Give your investment wings

Private Property South Africa
Martin Hatchuel

One thing we know: when it comes to enhancing your investment: going green will improve both the value of your home and the quality of our environment (Don’t just dream green) – so it makes sense to spend with as much care on your garden as you do on your house and outbuildings.

And while the right selection of indigenous and endemic plants will decrease your overall running costs in the long term – since they require less water than exotics – there’s also an argument to be made for planting for birds.

This will improve your enjoyment of your investment. (And you could contribute to science while you’re sipping your G&Ts on your patio, too ...)

The expert chirps

Dale Wright, BirdLife South Africa’s Regional Conservation Manager in Western Cape, said that planting for birds can help to mitigate the effects of what we as humans are doing to the Earth.

“As development proceeds and we lose areas of natural habitat it is important to try and supplement this loss by creating small islands of natural habitat for birds and other animals in our own gardens.”

The selection of the right plants to attract birds to your garden will depend on where you live, so it’s best to ask for information at your local indigenous plant nursery (you’ll find many of them on lifeisagarden.co.za), or visit online resources like BirdLife South Africa or the National Zoological Gardens. The principles behind attracting birds and other wildlife to urban gardens, though, are much easier to define: provide them with places to drink, feed, rest, nest, and breed, and you’re on your way.

Water, water, everywhere

Garden birds love water, so make having a birdbath your garden’s first priority. What they don’t like, though, are steep-sided pools, so you’ll want a bath with sloping sides – and the little guys aren’t that keen on predators, either, so you’ll want to place the birdbath in an open spot where they can keep an eye out for circling hawks and such. If you’re building a garden pond or wetland, on the other hand, you’ll attract a much wider audience if some of it is surrounded by bushes and part of it is open to the sun.

Planting

As far as planting is concerned, there are two things to consider: food and habitat.

Birds feed on the fruit, seeds and nectar that plants produce (and also on other creatures that live in or on the plants, too – like ants and other insects, lizards, snakes, small mammals, and so on), so your plant list should include species that flower, fruit, or seed, at different times.

And on the question of habitat – birds aren’t much into neat orderliness. They like a bit of jungle-y chaos – so try randomly sowing the seeds from a bag of bird food in a sunny patch, and watch what happens with they start to mature (a clue: it’s a veritable feast) and make sure that at least a part of your garden is left as wild as possible, to ensure that the shyer creatures have a place to hide from the world.

In terms of trees, plant at least one tall one – in time it may attract a pair of woodpeckers, a few barbets, a flock of red-billed wood hoopoes, or even a couple of owls (and if you build or buy an owl box for it, the owl part is pretty much guaranteed: just remember to mount the box in autumn, so that the birds can get used to it being there. They should move in when baby-time approaches in spring).

The science is sound …

And about that citizen science thing: if you’re a keen birder, you could join up as an observer with BirdLife South Africa – or join the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) to help with things like field surveys. Both organisations rely heavily on the data they receive from their volunteers: as you can imagine, the volunteers allow them to increase the scope and scale of their studies.

In the end, though, it comes down to what each of us can do – and how both we as individuals and the environment on which we all depend can ultimately benefit from what we do.

As Dale said: “I always note the orange-breasted Sunbirds appearing in our home garden in January and February, taking advantage of the flowering plants available here, since their food resource has generally diminished in the mountains during that time.

“By planting indigenous plants and creating habitat for birds in our gardens, everybody can make a small contribution to the conservation of South Africa’s incredible birdlife.”

(But Dale isn’t only a scientist: he’s a human, too. “Don’t forget to get a bell for your cat. That way the wild birds and our house pets can live happily side by side.”)

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