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What can I plant to attract native birds to my garden? Should I feed the birds to attract them? Is a birdbath worthwhile? So many questions.

One of the nice things about lockdown is the quiet. With less traffic noise, we can hear each other better, and we can hear the birds!

Now that spring is here, many of us are spending more time outside and in our gardens enjoying the company of the tui, kingfisher fantails and even the occasional kingfisher.

If you love having birds around the house and in the garden, here’s some things you can do to attract them and provide them with some much needed bird food. And for an added bonus, there’s a couple of good DIY projects for around the house in lockdown or the weekend!

Helping native birds is also important because we are in a biodiversity crisis. Many native bird species are threatened with extinction, or have already gone extinct. In our towns and cities, trees lack protection and are being removed at a frightening rate. Everything we can do to help our native birds survive, counts, so before you continue, please sign the petition calling for general tree protection in our towns and cities!

Make your garden safe for birds

To create a sanctuary for birds in your garden you need to manage predators.

Stoats, rats, weasels, possums, cats and hedgehogs prey on birds, including their eggs and nestlings. If you want to keep the birds flourishing, controlling pests is important. Keep the cat inside at night, and set traps or use bait stations to rid your garden of rats and mice.

Cats are cute, but they are no friend to our native birds.

Make a bird feeder

A sugar water bird feeder is another great bird magnet. Using a bowel or an inverted bottle (there’s another good weekend project), you just need to put it somewhere high away from cats, add a nice sugar water solution and the birds will be visiting before you know it.

Just dissolve half a cup of sugar in about four cups of water, but don’t make it any stronger than that or you risk attracting wasps or getting the birds drunk!

To make a sugar feeder, take a one-litre milk bottle and attach the lid to a shallow dish or jar lid. Fill the milk bottle with sugar water and make a few small holes about half a centimetre from the bottom of the bottle. Screw it into the lid and turn the dish upside down. Sugar solution will come out of the bottle and fill the dish to the height of the holes. 

Be aware that some foods are not good for our native birds.

Peanuts and walnuts may contain fungal toxins called afla toxins. In low doses these can affect fertility and immunity and in high doses can cause liver and kidney failure. Sunflower seeds can cause obesity and feather loss. Bread is highly processed and a bird’s digestive system is not designed to digest it. It can result in impaction in the intestines, dehydration and ultimately death. 

According to Zelandia, you should avoid: Honey water, Bread, Corn,Peanuts, Sunflower seeds, Walnuts, Junk food, Too much of anything Mouldy food

Encourage insects

Many birds, such as pīwakawaka (fantail), eat insects. Encouraging a healthy mix of spiders, moths, beetles, and earthworms etc. A good layer of mulch or leaf litter on the garden will encourage insects, and birds are a natural way of keeping them under control. Ruru (morepork) and Kōtare (kingfisher) eat insects as well as mice.

Add a birdbath

Many birds will use a bird bath if there’s one available, especially in summer. Watching them splash about can be very entertaining!

You can make a birdbath yourself or they’re easily purchased at garden centres or the local market.

You can make your own birdbath with any number of combinations of wood, plant pots and drip trays. Use your imagination or grab some ideas off the internet. It’s a perfect weekend project.

Just make sure that your new birdbath is not accessible to cats, but still easy enough to get to for cleaning and refilling. Give it a rinse and a scrub regularly to keep the water fresh and the birds (and you) happy. Here are some DIY birdbath ideas.

Plant for the birds

Plant favoured bird foods like flax and kōwhai but don’t plant them too close to the house because reflections on glass can confuse birds and cause them to fly into your windows. 

Tui love to feast on flax, and it’s easy to grow!

Some native birds have wisely become wary of feeding on the ground. Think about growing ground creepers like Fuchsia procumbens in a hanging basket, which with red berries hanging down are beautiful and attractive for birds. Climbing plants like Metrosideros carminea (crimson rata) and Passiflora tetrandra (NZ passionfruit) are also good to encourage to climb the wall of a garage, in a tree or across other garden structures.

