Armidale gardening: Caring for our feathered friends

Favourite for honeyeaters: The pretty Eremophila maculata comes in a number of forms.

Favourite for honeyeaters: The pretty Eremophila maculata comes in a number of forms.

Our unique, small native birds are having a torrid time.

Numbers of honeyeaters, wagtails, wrens, thornbills and finches have dropped dramatically. This is due mainly to the loss of habitat but feral predators have contributed to the population reduction.

Small native birds require a reasonably dense understorey of native shrubs. When this shrub layer is removed then large, aggressive birds move in and drive smaller birds out.

Gardeners have an opportunity to create landscapes that are friendly to small native birds. A range of native shrubs planted close together will provide shelter, nesting sites and food for these threatened unique Australians. It is surprising how soon small birds will move into a developing native shrubbery.

A bird-friendly shrubbery should be composed of a range of native plants. Groundcovers, small, medium and tall shrubs should be included in the mix. Spacing should be less than one metre, between plants, to provide enough density so that the birds will feel secure. Depending on the space available, the shrubbery should be three or four rows.

In suburban gardens, the shrubbery could be established along the back fence. On rural properties perhaps a series of shrubberies could be established. We have established a series of native shrubberies on our garden west of Armidale.

...insectivorous birds assist the gardener by reducing insect pests and thus eliminate the use of insecticides.

Our bird list runs to about 90 species whereas before the garden was established, only 10 or so bird varieties were observed.

Natives that have nectar-bearing flowers provide food for both honeyeaters and insectivorous birds. The honeyeaters will feed on the nectar directly while the insectivorous birds, such as wrens and thrushes will make a meal of any insects that visit the flowers. The insectivorous birds assist the gardener by reducing insect pests and thus eliminate the use of insecticides.

Taller plants in this nectar-bearing category include bottlebrushes (callistemons), banksias, melaleucas and most importantly the grevilleas. Some members of this latter group have dense, prickly foliage and are used as nesting sites.

A number of smaller natives bear nectar-filled flowers. Correas and emu bushes (eremophilas) have nectar-filled, tubular flowers and are very popular with honeyeaters. Eremophila maculata comes in a number of forms. They are all popular with honeyeaters.

Westringias are hardy, medium shrubs with dense foliage. They provide shelter and protected nesting sites. They also flower prolifically and although individual flowers are small they do attract insects that in turn play a role in feeding thrushes, wrens and other insect eaters.

Shrubberies should be complemented by open areas planted with native grasses. Their seeds are eaten by finches. The proximity of shrubberies means that finches are able to seek shelter if danger threatens.

A few tall wattles could be included in a shrubbery. They will grow above the shrubs and allow birds to view their surroundings before diving into the dense vegetation.

A shrubbery will not only provide a haven for birds but because of the wide range of plants used, there will always be something in flower. This will create an interesting domestic landscape feature that will interest and delight gardeners.