gardening for birds

Gardening for the Birds

Encouraging our feathered friends to the garden is popular these days.

Bird watching is a popular hobby and can be extended from the wilds right into the heart of suburbia. People are planning and gardening for birds in no small way, and this has become a seriously big business both in terms of selling supplementary feeds and suitable feeders to growing plants with bird-attracting properties that range from providing food to nests and shelter. Birds spend their time engrossed in four basic activities – feeding, drinking, nesting and resting. In order to make them feel comfortable and safe in your garden, these elements need to be taken care of and offered to the birds in a practical and meaningful manner.


Many gardeners put out food for birds. This may include various types of seeds and grains, fruit, table scraps, and in some instances even mince meat or suet for insect eaters. Today there are special feeders for nectar-eating birds that dispense sweet substances. Compressed suet balls are also popular at the moment, with an array of dispensers for accommodating them in the garden.

There are just so many ‘bird gardening’ products on the market these days, drawn from across the globe. Feeding also includes the growing of plants with food benefits for birds. This includes nectar-rich flowers, seed producing grasses, fruiting trees and shrubs – the list is long. Insects also form a significant part of many bird diets, so growing plants that attract insects is an important part of luring certain birds to the garden. This often causes conflict between the gardener who wants to get rid of pests and the bird gardener seeking to have more visits and additional species to tick off on the list. Ultimately you have to decide just how much of a true bird gardener you are going to be.


Clean water in the form of bird baths, water features, ponds and even shallow bowls will always encourage birds to come and drink. One important proviso is that they feel safe from predators, which includes domestic pets. They need suitable perches to land upon to survey the scene before going down to the water’s edge to drink. Many water points for birds are not used to their full potential because they have been positioned for the gardener’s eye and not the birds’!


A safe place to rest up during the day or for roosting at night is all part of what birds seek out on a daily basis. By providing well-vegetated areas in the garden, both in terms of shrubs and trees and low-growing plants on the ground, these criteria are covered. Often neat, tidy, well-pruned gardens are avoided by our feathered friends because they don’t offer the environment that they’re looking for. It’s safe to say that the ideal bird garden is rather untidy and unkempt to the human eye. A compromise in this regard is part of being the ultimate bird gardener.


Breeding is all-important in the lifecycle of birds. When gardening for birds it’s important to provide suitable conditions for nesting to take place, as different bird species require specific requirements. Nesting boxes and logs are available commercially and it’s amazing how well they are received and utilised by certain birds. As a rule, leave dead or dying trees and branches in your garden and they may provide nesting site for tree nesters. Coir lining in hanging baskets is much sought after as building material by many. Providing nesting material assists in encouraging birds to raise a family in your garden. This can be really exciting to watch from your own home.

List of some top bird-attracting plants when gardening for birds

  • Halleria lucida (wild tree fuchsia) – A tree with nectar-rich flowers followed by fruit.
  • Strelitzia nicolai (wild banana) – A huge perennial with large leaves and nectar-laden flowers.
  • Panicum species (panic grasses) – Grasses with masses of seed.
  • Vachellia and Senegalia species (previously Acacia) (thorn trees) – Our favourite African savannah trees – they provide leaves, flowers and seeds.
  • Kiggelaria africana (wild peach) – A quick-growing tree with edible fruit.
  • Trema orientalis (pigeon wood) – A fast-growing tree with small berries that attract birds and insects.
  • Searsia species (previously Rhus, and commonly known as karees or wild currants) – Tough evergreen shrubs and trees with fruit and seeds.
  • Erythrina species (coral trees) – Deciduous trees with colourful, nectar-rich flowers.
  • Ficus species (wild figs) – Huge, mostly evergreen trees with fruit that attracts insects and birds.
  • Aloe species (aloes) – Colourful flowers in winter provide nectar to a wide range of birds.

Gardening for birds is becoming an addiction to many, who find the close connection with wild life exciting and often full of surprises. It is as if you have ‘wild pets’ that you don’t have to be responsible for on a regular basis but can still enjoy their company and regular interaction with them. Enjoy the pleasures of sharing your garden and space with the rich diversity of bird life that prevails here in our beautiful land.

The Gardener