Lockdown Visitors

Southern Greater double-collared sunbird.  Photo: Leonie Twentyman Jones

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman Jones

When friends and relations are prevented from visiting, other visitors, like birds and butterflies, have become more important in our daily lives and help to keep us sane. We are very lucky to have a garden full of plants that birds enjoy, with the result that the last few months have seen an amazing variety of bird visitors. Many of the birds’ favourites include the undemanding and easy to grow Leonotus leonorus (Wild Dagga), Tecoma capensis (Cape honeysuckle) and Strelizia regina (Crane flower). Add a couple of bird baths and you will have a constant stream of visitors.

Some of our most devoted and enthusiastic visitors are the sunbirds – the handsome Southern Greater Double-collared sunbird, with his broad scarlet waistcoat; the dainty little hyper-active Fynbos Lesser Double-collared sunbird; the  ‘cool dude’ Southern Black (Amethyst) sunbird; as well as a fleeting visit from a pair of Southern Collared  sunbirds, desperate for a bath!  The large bushes of orange and cream Leonotus leonorus have provided a constant supply of sweet nectar – the isiZulu name utshwala-bezinyoni, means ‘beer of the birds’. No need for any rationing of that ‘beer’ during Lockdowns 4 and 5!

Another successful plant for luring birds has been the Kalanchoe thyrsiflora or Paddle plant, which we planted in front of our lounge window about two years ago mainly because it is a dryish area and we thought this succulent with its large red-tinged leaves would do well there. We had no idea that it would produce a metre-long flowering stalk with small, creamy-yellow, densely-packed flowers. As the stalk grew taller and the flowers started opening, the sunbirds discovered them with great excitement. So now we can sit and watch the sunbirds enjoy their nectar while we enjoy our coffee a mere metre away. They are so focussed on their nectar gathering that they don’t appear to notice us.

The Leonotus flowers are nearly over now, but luckily the aloes are starting to open — those that the Streaky-headed Seedeaters haven’t munched before they even had a chance to open.  The trick to sharing your garden with birds is always to plant extras, so that it doesn’t matter if some of the aloes are eaten before they open, or if some of the bulb leaves are used by the weavers to make nests, or if the red hot pokers are eaten as they open…

Sharing one’s garden is so worthwhile for all the joy, entertainment and companionship these ‘new best friends’ provide!