Welcome birds to your city garden


Cape Town – South Africa has a rich diversity of bird species, with over 800 listed. These are either resident birds or those that pay a yearly visit to our shores. A large number of species have been recorded in the Cape Town area.

It was Birding Big Day recently.

Bongani Mnisi, regional manager for the City of Cape Town’s biodiversity management, and some members of his team, joined citizens as they tallies birds.

“We acknowledge the importance of projects that raise awareness of birds, as well as the importance of keeping our city healthy and green for our bird populations,” said Mnisi. “The city plans to be more involved in future Birding Big Days and perhaps give citizens an opportunity to visit our nature reserves and experience our amazing bird life as they tally their sightings.”


Birds – a vital part of our world

Birds are vital pollinators and seed dispersers of many plant species. They also help to keep down the numbers of harmful insects and birds of prey control the numbers of rodents.

In the Cape region, four nectarivorous birds – the Cape sugarbird (Promerops cafer), the Southern double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris chalybea), the orange-breasted sunbird (Anthobaphes violacea) and the malachite sunbird (Nectarinia famosa) – pollinate around 350 indigenous fynbos species.

Urbanisation, invasive plants, pollution, especially of rivers, and habitat fragmentation are some of threats to birds.


Helping sunbirds and sugarbirds

The Iingcungcu Sunbird Restoration Project was launched last year. Over 3 000 nectar-producing plants were planted in the gardens of four high schools on the Cape Flats. The gardens act as “stepping stones” for sunbirds and sugarbirds between reserves around the city.

Mnisi, who is working on the project as part of his MSc studies, explains: “The project helps restore broken migration routes to help the birds move between natural areas.”

The project is in its final stages. However, Mnisi will continue to work with the schools.

“We want to continue to encourage an interest in biodiversity among the learners. During July and August next year the learners will participate in a project to count the birds in their school gardens and I will be on hand to give advice.”


Birds in city gardens

Birds are easy to please and if you provide shelter, food and water in your garden, a number of species will soon arrive.

Many seed-eaters, such as the Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, house sparrow, Cape sparrow and Cape canary, and insect-eaters, such as Cape robin, Cape white-eye and the Cape wagtail, are common visitors.

The Cape bulbul may be spotted feasting on fruit on the feeding table or insects in the garden. Sunbirds and sugarbirds are attracted to orange and yellow nectar-rich flowers. Mousebirds may frequent the garden to feast on ripe fruit, while hadedas probe the lawn for insects and enjoy a meal of snails and slugs.


How can you attract birds to your garden?

* Trees and shrubs provide a place for birds to build nests and find food. Rough-barked trees harbour insects and make good nesting trees. Place nesting boxes in trees and position them at a slight angle to protect them from rain.

* Trees to include in small gardens include the lavender tree (Heteropyxis natalensis), tree wisteria (Bolusanthus speciosus) and tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida).

* Grasses and palms supply nesting material, and thorny shrubs and trees provide shelter and protection from predators. Dense shrubs, such as pride-of-de-Kaap (Bauhinia galpinii), also give shelter.

* For the nectar-eaters, choose Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis), aloes, red-hot poker (Kniphofia spp.), proteas, bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) or the wild dagga (Leonotis leonurus).

* For the fruit-eaters, choose wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana), Mickey Mouse bush (Ochna serrulata) or the weeping bride’s bush (Pavetta lanceolata).

* If you want to encourage birds to your garden, avoid spraying with chemical pesticides. Organic sprays are safe and can help to restore nature’s balance in your garden.

* Birdbaths are essential in a bird garden and should be topped up daily with fresh water for drinking and bathing. If a birdbath is too deep for small birds, place a flat stone in the centre. Choose a bath on a pedestal if you have a cat. Also consider putting a bell on your cat’s collar to warn the birds.

* Set up a feeding station in your garden. Include a commercial wild bird seed mix. Fruit can also be placed on table to attract both seed and fruit eaters. Avoid bread or baked goods that contain sugar.

* Mnisi cautions gardeners never to use a homemade sugar mixture for sunbirds and sugarbirds that contains the artificial sweetener, xylitol, as it is toxic to birds.

* Some pet stores sell mealworms which can be placed on the table to attract interesting insect-eaters. Bone meal is inexpensive and a real treat for insectivorous birds.

Kay Montgomery, Independent HOME


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