By making your garden a friendly place for small birds, you will create a good habitat for them to live, feed and nest in.
Making your patch a thriving place also helps to reconnect habitats across the landscape. This means that when small birds fly from place to place in search of food, shelter and nesting trees, they have an easier task ahead of them.
Making your backyard into a safe and friendly place will help more small birds overall to survive.
With a few simple steps, you can transform your garden into a small bird paradise.
Be a backyard buddy
When you look out your windows, what do you see? Too often, the answer is Indian Mynas, Noisy Miners, or only a few types of birds.
This is because the manicured gardens we have in our suburbs encourage those birds. Mynas love areas with open spaces, like lawns or paved areas without many plants, or with only a few tall trees scattered around. Sound familiar?
These common, suburban gardens don’t provide the habitat that small birds need. They don’t have an understory or many plants of different heights and densities for smaller birds to hide in, and so they easily get chased out of the area by more aggressive birds like Mynas.
But you can help! Let’s get started.
You don’t need to dig up the whole garden and start again.
You can simply make a few additions to fill up your garden a bit more, and make it more suitable for small birds.
Click to watch a video about gardening for small birds from Birds in Backyards.
Small birds need:
- Local native plants: You can ask which plants are native to your area at your local nursery, by ringing your council, or by getting in touch with the nearest Landcare or Bushcare group. Try to get a mix of plants that will flower in different seasons, and provide food year-round. Plant your local natives after the first good rains in autumn or winter. Then you won’t have to spend much time watering them next summer.
- Diversity: A garden with plants of many different heights and densities, with upper, mid and lower layers.
- Shelter: A dense, closely planted, central area of 1-2 metre tall shrubs in which to roost, possibly to nest in, and to shelter from weather and predators in.
- Food: Within and outside of the central tall shrubs, small birds need a diverse mix of smaller shrubs, grasses and ground covers in which to forage for food. Plant these about 6 inches apart. Native plants can provide different kinds of food, such as nectar, fruits or berries, and seeds, so try to include species that will provide a range of foods. Grevilleas, Banksias, Hakeas, and Eucalyptuses will provide lots of nectar, as will Correas and Kangaroo Paws.
- Protection: To keep small birds safe, you might like to encourage a vine to climb over some of your shrubs to provide extra cover from predators such as cats, and larger birds.
- Water: in a cat-proof, elevated bird bath, that is placed next to a spiky, dense bush. This gives small birds somewhere close by to hide if a predator appears.
- An understory: Made up of small shrubs, grasses, herbs, vines, fallen branches, hollow logs, and rocks.
- Spiky plants: densely planted spiky natives that can act as a bit of a buffer to prevent bigger birds and predators from coming in easily. They will also provide food, shelter and nesting sites for small birds. Great species to use include Hakeas, Bursarias, Banksias, Lambertias, Woollsias, Styphelias, Epacrises, Daviesias, Dillwynias, and the Acacia ulicifolia.
- Native grasses: allowed to grow tall, native grasses will provide lots of seed for small birds like finches to eat, and good places to hide. Native grasses include Kangaroo Grass, Walaby Grass and Poa Grass, among many others.
- Nesting materials: Including leaf litter, sticks, bark and grasses. Nest material is often bound together with spider web, so leave any webs or spiders you find around the garden alone. Having leaf litter, mulch and bark around the garden will also encourage skinks and insects for small birds to eat. Nests are often lined with soft downy fibres from plants, or strips of moss or lichen, so if you can include these in your garden, all the better.
- Keep your cat indoors as much as possible, so that they don’t attack small birds.
- Plant spiky shrubs between or near your existing plants to fill up the area, and make it more attractive to small birds.
- Be patient as it may take time for your garden to develop, and for small birds and new visitors to discover that it is a reliable source of food, shelter and water.
- Start slow – maybe pick one corner of your garden to build up first, and add to it over time.
- Encourage the creation of more native gardens for small birds around your area. It could be a great project for the local primary or high school, or even for a local group who would like to improve the verges in your area. Before planting a verge or other public area, gain permission from the local council or appropriate authority. The more good habitat there is around, the more small birds you will all see.
- Take a walk around your nearest natural area with high quality bushland. Observe what kinds of small birds are around, and what kinds of plants they are using. Observe how the plants small birds are feeding from and sheltering in are distributed – for example, in a large group of the same plant, or scattered amongst many different plants, or both. What you want to do in your own garden to encourage small birds, is copy as closely as possible what you see out in the natural bushland.
- Feeding small birds with bread or seed. Small birds can find their own food, and get much more benefit out of food that comes from native plants, as this is what they are used to. Small birds can get sick or die if they eat the wrong foods, or food that has gone bad.
- Using chemicals and pesticides in your garden to control bugs. This removes a food source for small birds, and can make small birds sick or cause them to die if they eat a poisoned insect.
- Clearing bushy areas of the garden because they appear messy or overgrown. This is just what small birds love best!
- Using plants that are known weeds to your area. Check with your council or nursery for more information.
- Using hybrid plants such as hybrid Grevilleas with large flowers, as these will attract Noisy Miners. Go for local native plants with smaller flowers, that smaller honeyeaters will be able to feed from, but which Miners and Red Wattlebirds will not be able to.
Some common small birds include:
- Grey Fantails
- Superb Fairy-wrens
- Red-browed Finches
- Spotted Pardalotes
- Eastern Spinebills
- Eastern Yellow Robins
- Welcome Swallows
- Brown Gerygones
- Jacky Winters
Be a backyard buddy
It’s easy. All you have to do is care… and take a few simple steps. Backyard Buddies are the native plants and animals that share our urban areas, waterways, backyards and parks. Backyard Buddies are also the people who value native wildlife and want to protect it.
Find out more about your buddies
SIGN UP: to receive regular B-mails about animals you’re likely to see in your backyard with tips on how to make your backyard friendly for them.