April 7, 2019

Small birds need big love

Story by Nicola Saltman — March 2019

Years ago, the superb fairy wren was a common sight in our gardens. Now, only if we’re lucky, can you catch a glimpse of these little blue beauties in the shrubs along our coast. Sadly, this is the case for many native small birds.

Why are small native birds so important? 

These small birds are natural pest control for our gardens and play an important role in our ecosystem balance. Plus, their sweet song and the males’ bright blue plumage are a delight to our senses and to our neighbourhoods.

Australia is currently topping the chart in worldwide extinction rates we all need to play our part to protect the creatures that live among us.

Why are they disappearing? 

According to ecologist Renée Fester Levy, it’s a matter of shrinking habitats in our cities. “These beautiful, tiny Fairy-wrens are one of the few small bird species remaining in our urban areas. However, their population is shrinking as they don’t have enough safe space to shelter, feed and build their nests”.

Waverley Council’s Urban Ecology Manager, Sue Stevens said modern garden designs with an emphasis on strappy-leaved plants and low diversity of species is the cause of the disappearance of small birds. They provide little in the way of food resources and protection from predators such as cats and currawongs.

“Small birds need to hide in dense hedges or shrubs that reach all the way down to the ground and grow higher than one metre,” says Stevens.

Contrary to belief, just ‘going native’ is not always helpful.  Not all native plants are equal in the eyes of a small bird. Large-flowered plants like hybrid grevilleas with their showy flowers, attract gangs of ‘bully birds’ like Noisy miners.  These bullies take over the territories of smaller birds who are unable to defend themselves and have nowhere to hide.”

What can we do to help out our feathered neighbours? 

Here are Renée’s top tips to help small birds and provide a safe space in our gardens:

  1. Fill in bare spaces and edges of your garden with dense, local native plants. A diversity of species that flower at different times attract tiny insects for them to eat.
  2. Add a bird bath or small pond but make sure it has shrubs next to it for a quick getaway.
  3. Use mulch in your garden beds and avoid pesticides. If you attract wrens and other tiny animals like skinks, you will have natural pest control!
  4. Inspire your neighbours. If they each plant a similar patch, a safe corridor will develop, giving the small birds the best chance to recolonise.

If you live in Bronte or Tamarama and have a house with a garden, you can join the Waverley Council’s Living Connections program. You will get advice on creating a small bird friendly garden, along with free plants and resource.

Contact [email protected] for more information.

Thanks for making bird-friendly gardens second nature!

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