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GARDENING: For the birds

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Celebrate Birdlife’s Birding Big Day and get feathered friends to visit your garden by providing shelter, food and water

With summer in full swing, our gardens are bursting with colour and life. At Random Harvest Indigenous Plant Nursery in Muldersdrift, north-west of Johannesburg, Linda de Luca and her team have prepared the nursery’s annual Christmas tree for the birds.

Some years ago, De Luca decided to replace a traditional Christmas tree with a “recycled” dead wattle tree, decorated with food items for the birds along with festive Christmas lights.

“I approached craftsmen in the area and we designed several wire ornaments which could hold seed bells and suet balls,” says De Luca.

Once a savanna woodland bird, the grey loerie or go-away-bird (‘Corythaixoidesconcolor’) thrives on fruit on a bird table. Picture: Gill Eva

While a number of birding enthusiasts believed the birds wouldn’t be comfortable with the vibrantly coloured wire ornaments, the feathered guests soon arrived in their numbers.

Southern masked weavers and red bishops are regular visitors to the bird tree and De Luca says every year many new species are recorded.

Elements of design

A pergola provides the perfect spot from which to observe the birds in your garden. Picture: Supplied – Constantia Open Gardens 2019

Birds are an important part of biodiversity in a city garden. Our gardens provide a habitat in which birds nest and raise their young.

“Create an open zone for the birds to see their surroundings and find food and water, and an exclusion zone which is a dense area of trees and shrubs that provide food and security,” suggests De Luca.

Birds also need water – use a bird bath or grinding stone. They are both practical and aesthetic in the garden. If you have pets, choose a birth bath on a pedestal and add a bell to your cat’s collar to ensure the birds’ safety.

To increase biodiversity in your garden, consider a pond. Birds will use it for bathing, drinking and catching insects. De Luca says the pond sides must be shallow to allow the birds to wade. Place stones along the sides for perching.

If you are keen to watch the birds in your garden and record the species that visit, place a bench under trees in a secluded spot, or construct a gazebo or pergola.

Natural food supply It is important to encourage wild birds to forage. The plants in your garden can provide a range of food for seed, frugivorous and nectar-eating birds. Insect-eaters will arrive to feast on bugs around fruit, or you can put dry leaves and logs under trees to provide a habitat for insects.

What plants should you consider?

Wild pear: A beautiful tree for a small to medium-sized garden, the wild pear (Dombeya rotundifolia) produces an abundance of whitish-pink flowers in spring. The flowers attract honey bees and insect-eaters and once the fruit ripens, even more bird species will visit.

Crane flower: The crane flower (Strelitzia reginae) and other species including S juncea and S nicolai produce bird-like flowers that will encourage a number of species to visit your garden. The flowers’ abundant nectar attracts nectar-feeders and insects.

Strelitzias produce bird-like flowers which will attract a number of species to your garden. Picture: Kay Montgomery

Lion’s ear: Leonotis leonurus, also known as the wild dagga, produces nectar-rich orange or white flowers which attract nectar-feeding birds. The nectar and pollen also attract the bees, which bring in insectivorous birds.

Fynbos species: Proteas and pincushions provide a supply of nectar for sunbirds and sugarbirds, common visitors in fynbos and coastal gardens.

The Cape sugarbird feeds on nectar, insects and spiders. Picture: Mark Anderson

Supplementary feeding

A bird table or bird feeders through the garden can supplement food for the birds.

Offer supplementary feeding three times a week. “Position your feeder carefully,” says De Luca. “The birds need to feel safe, so an area alongside a tall tree or a bank of shrubs is best.”

You can add a commercial wild birdseed to your feeders. De Luca says she doesn’t include any seed containing crushed mielies, bread or cheese.

For a diversity of species, include some fruit and mealworms. You can purchase suet balls from your local DIY or garden centre. Ask your butcher for bonemeal offcuts, roll into balls and freeze until you want to put them out for the birds.

Tally Birds on November 30

The Egyptian goose was observed 368 times during 2018’s Birding Big Day. Picture: Alice Notten/KNBG

Birdlife South Africa’s 35th Birding Big Day (BBD) will take place on Saturday November 30. Birding enthusiasts have 24 hours, from midnight on Friday, November 29, to midnight on Saturday, November 30, to record bird species seen or heard in a garden, local park, nature reserve or suburb. For the first time, provincial BBD tallies will also be calculated.

How can you get involved?

  • Complete an online form to register for the event.
  • Choose to enter in one of two categories, the Open or Community Category. The maximum area to be visited for both categories is a radius of 50km.
  • In the Open Category teams can have a maximum of four members. The Community Category caters for groups and birding clubs, with no limit to the number of team members.
  • Teams are invited to log their sighting on the mobile app, BirdLasser, during the event. The app can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. Data will be uploaded to a dedicated Birdlasser page on the day.
  • Entry is free, but a R300 donation is required to qualify for a BirdLife South African BBD 2019 cloth badge. Four per team supplied, or add R45 per extra person. For more information and to register, visit: www.birdlife.org.za. Click on the Events tab to access the BBD page.
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