Sharing a garden with birds is a constant source of interest, entertainment and companionship. Birds will be regular visitors to any garden that has food, water and safe nesting places. How simple it is to plant beautiful plants that will also appeal to a variety of birds, without having to put food out on a bird table. Instead the entire garden can act as a bird table! A variety of bird baths at different levels is best, as birds have different bathing and drinking habits.
For entertainment value, the male Cape weaver in his nesting frenzy is hard to beat. However annoying it is to have plants with long thin leaves shredded for nesting material, his skill, speed and dexterity is fascinating to watch.
Colourful sunbirds and sugarbirds love nectar-producing yellow, orange or red flowers such as the Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis), crane flowers (Strelitzia regina), aloes, red hot pokers (Kniphofia spp.)and wild dagga (Leonotus leonurus), as well as exotic species like the Bottlebrush.
Then there are birds that assist gardeners in keeping common garden pests at bay. The Burchell’s Coucal loves snails, as does the Olive Thrush and Hadeda. The Cape White-eye feeds on aphids and scale insects. The Cape wagtail and Fiscal shrike enjoy insects and worms, so are constant companions when there is any weeding or digging on the go. Remember not to use poisonous insecticides which could harm your birds. There are many non-toxic preparations which are effective and easy to make. For example one of the simplest methods of killing snails is to put out a saucer of beer for them to drink.
Many birds are seed and berry eaters, such as doves, canaries, Cape bulbul etc. and eat a variety of seeds including those of grasses and weeds. Unexpected plantings happen – birds planted a delightful little grove of White stinkwood (Celtis africana) trees in the wild section of our garden; as well as a cream wild dagga near a clump of orangey-red Aloe arborescens – a striking choice! One of the most attractive slow-growing small trees which fruit-eating birds enjoy is the Mickey Mouse bush (Ochna serrulata), with its golden yellow flowers, followed by shiny black fruits hanging below bright red sepals – looking just like Mickey Mouse faces.
Many gardening books describe which plants are attractive to birds e.g. Creative gardening with indigenous plants, by Pitta Joffe, (Briza, 2003); and guides like Attracting birds to your garden, by Roy Trendler and Lex Hes, (Struik, 1994), include detailed plant lists. So next time you are wondering what to plant, perhaps consider your birds.
Pictures by Donovan & Heather Drew, David Rossauw and Colin Beggs
Article by Leonie Twentyman-Jones