Attracting seedeaters and common omnivores is easily done by putting out bird feeders and apples. To attract the more elusive bushveld bird, however, your garden needs to mimic their natural habitat: trees and shrubs that don’t all touch (this would copy a real forest) and open spaces in between.
Planning a bird-friendly garden
A small garden is always more difficult than a large one as every single plant and feature has to work really hard to claim its place. There is no room for freebooters and no space for a plant that does not flower or fruit well.
Scale is of the utmost importance in a small garden. If the area is really confined, rather use a well-trained, large shrub than a tree; a careful choice of a single-stemmed specimen in the nursery will go a long way to giving you a miniature tree.
Annuals and grasses, bulbs and succulents can have a place in your scheme, but they must all be hard working and have something positive to offer.
A lawn, however small, will provide a hunting space for insectivores like flycatchers and the Fork-tailed Drongo. The edge between shrubbery and lawn is where the robins and thrushes will happily potter.
Don’t forget to add a couple of drinking and bathing points. As you plan your garden, always return to the stoep or other viewing point to make sure you’ll get the maximum enjoyment from the layout. This is not just for the birds, it’s for you as well.
Creating a plant list
Before you even start choosing the plants, it’s important to do a bit of investigating in your neighbourhood first. Find out which birds live in your area. Although birds can fly long distances, they are bound by climate, terrain and altitude, by food and the availability of nesting sites.
Once you’ve done this you can make lists of suitable plants, with notes about what they offer and when, the height and width of each specimen, and probably most important of all, whether that type will like your particular climate. Local plants are always best as birds will recognise them immediately, but there are many other varieties that will thrive.
Allow yourself just one ‘proper’ tree – so that passing birds of prey and real tree-top specialists like the lovely Black-headed Oriole will have a vantage point from which to check out your little garden.
This could also encourage a couple of permanent residents to build their nests. Think carefully about the choice of this single tree. It must be considered a small tree, it must not have a wide spread, and preferably not a very dense crown as this will shade out the rest of your garden. It’s best to plant it on the western boundary so that the shade is cast onto your plants in the afternoon: a time when the sun is hottest.
Not only do these indigenous plants attract garden birds, each is strikingly beautiful and thrives in South Africa’s warm weather…
Weavers love acacia trees, and there’s no better way to add that African feel to your garden. Their canopies create shade and also provide privacy if planted near a boundary wall. Hang bird feeders from their branches to make them even more attractive, and you’ll soon notice a whole bunch of new avian visitors to your garden.
Aloes are perfect for attracting nectar-eating birds, and what’s more, they’re drought tolerant and water wise. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours and their bright flowers add gorgeous pops of colour.
Weeping boer bean
This tree produces so much nectar that it literally drips from the flowers, hence the name “weeping boer bean”. When in flower this will be the main attraction in your garden as sunbirds, bees and other insects (and insect-eaters) flock to it to feast. Just don’t park your car underneath it during flowering season.
This tree’s showstopping spiky, red flowers attract sunbirds, orioles, weavers and canaries in spring. Vervet monkeys also love eating the flowers so if you live in an area where they’re a bit intrusive it’s best not to plant this tree.
Perfect for small gardens, the deciduous cross berry bush boasts pink flowers followed by fruit and attracts a whole array of fruit-eating birds including louries, mousebirds, barbets and bulbuls.
The white stinkwood is as striking as it is hardy, and, if watered enough, it can grow quite quickly. Fruit-eating birds love the tree’s small berries and it’s also a favourite nesting spot. It can reach heights of 12m in gardens, so it’s a good choice for larger spaces.
Another plant that’s ideal for small gardens is the tree fuchsia that can be grown in sun or shade. It’s a great all-rounder for attracting birds: sunbirds, white-eyes and weavers love the nectar from the flowers, while woodpeckers are often seen on the bark, looking for insects and fruit-eating birds enjoy the small round berries it produces.
These typically South African plants add a tropical feel to gardens while their striking flowers are great cut for the vase. If you have them in your garden you’re bound to spot barbets, bulbuls, starlings and even green wood-hoopoes.