In this day and age of concrete jungles and small apartments, many find solace in living things. It's no secret that cities aren’t an ideal habitat for birds to coexist with humanity. Without defined ecological corridors, how can we as individuals create an oasis for our feathery friends?
How about planting a food source or providing nesting material?
A Cape Grassbird perched between some Helichrysum and ericoid species. They live off insects and grass seeds.
NECESSITIES FOR A NEST
No, not a DIY box, I mean what do birds need to build a nest? Did you know Sunbirds and Black-eyed Bulbuls use spiderwebs to build their nests? Many will scour your topsoil dressing for dried leaves or pet hair (cleaning your pet brush might actually be beneficial) and bind it with a bit of webbing.
Another option is attracting birds by planting nesting material. Here's a list of plants that make for great nesting material:
Fynbos: Wild Rosemary, Gomphocarpus physocarpus, Andropogon eucomus, Melinis nergivlumis or Melinis repens.
Check out my post below on Gomphocarpus:
Beware: Non-indigenous ornamental grasses can sometimes germinate outside your garden via seed dispersal.
To find out more about invasive species read the article below or explore invasive species in our Knowledge tab:
In some cases, your garden might not be ideal for a nest, but your local park will be. Always remember to keep your dogs on a leash even if it is the extendable ones. Birds such as Spotted Thick-knees and Blacksmith lapwings nest on the ground and will abandon nests if disturbed by dogs.
Spotted Thick-knees have resorted to laying eggs in parking lots or parks as most gardens are inhospitable due to dogs and cats.
WHAT DO BIRDS EAT
Birds can be subdivided based on their dietary requirements. A quick way to go about attracting them is by knowing your local fauna.
Nectarivores - Birds that rely on nectar as a food source.
Granivores - Birds that predominantly eat seeds.
Frugivorous - Birds that eat fruits and berries.
Insectivores - Birds that feed predominantly on insects.
TIP | A good thing to remember is the use of pesticides and herbicides will negate any planning to plant as a source of food. Fynbos species rarely require any and are therefore ideal.
Malachite Sunbirds are relatively common in the Cape Floristic Region. They seek out flowering Protea and Leucospermums.
This is by far the most well-known class of birds in South Africa. It includes all Sunbirds and Sugarbirds, whilst several opportunistic birds will also partake. The nectar contains a well-balanced selection of sugars that cannot be replaced by artificial nectar (1). The latter has become popular in many gardens but is still considered a possible source for disease transmission. So what can we plant to attract them?
Fynbos: Protea, Erica, Leucospermum, Leonotus, Psoralea, Lycium.
Check out my post below on Psoralea:
Trees: Cape Chestnut, Natal mahogany, Tree Fuchsia (Halleria lucida), Wild Peach (Kiggelia africana), Cork bush (Mundulea sericea), Weeping boer-bean (Schotia brachypetalum), Erythrina.
Bulbs: Kniphofia, Watsonia, Agapanthus, Gladiolus.
Succulents: Cotyledon, Aloe, Haworthia, Gasteria.
Other: Strelizia, Cape Honeysuckle
Toraco, Cape Parrot and Speckled Mousebirds frequent fruiting trees such as Outeniqua Yellowwood.
BIRDS & FRUIT
Did you know that the poor nutrient content of the Cape sandy soil makes it inhospitable for fruiting flora? Fruiting shrubs and trees are mostly confined to Strandveld (2) and the summer rainfall areas, however, this does not mean the Western Cape does not have frugivorous birds. The most common species would be Doves, Starlings, Cape White Eye, Mousebirds and Pigeons followed by Toraco, Barbets and our own Cape Parrot.
Due to the rapid decline of Outeniqua Yellowwood trees, the Cape Parrot numbers have declined to below 1000 (3). Why not help preserve our natural heritage by planting one?
Trees: White Milkwood, White Pear, White Stinkwood, Wild Peach, Wild Plum, Yellowwoods (Podocarpus spp.), Pappea capensis, Tree Fuchsia and Ficus spp.
Shrubs: Searsia pyroides, Bittersweet Cherry (Maurocenia frangula), Sea Guarrii (Euclea racemosa), Snake Berry (Lycium ferocissimum), Blue Kuni Bush (Searsia glauca), Enchanting Candlewood (Maytenus oleoides), Bietou (Osteospemum monilifera), Cape Saffron (Cassine peragua).
Fynbos: Chironia baccifera, Cliffortia baccans, Passerina ericoides
Bulbs: Chasmanthe aethiopica
Karoo/Lowveld: Thesium triflorum, Croton sylvaticus
Special: Outeniqua Yellowwood attracts Cape Parrot.
Planting indigenous seeding fynbos or lowveld species will curb the spread of any non-indigenous species.
GRANIVORES: WHAT’S IN A SEED
Probably some of the most commonly observed species are granivores because birdseed is so easy to come by. You would commonly find Cape Sparrow, Common Bulbuls, Weavers, Canaries, Prinias, Cape Siskin and Waxbills to name a few. Several rely on Protea seeds as a source of food.
Karoo/Lowveld: Blue Seed Grass (Tricholaena monachne)
Cape: Protea spp., Andropogon eucomus, Melinis nergivlumis or Melinis repens
A Bush Shrike with its grubby dinner in hand.
GRUBS FOR DINNER
This might sound trivial, but the largest proportion of indigenous species support insects (both small and big) that form the food source for many birds. Leaving a top dressing on the soil will attract Cape Robin as well as Thrushes and Spotted thick-knees, whilst planting bee-loving plants will attract Bee-eaters and Flycatchers. Fiscal Flycatcher will eye your salami, real up close and personal, but be just as happy if you leave some of those Chaffer Beatle larvae out in the open. Almost all plants attract a mode of insect, but here are some suggestions:
Bees: Metalasia, Mesembryanthemem, Leucadendron, Buchu, Virgilia.
Check out my post below on Metalasia:
Monkey Beetles (live off pollen): Ornithogalum, Romulea, Hesperantha
GIVE FELLOW BIRDERS A FOLLOW
For more photo's BY birders in South Africa, UK and Ireland:
This list touches on a few things to help you in deciding, however, the best results are always obtained by knowing your local birds before trying to revamp the garden. If you have seen a good relationship between a bird and a plant let me know in the comments.
A Forktail Drongo surveying the nearby bees.
(1) Coetzee, A. & Barnard, P. (2018, August). Nectar Quandary: Surviving the suburbs. African Birdlife, 6(5), 71-72
(2) Fraser, M. (1994). Bulbuls Berries and Baboons. Between Two Shores: Flora and Fauna of the Cape of Good Hope (pp.78-106). David Philip Publishers, Claremont.
(4) Milewski, A.V. (2004). Fruits have flipped fleshy to dry- and back? Veld & Flora, 90(3), 118-119.