Gardening for the Birds
Inviting Birds and Bees into your Garden
Birds, bees and other fluttering creatures not only fill novel and aesthetic needs but also play a significant role in pollen distribution. It is therefore important to make them feel welcome in your garden. One way of inviting birds into your garden is to know what they eat, hence being able to cater for them.
See your garden through the eyes of a bird... a restaurant with a gourmet buffet.
It’s quite simple actually; supply the right food and the birds, bees and butterflies will visit your garden all day long. Some plants are only eaten by a limited number of birds. One would have to therefore plant a variety of plants to suit all taste requirements. Think of a restaurant that only serves sushi – it is a niche market and not as many types of people will go there as a restaurant offering an array of cuisines.
Wild figs (Ficus species) are extremely popular with many birds. No less than 50 species have been recorded to nibble on the succulent fruit of these fine specimens. If you are looking to attract a diversity of birds to your garden, then fig trees are a good bet. Fruit bats and even some birds of prey will also pay you a visit.
Don’t be too hasty about cleaning fallen figs from the ground as these attract even more birds. Robin-chats and thrushes, amongst others, will visit for the course of insects which are dished up when the fruit begins to rot. Larvae also benefit from fig trees, eventually producing an array of butterflies and moths which will add a fairy-tale dimension to your garden. But while they are still in larval stage, woodpeckers will be enticed to the trees to nibble on these succulent snacks which pupate under the flaking bark.
Wild peach (Kiggelaria africana) and Searsia species (previously Rhus) are second on the list of popularity with birds. There are many other fruit-producing trees that provide a delicious meal. But if fruit does not really fit into your garden restaurant’s décor, fear not! There are many plants that birds visit purely for their sweet nectar.
Aloes are undoubtedly the best meal for nectar-feeding birds such as sunbirds, sugarbirds and the Cape white-eye. The Cape honeysuckle is a favourite for dessert and birds tend to prefer the species with red or orange flowers, not the yellow-flowered varieties which have been cultivated.Other easy-to-grow plants which attract birds are Leonotis, Schotia and Erythrina.
Ericas are exclusively insect pollinated and will attract a myriad of six-legged creatures to your garden. And while you are down there planting these shrubs, add some grass or reed-like plants for contrasting effect. Restios are an open invitation for seed-eating birds.
Keeping with the local cuisine, indigenous Acacias are delectable for both fruit- and nectar-feeders. These characteristically thorny plants therefore attract a diversity of bird species which munch on a vegetarian smorgasbord of buds, seeds, nectar and even leaves. Many insects and their larvae also feed on Acacias, which in turn attracts more birds. A. karroo alone feeds 90 moth species and 15 butterfly species!
If you want to invite birds into your garden then view the fruit, nectar and seeds supplied by the plants as the entrées to this buffet. The real attraction for birds, though, is a main course of insects. Focus on attracting insects, and the birds will naturally abound.
As already mentioned, bees are nectar-feeders and will visit your garden if you provide the correct flowering plants. The following recommendation might come as a bit of shock so perhaps sit down for this one… birds love ants and so it is advisable to not mercilessly squash the little guys as they parade on by.
Like the ants, caterpillars, are a hot favourite for many bird species. But even if the grubs are not eaten they will morph into butterflies, beetles, moths and other insects – all food for our feathered friends. Spiders are also considered a scrumptious dish, as are snails and slugs.
All the ‘bugs’ are part of the phenomenal intertwining of the food chain and are all necessary to attract the birds and butterflies we are so fond of. Exotic insects, however, are another story. They do not belong here and you would be wise to remove them before they reach epidemic proportions.
Many insects are host-specific and larvae require certain plant species to survive. An all-round indigenous garden, plants included, is therefore the best gift you can give back to nature. But if you are unable to stay away from a rose, frangipani or poppy, then at least start ridding your garden of alien bugs. In this environmentally-concerned era, it is possible to not go the poison route. These will only accumulate in the ecosystem as the cycle eat-and-be-eaten continues.
Basically, the rule of thumb here is to encourage as many species into your garden by planting not only indigenous, but locally indigenous plants. Nature will do the rest and soon you will have a garden teeming with beautiful birds and graceful butterflies.
Following is a list of plants that attract birds through either the flowers, berries, seeds or other attributes. Plant these species in your garden to invite a diversity of feathered friends:
Arbutus (Strawberry Tree)
Celtis (White Stinkwood)
Dovyalis Cafra (Kei Apple)
Ficus Sur (Cape Fig)
Psidium Cattleanum (Cherry Guava)
Schinus (Pepper Trees)
Acacia (Indigenous species)
Erythrina (Coral Tree)
Halleria lucida (Tree Fuchsia)
Harpephyllum caffra (Wild Plum)
Kiggeleria (Wild Peach)
Melia (Cape Lilac)
Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria)
Halleria eliptica (Wild Fuchsia)
Halleria lucida (Tree Fuchsia)
Red Hot Pokers