ON THE WING

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Grow Your Own - WITH DON KNOWLER

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.

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