Garden Birds in Winter

Published on May 6th 2021
bird in garden
We often associate winter with dreary, windy landscapes, but that is not the case. A staggering amount of birds never leave our shores during winter, in fact, we gain several Antarctic visitors that shy away from the harsh, cold, dark South.
Why not play host to a lively aviary this winter?
garden birds restio grass

Birds in Suburban areas

Coaxing some unusual friends into the garden can seem like a tall order, but it isn’t as far off as one would have you believe. We touched on this in ‘Birds-Creating a Paradise’. Now we will combine what we know about our resident birds with what we have in our gardens in winter.
Remember each province undergoes a different change in winter. A good example is the Afromontane forests of Knysna. The area produces most of its fruit during winter (June), but most of its insects in summer. At the same time, the grassland swathes of Gauteng suffers from frosty evenings with few flowering grasses. The types of birds that frequents each area will be different.
Do you know what birds visit your area?
Most Common Garden Birds in:
  • Southern Masked Weaver
  • Darkcapped Bulbul
  • Tawney-flanked Prinia
  • Common Myna (invasive)
  • African Palm Swift
*Long grass offers protection from the elements.
Karoo and NamaKaroo:
  • Grey-backed finch lark
  • Namaqualand Dove
  • Bokmakierie
  • Cape spurfowl
Grassland (Bloemfontein):
  • Orange River White-eye
  • White-backed Mousebird
  • Fiscal Flycatcher
  • Crowned lapwing
  • Redheaded finch
garden birds
A greenbul eyeballing my sandwich. They might want bread, but bread and biscuits cause impaction resulting in death. The fruit on the nearby bush proves to be a better snack.
Cape Town:
  • Cape Laughing Dove
  • House sparrow (invasive)
  • Cape Bulbul
  • Karoo Prinia
  • Cape red-wing
  • Red-eye Dove
  • Southern Red Bishop
  • Red-capped Robin-Chat
  • Speckled mousebird
*Frugivorous birds will opt for red or dark coloured fruit.
You may struggle to know what these are, but you do not need a high-end camera to identify them. Birdlife South Africa has a free app (100 species) and a bought version (all species) that guides you through the process. Once you have it pinpointed, the app will tell you what it eats. Easy is it not?
garden birds

Rewilding a winter garden

Gardening does not need to be time-consuming, neither does attracting birds. Why not try out rewilding a part of your garden this winter? It is a concept that has gotten a boost as new gardeners crave the wilds as opposed to a suburban jungle.
Term: Rewilding is a term coined to explain the practice of natural restoration or improvement of a previously disturbed area e.g. suburbs.
How does one do this, you ask? Well, it is easy, you do nothing. The concept of rewilding is to let nature take its course. I don’t mean you have to let the ivy encroach or let the invasive weeds take over. It might start off with just leaving it to see what natural species pop up this spring, then remove the invasive and give the indigenous flora free reign. It sounds tempting, doesn’t it? (Weeding in the cold or rain does not sound appealing.)
garden birds

A change in outlook

We have no problem planting annuals that only last a season or one year, yet we struggle to do the same for indigenous perennials. It is merely a question of looking at things differently. Instead of buying sugar water, I buy a Lintflower or a flowering Protea and leave it on the porch for the sunbirds. It is healthier, provides flowers for days, and once the blooms fade, they go into the landscape (I do not lament the sugar water that vanishes, so I don't lament it if the shrub doesn't either).
Some great options from the Candide community:
Planting feeder plants is a wonderful goal for any gardener. If you are new to the game, remember that feeding birds can take many forms. It does not need to be technical or keep costing you money. You can walk into a nursery without a list if you like. If you do not know names, ask for the indigenous sections and look out for the following:
Signs of possible bird food:
  • Red or dark berries/fruits (they steer clear of green)
  • Flowers (of all kinds)
  • Seeds or seedpods
A bird flying in the sky
You can also opt to leave a shrub or two unpruned as it is those undisturbed areas that will attract nesting birds. They also provide the best cover for smaller birds and (if you are so bold as to plant them near glass) provide endless birding options from inside the home.
For some great tips on urban gardening with birds see BirdlifeSA's link below & remember to share your garden birds with us!
(1) J. H. Koen (1992) Medium-term fluctuations of birds and their potential food resources in the Knysna forest, Ostrich, 63:1, 21-30, DOI: 10.1080/00306525.1992.9634178
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