21-day lockdown – Day 7 – Creating a bird-friendly garden – Part 1

21-day lockdown – Day 7 – Creating a bird-friendly garden – Part 1

Okay, so you’ve enhanced your soil using food scraps from your kitchen, you’ve decided on new seating areas for your garden, and you’ve realised the importance of attracting creatures to your garden. The question now becomes, how do you attract creatures to your garden?

Today and tomorrow we’ll discuss the changes you can make to your garden in order to naturally attract wildlife, specifically birds.

Sunbirds can be attracted to your garden just by selecting the right plants

There are some complexes in Gauteng where home owners have been discouraged, even prohibited, from putting bird seed out for their birds, because the birds that are attracted are often noisy and messy. This is especially true of doves and pigeons, which can cause a bit of a noise and a mess in adjacent properties, not to mention bullying other birds and taking over your seed tray. In complexes such as these the residents have been asked to not put seed out, and to rather plant indigenous plants that will naturally attract wildlife to their gardens. But can one really attract birdlife effectively without putting out seed?

Our answer is a resounding yes. We last put bird seed out in our garden over a year ago (it’s languishing in a sealed box on the patio), and yet our garden is visited on a daily basis by numerous bird species, all with their own reasons to visit. What’s more, many of these species are birds that would not ordinarily visit our garden if we’d only put seed out, like sunbirds and canaries (the wild canaries only came to our garden when we planted indigenous grasses – they weren’t interested in store-bought seed!).

Birds such as this juvenile Yellow-fronted Canary only visited our garden once we planted indigenous grasses

So in part one let’s discuss the steps you can take to make your garden more bird-friendly, and in part 2 tomorrow we’ll discuss the plant species we’ve planted in order to naturally attract birds to our garden.

Ideas to create a bird-friendly garden:

  • Reduce the size of your lawn. I’m sure by now you’re tired of hearing this from us, but it really is the number one thing you can do to create a beautiful, wildlife-friendly space. Lawn is really only one plant, and an expensive one at that, requiring mowing, removing of lawn-cuttings, weeding and regular watering (it’s the thirstiest plant in your garden). So why take up the whole garden with it? In terms of biodiversity, there’s very little that is naturally attracted to a lawn (if you take into account butterfly host plants, insects etc.). So if you want to attract wildlife, reduce the size of your lawn, or remove it entirely, and instead plant non-invasive, wildlife-attracting plants.

A lawn-free garden liberates you from mowing, weeding and watering a lawn. Plants such as dymondia (foreground groundcover) work perfectly in combination with other materials such as natural stepping rocks to allow you to journey through your garden. Best of all, the wildlife will come flocking

  • Add water to your garden so your birds can drink and bath. We have three water sources in our small garden: a grinding stone, a natural magaliesberg rock that holds water, and an artificial water feature. For whatever reason – perhaps for safety – some birds prefer drinking from one specific water feature, often ignoring the others. So if you have the space consider more than one water feature, and allow your birds to choose which one they prefer. You may be surprised by their choice!

Jameson’s Firefinches prefer drinking from the natural magaliesberg rock

  • Add a dust bath: Some birds love to have a dust bath, so leave an empty sandy space in your garden where they can come and ‘bath’ in the sand

Laughing Dove dust bathing

  • Add rocks and logs: along with your shrubs and trees, rocks and logs can create perching opportunities for birds, and enhance the aesthetics of your garden

Jameson’s Firefinch female, having had a drink, moves on to an elevated perch in the garden, a rock

logs and branches can help smaller species such as this Southern Grey-headed Sparrow with perching opportunities

  • Add contours, pathways and seating areas: you might be creating a bird-friendly garden, but you’ll still want to access it yourself, or sit in it, or photograph the birds from within it, so create pathways and seating areas within the garden. You can also add contours to your garden, as opposed to having everything flat.
  • Create a dry-riverbed: this is one of our favourite features to add to a lawn-free garden. By adding a dry-riverbed you not only add a new visual aspect to the garden, you also create a practical way of channeling rain-water through the garden. It’s best to start your dry-riverbed at one of your gutters, or at a point where water enters your garden, either from your neighbour’s property or from the street. You can also add water-loving plants to grow within the dry-riverbed, and mini ‘dam’ areas which will naturally fill up during heavy rains, and slowly soak into your ground, so that water stays in your garden. Add bridges or stepping stones to allow you to cross your dry-riverbed and continue your journey through the garden. Birds will begin exploring the dry-riverbed, finding insects beneath the rocks, or using your rocks and bridges as a perch.

A dry-riverbed, such as this one in a lawn-free garden, adds aesthetics and helps with drainage

  • Add nesting logs: we were quite surprised by how fast barbets found our nesting log that we put up in our garden, literally within days. Previously we only had these birds visiting on an infrequent basis, but by adding a nesting log we now have Crested Barbets in our garden every day, and they even produced two broods over this past summer season – so we had baby barbets too!

‘CB’, our now resident Crested Barbet, excavating his new log just days after we put it up

  • And lastly, add bird-friendly plants, using a combination of species that provide food, nesting material, and nesting opportunities. Look out for part two tomorrow to see our favourite bird-attracting plants!


For interest, here are the 77 bird species we’ve seen (in or flying over) our garden:

Babbler, Arrow-marked
Barbet, Black-collared
Barbet, Crested
Bee-eater, European
Bishop, Red
Bulbul, Black-eyed
Canary, Black-throated
Canary, Yellow-fronted
Chat, Familiar
Coucal, Burchell’s
Crow, Pied
Cuckoo, Diederik
Cuckoo, Red-chested
Dove, Laughing
Dove, Red-eyed
Dove, Rock
Eagle, Verreaux’s
Eagle-owl, Spotted
Falcon, Amur
Finch, Cutthroat
Finch, Red-headed
Firefinch, Jameson’s
Flycatcher, Fiscal
Flycatcher, Paradise
Francolin, Coqui
Go-away-bird, Grey
Goose, Egyptian
Harrier-hawk, African
Hawk, African Cuckoo
Heron, Black-headed
Hoepoe, African
Hornbill, Grey
Ibis, Hadeda
Ibis, Sacred
Indigobird, Purple
Kingfisher, Woodland
Kite, Black-shouldered
Lapwing, Crowned
Lapwing, Wattled
Mannikin, Bronze
Masked-weaver, Southern
Mousebird, Red-faced
Mousebird, Speckled
Myna, Indian
Owl, Western Barn
Pigeon, Green
Prinia, Tawny-flanked
Quelea, Red-billed
Robin-chat, Cape
Seed-eater, Streaky-headed
Shrike, Fiscal
Sparrow, Cape
Sparrow, Grey-headed
Sparrow, House
Stork, White
Sunbird, Amethyst
Sunbird, Greater Double-collared
Sunbird, White-bellied
Swallow, Great-striped
Swallow, Lesser-striped
Swift, African Palm
Tchagra, Black-crowned
Thick-knee, Spotted
Thrush, Groundscraper
Thrush, Karoo
Thrush, Kurrichane
Tinkerbird, Yellow-fronted
Wagtail, Cape
Warbler, African Reed
Warbler, Great Reed
Warbler, Willow
Waxbill, Common
Weaver, Thick-billed
Wheatear, Mountain
White-eye, Cape
Whydah, Pin-tailed
Woodhoopoe, Green