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Planting for birds

Birds bring a garden to life with their antics and song. A simple way to attract them to your place is to provide water, with a birdbath where they can drink and splash. To make it safe from cats and other predators, put the dish of water on a pole or hang it from a tree. Make it near a window and you can enjoy watching the birds play from inside, without scaring them away.

Feeding birds at a bird table is all very well – but what happens to the hungry birds when you miss a week, or go on holiday? Feeding can create an unhealthy dependence. Planting a flowering or fruiting tree instead gives birds a reliable food supply at certain times of year.

Some birds, like tui and bellbirds, feed mainly on nectar; some eat fruits and berries; others, like fantails, survive mainly on insects, and many have a varied diet including all these food groups. Try to have a year-round supply of food – winter-fruiting plants like pate (Schefflera digitata or five-finger) are especially valuable.

Kōwhai is the classic tree to attract tui, but later in the season they will also feast on nectar from harakeke and rewarewa (if you have room in the garden for such a large tree).

While native plants are guaranteed to feed native birds, some exotic species also provide food that fills the winter gap. Examples are tree lucerne (Tagastache), salvia confertiflora, crab apples and bottlebrush (Callistemon). Avoid red-berried pest plants like cotoneaster as birds spread them into native bush.

Also popular with tui are flowering Taiwanese cherry, a common tree with lolly-pink blossom. The problem with these is they seed into native bush and quickly become hard to pull out. There are sterile varieties available, which avoid this problem; see here for more information.


Native plants for birds:

Nectar: harakeke (flax), rata, kōwhai, pittosporum (tarata and kohuhu) kōtukutuku, rewarewa.

Fruits: Pseudopanax (lancewood and five-finger), mahoe, hinau, coprosmas (kanono, karamu and taupata), kohia (native passionfruit, Passiflora tetrandra), kawakawa, kōtukutuku (native fuchsia), pate, makomako, poroporo.


For a longer list of bird-friendly plants see: