Attracting wildlife to your garden

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Attracting birds and other wildlife to your garden can be so simple!

Many indigenous as well as exotic plants can be incorporated into your garden design to attract wildlife, and it doesn't matter how large or small your garden is; if you follow a few simple guidelines you will soon be rewarded with the delightful sound of birdsong, and the fleeting beauty of a flitting butterfly or busy bee.Because of the continual expansion of our urban areas into the natural environment, city gardens, parks and open areas have become vital in sustaining wildlife; and it is possible - with a bit of planning - to create both a beautiful and sustainable sanctuary for birds and other wildlife in our suburban gardens.

Naturally, indigenous plants play a vital role in every wildlife garden but you do not have to plant exclusively indigenous plants, as many exotics will also attract birds and butterflies.

If you already have an established garden there is also no need to rip everything out! Introducing even a few indigenous plant species, and incorporating water, feeding trays and nesting boxes etc into the garden will dramatically increase the number of bird species which visit your garden.
Praying MantisPraying MantisWildlife gardens should never be sprayed with harmful poisons. It may be a bit of a battle at first, but with the right choice of plant material and a little patience, nature herself will create a balance between insects and their natural predators.

Many insects and small animals like frogs, spiders, ladybirds, lacewings and praying mantis are beneficial in the garden, eating large quantities of insects; and if the garden is left un-sprayed, it won't take long for them to appear. Insect eating birds like the Cape white-eyes will also soon be on the scene for their daily meals.

A truly successful bird environment should ideally incorporate a variety of habitats and to create a truly three dimensional garden it must include three levels. The canopy level is created by planting trees and large shrubs; the intermediary level consists of medium sized plants, and lastly, the small plants and ground covers. Planting carefully selected plants in these three levels will create a haven for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

Open areas of lawn, ornamental grasses and groundcovers will attract birds like the Hadeda who love to search for delicacies in the lawn, or herons who need a runway to take flight.

APestios and water lilies.  Picture courtesy and water lilies. Picture courtesy exclusion area will provide privacy and shelter for shy and nervous birds like robins and thrushes.

A few creepers trained up a wall or trellis can provide valuable nesting sites for wagtails and robins.

The canopy habitat ties the whole bird garden together, providing valuable perching and nesting sites for birds as well as food and natural ground litter.

If space permits you could even create a little wetland area, and in small gardens water can be made available by installing a traditional bird bath or small rock water feature.

Birds love to take a sand bath occasionally to keep their feathers in peak condition and to help keep parasites at bay. Choose a secluded site away from dangerous pets etc and where the soil is well-drained or the sand bath could turn into a mud bath. Dig out a pit and line it with coarse washed river sand before filling in the rest with a fine, dry, powdery soil mixture.

Celtis africana. Picture courtesy africana. Picture courtesy Habitat

The canopy habitat is the area occupied by the tops of trees and large shrubs and is a vital component of any bird and wildlife garden. Look at it as the framework of the bird garden, upon which all the other elements are balanced. If carefully planned it will provide birds with a safe place to roost and nest, and can also provide a valuable food source.

In all gardens there are high and low traffic areas and naturally the most secluded parts of the garden are the most ideal areas in which to create a bird garden, but it is important to blend the densely planted exclusion area with the rest of your garden by extending the plantings into your high traffic areas. The height provided by a few well-chosen trees and shrubs can provide nesting or resting areas where birds can feel safe, even in high traffic areas. If the canopy of shrubs and trees are placed so that once mature they intertwine with one another, a green belt or corridor is created in which wildlife will thrive.

Acacia Galpinii. Picture courtesy Gareth BedfordAcacia Galpinii. Picture courtesy Gareth BedfordThorn trees are perfect for bird gardens but should be sited away from high traffic areas because they drop their thorns and can be quite messy; rather plant them on the perimeters of the garden. Also remember that evergreen trees sited close to the house may be wonderfully cool in summer, but in the winter they may rob your home of valuable sunlight.

Other very important aspect of garden design is to incorporate movement into the garden, and many plants such as grasses are implemented into the design because they sway gently in even the slightest breeze, and will also attract seed eating birds.

A well-designed water feature or wetland will not only add movement to the garden but will also attract frogs, dragonflies and birds of all kinds. Birds and butterflies bring the most beautiful and unexpected movement to the garden, bringing it to life with brilliant colour and sound.

Sound is so important in the garden and shrubs with large leaves, like many species of palms, make a wonderful rattling sound in the wind. Grass species make a gentle rustling sound, and trees each have their own particular sound. Nothing compares to the noise large tree branches make when they creak and bend in a thunderstorm. Water features bring soothing sounds into the garden and help to block out unwanted noise from traffic, neighbours etc.

Ekebergia capensis fruit. Picture courtesy capensis fruit. Picture courtesy and fruiting trees and shrubs form an integral part of the bird garden. Brightly coloured flowers will attract many insects, which will in turn attract insect eating birds such as flycatchers and shrikes.

Fruiting plants will attract fruit eating birds like the Redfaced Mousebird and the Streakyheaded Canary.

Nectar bearing plants will attract birds like the Cape Sugarbird, the Malachite Sunbird, the Lesser Doublecollared Sunbird and the Black Sunbird.

Choose plants that do well in your area and group them according to their watering and sun requirements.

Even if you do not have a large enough garden to include a wetland or a large open space area for birds, you can still create a wildlife haven that is both practical and sustainable; providing a peaceful, soothing retreat for both humans and wildlife alike.

Selecting the perfect plants for your wildlife garden is easy if you have a good reference library like we do at gardening in South Africa. It includes hundreds of beautiful indigenous and exotic plants, conveniently divided in sections according to their height and spread. This should help you a lot - simply browse through the sections for inspiration or search for your favourite plants with our easy A-Z Index for both Common and Latin names. Our subscriptions are affordable for everyone, so why not join as a paid member today, its worth it!