Here’s a list of native trees, shrubs and climbers that look attractive in the garden and also provide shelter and food for wildlife. The following is a selection recommended by DOC, but not all will grow in every part of the country.

It’s also good to go for ‘eco sourced’ varieties as much as possible. Plants that come from the area you live are preferable because the native wildlife has coexisted with them for thousands of years, and has adapted to using them as a food source. 

Trees shrubs and climbers that are good for birds

Botanical nameCommon nameFeatures
Trees over 6 metres 
Alectryon excelsustitokired fruit
Carpodetus serratusputaputawetalilac flower
Cordyline australisti kouka (cabbage tree)cream flower
Coprosma repenstaupataorange/yellow fruit
Griselinia littoralisbroadleafpurple fruit
Fuchsia excorticatakotukutuku or koninired flower, black fruit
Knightia excelsarewarewared flower
Melicytus ramiflorusmahoeviolet fruit
Pennantia corymbosakaikomakoblack fruit
Pittosporum eugenioidestarata (lemonwood)yellow flower
Pittosporum tenuifoliumkohuhudark red flowers
Pseudopanax arboreusfive fingerblack fruit
Schefflera digitatapatepurple/black fruit
Sophora tetrapterakowhaiyellow flower
Vitex lucenspuririred flower
Trees and shrubs (approx 1.5m to 6m)  
Aristotelia serratawineberrydeep red fruit
Brachyglottis repandarangiorayellow flower
Coprosma rhamnoidescoprosmacrimson fruit
Coprosma robustakaramuorange/red fruit
Coprosma grandifoliakanonoorange fruit
Cordyline indivisamountain cabbage treecream flower
Corokia specieskorokioorange to red fruit
Leptospermum scopariummanukawhite/pink flower
Marcopiper excelsumkawakawaorange fruit
Myrsine australismapoublack fruit
Phormium tenaxNZ flaxyellow flower
Pittosporum crassifoliumkarocrimson flower
Pomaderris apetalatainuyellow flower
Pomaderris kumerahokumerahouyellow flower
Pseudopanax laetusfive fingerblack fruit
Sophora microphyllakowhaiyellow flower
Shrubs (approx 500mm to 1.5m)  
Alseuosmia macrophyllatoropapacream to red flower, red fruit
Astelia nervosaasteliaorange fruit
Clianthus puniceuskaka beakred flower
Coprosma cheesmaniicoprosmaorange red fruit
Corokia cotoneasterkorokiored fruit
Hebe specieshebeflowers various colours
Libertia grandifloraNZ irisorange seed pod
Melicytus micranthusnanakurapurple to white fruit
Phormium cookianumdwarf mountain flaxyellow flower
Rhabdothamnus solandriimatatayellow to red flower
Low-growing plants(to 500 mm approx)
Coprosma acerosa & brunneasand coprosmapale blue fruit
Dianella nigraNZ blueberryblue fruit
Fuchsia procumbensfuchsiared fruit
Hebe specieshebeflowers various colours
Libertia ixioides or L.peregrinansNZ irisorange seed pod
Muehlenbeckia axillariscreeping pohuehuewhite fruit
Parahebe speciesparahebewhite flower
Podocarpus nivalismountain totarared fruit
Pratia angulatacreeping pratiapurple/red fruit
Container plants
Alectryon execelsustitokired fruit
Astelia species orange fruit
Clianthus specieskaka beakred flower
Cordyline australiscabbage treecream flower
Cordyline indivisamountain cabbage treecream flower
Griselinia littoralisbroadleafpurple fruit
Phormium speciesNZ Flaxyellow flower
Pittosporum species yellow to red flowers
Pseudopanax speciesfive fingerblack fruit
Vitex lucenspuriripink/red flower, red fruit
Climbers
Metrosideros carmineacarmine ratacrimson flower
Passiflora tetrandakohiaorange fruit
Tecomanthe speciosa cream flower

And here are two calendars which show when plants will provide nectar, fruit or seeds for native birds.