ON THE WING
The Inverawe Native Gardens at Margate hosted a gardening-for-birds workshop at the start of spring to reveal the secrets of success in luring birds to the backyard.
Over the years I have kept a close watch on the garden’s growth and development and its growing checklist of birds spotted, which has reached a remarkable 102 species in what used to be a patch of wasteland not more than a 20-minute drive from Hobart.
I once added a species – a grey teal out on the North West Bay fronting the gardens – but on my visit to attend the workshop two weeks ago it was less a case of finding new birds but learning how they can be attracted to a suburban setting.
The 9ha gardens, behind the Margate Train tourist attraction, were started in 2001 by Bill and Margaret Chestnut on what had been a neglected area overrun by weeds. The Chestnuts have planted more than 8500 Australian native shrubs and trees, 80 per cent of them found in Tasmania.
The bird list includes all Tasmania’s 12 endemic species, along with endangered ones such as the swift parrot, grey goshawk and wedge-tailed eagle.
As Bill explained to about 20 gardeners at the workshop, they wanted to encourage people to create gardens “that sit softly on our fragile landscapes”. “The number and variety of birds that visit our garden are a measure of our success in doing that.”
Honeyeaters such as the new holland honeyeater (pictured) need nectar for energy and insects for protein, while insectivores such as the superb fairy-wren required a supply of small insects. But, in trying to attract nectar feeders, there were dangers in planting too many nectar-rich plants because these also attracted what Bill termed “bully birds”, which would scare away other species.
“If you have bully birds it’s because the environment suits them,” he said. “Change that and the bully birds subside.”
A range of tree and shrub heights was also vital, creating levels of foliage to suit birds that had different foraging requirements.
At Inverawe, Bill and Margaret were lucky to inherit eucalypts forming an intermittent canopy of up to 20m.
Below this, an understorey was planted with melaleucas, acacias, callistemon, leptospermum and others. There was also a lower cover of such plants as westringias, philothecas, grevilleas and correas, which gave shelter to ground-feeding birds such as the fairy-wrens and robins.
Bill also advocated connectivity of gardens, with groups of neighbours getting together to plant natives.
“If everyone did it, all the birds would come back to Hobart,” he said.