include a red feeding cap and change the solution daily.

Always place feeders well out of reach of pets. If you have a cat or dog who enjoys hunting, add a bell to their collar to warn the birds.

The Southern Boubou enjoys a garden with dense shrubberies and tangled thickets. Picture: Duncan Butchart

Popular species

Here are some common garden species sure to be spotted today by Big Birding Day teams. Garden Birds in Southern Africa provides insight on these species and the types of gardens they frequent.

Southern Masked Weaver is widespread throughout the country. While seed is its main food source, it will also eat insects, fruit and nectar. The male builds a number of nests which are inspected by the female before she accepts one.

Malachite Sun bird is the largest of Southern Africa’s sun birds, and is found along the coast and mountainous parts of the Cape, through the Karoo and northwards to the Highveld, including Gauteng. Plant flowering aloes and proteas species to attract this delightful nectar eater.

Crested Barbet is a striking visitor to gardens in the mid, northern and eastern regions of the country. They enjoy insects, and fruit on a bird table, as well as berries on trees. Will nest in a sisal log.

Red-faced mouse bird is found throughout the country. They are especially fond of berries and fruit but will also eat flowers, leaves and aloe nectar.

Cape Robin-chat was voted South Africa’s favourite garden bird in a survey by BirdLife SA. It enjoys shady gardens, with plenty of soft soil for insect foraging. Feeds on bonemeal and meal worms on the bird table.

African Hoopoe is found throughout Southern Africa. The hoopoe is easy to identify with its fan-shaped crest of feathers and distinct black-and-white pattern. Feeds on beetles, termites and other insects and
spiders.

Forages in lawns and may nest in a stone wall.

Birding Big Day information

Keep abreast of the birding action today by following these sites.

On Facebook – BirdLife South Africa. #BBD2017.

Log on to BirdLasser to view the progress of the teams.

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