Whether bright, bold and inquisitive, or delicate and shy, birds have a way of capturing our minds and our hearts. The importance of birds and a connection to nature to our quality of life cannot be underestimated. Just sitting and watching a group of fairy-wrens flit through your garden can be a relaxing and rewarding experience. As a society we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the environment, and at a time when understanding complex environmental issues is paramount, caring about nature is vital. If people don’t care about the natural world, how can we expect them to work to save it?
During National Bird Week 19-25 October 2015, BirdLife Australia is asking all Australians to get outdoors, count birds and take action to help them.
The Aussie Backyard Bird Count
For the second year in a row, the Aussie Backyard Bird Count is calling on everybody – young, old, twitchers or total bird-novices, to get out in their backyard or favourite green space and count all the birds they can see.
All it takes is 20 minutes and either a pair of binoculars, or even just some good eyesight to record the local birds. There is a website where you can submit a check-list or free apps for both iphone and android. And don’t worry if you don’t know the name of that strange little brown bird that just hopped into your garden – the apps have a built in bird finder, so by typing in a couple of characteristics (size and colour), you can get a list of possible birds to check your sighting against. A couple of other tips for taking part are:
1. We want to know the actual numbers of birds not the numbers of visits. So if 5 rainbow lorikeets come to visit and then disappear and a couple of minutes later 2 come back – enter 5 birds, not 7 as 2 of those birds are likely to be the same individuals returning.
2. You don’t have to see the bird. If you can accurately ID the bird/s calling, you can include it in your count, even if you don’t see it. If you are not sure, leave it out.
3. When typing the name of your bird in, go slowly – this will give you a drop down list to pick from. Some birds also go by different names so if you don’t see your bird immediately, don’t panic. Instead, check out the FAQs on the website for a list of some of these birds or pop the name into google (e.g. a Common Myna is known as Indian Myna or Mynah).
As well as being a great chance for Australians to connect with nature right on their doorstep, the Aussie Backyard Bird Count will also gather valuable data about Australian bird populations. It is a snap shot in time, allowing us to compare findings each year and complementing other surveys that BirdLife Australia conducts around the country. Last year we counted 800,000 birds, this year, we are aiming to crack the 1 million! So it’s thinking local, to act national.
Gardening for birds
Creating a bird-friendly garden is a great way to connect back with nature and to help your local bird life. Our bird communities are changing. Sweet little birds like the Superb Fairy-wren and the Silvereye are becoming much less common as we change our gardening styles and big bossy birds like the Noisy Miner take hold. There are things we can do though; we just need to balance what we want with what the birds need. It’s easy to do both!
So here are my top tips for creating a garden that will be valuable for lots of different birds, and something you will enjoy spending time in as well.
Before you start, make a map that includes everything you already have, and what you want to add. Taking a bit of time to plan things out can save lots of heartache down the track.
Different birds use different parts of the garden. We tend to do lawn and tall trees well, but we have forgotten about the shrubs – and these are so important to so many birds. So when planting for birds, put plants in that will grow to a range of heights – the ground cover, small and large shrubs and trees if you have the space
Wherever possible, get a hold of locally native plants. These were found naturally in your area and will grow well in the conditions. Your local council should have a plant list and will be able to point you in the direction of your local native nursery
A bit of lawn is not a bad thing. Lots of birds love feeding out on open lawn, but what we don’t want is lawn and nothing else. If you want to create a total bush garden, that’s great! But you can keep a bit of lawn for kids to run around on, it’s just that it needs to be in conjunction with lots of other vegetation too.
Don’t automatically put in a lot of big nectar-producing plants. Sure big showy grevilleas and bottlebrush look gorgeous, but they attract lots of those big bossy honeyeaters, which in turn, chase away other birds (not to mention there are so many of them around anyway). Instead plant smaller flowering natives, like the grevillea spider-flowers as well as plants that provide other food for birds – like tea-trees and hakeas to attract insects, native grasses and wattles for seed and even lilly-pillys and blueberry ash for fruits.
Create density – plant shrubs nice and close together, formally in hedges or in informal clumps or thickets. This creates great habitat for small birds. Prickly shrubs can create that extra bit of protection too, just be careful about where you place them.
Provide water – bird baths are a brilliant way to attract a huge diversity of birds. You can use a pedestal bath, a pot, a hanging bath or even a simple saucer on the ground (provided you don’t have outdoor cats). Just make sure the bath is kept clean (remember it’s a bath and a drinking source) and that it is somewhere close to bushes or trees – so birds (especially small ones) feel safe. Play around with different options and note the different types of birds that visit each.
Install a nest box – these are the alternative for many of our birds (and other wildlife) that are reliant on tree hollows to breed in. Different birds need different shaped boxes, so do your research on what you want (the Birds in Backyards website has free plans). Also make sure that you maintain the box. Introduced birds like the Common Myna might try to take over so you need to safely be able to remove their nesting material.
So pop the kettle on, get out in the garden and record those birds for the Aussie Backyard Bird Count. While you are there you can start to think of ways to make your garden more bird-friendly.