Even if your only outdoor area is an apartment balcony, you will be surprised how many birds and insects can be tempted to drop in. My first experience in apartment living was 10-storeys high, just off K' Road in busy central Auckland. I had rosellas visiting feeding stations, bees collecting pollen from flower boxes and cicadas soaking up the sun on the warm concrete walls. Plus there was a pond full of turtles, although admittedly this didn't leave a lot of room for the BBQ.
What you need to bring your backyard to life:
All animals need water and will readily seek it out. A birdbath is a welcome addition for birds of all species to drink and bathe in. Change the water every day and place it away from potential cat hiding places. Even a shallow dish of water in the garden will be appreciated as a drinking station by passing birds, especially in summer.
Bird feeders and tables
There are a range of bird feeders and tables available in garden centres or you can make your own. Some commercially available feeders are designed to be filled with peanuts, which is great if you live in Europe and have Jays visiting, however in NZ this type will become a rat feeder.
Tuis, bellbirds and silvereyes will appreciate fruit or sugar water (about a cup of sugar in a litre of water) or plain sponge soaked in fruit juice. Wild bird seed mix will bring the British finches and other introduced birds.
Like bird baths, bird feeders should be placed in an open area to foil any cat ambushes and away from glass windows which can cause injury to a startled bird. Disinfect all feeders regularly.
Planting for birds
Try and cater for the various preferences of our native birds, whether that is nectar, fruit or the insects that gather in and under trees and shrubs. A favourite of tui, bellbird and silvereye are kowhai and flax, and they will also feed on introduced trees like the banksia which provides a good nectar source. Fruiting natives like the Coprosma species are also favoured and will bring any passing kereru as well. Fantails and grey warblers may visit to forage for insects amongst the trees and leaf litter.
The Southland Community Nursery offers some great advice on this.
Planting for butterflies
We all know to plant swan plants for Monarchs but there are also NZ species such as the admiral butterflies that can be encouraged with the right environment. Butterflies favour a sunny spot with nectar rich flowers including natives such as hebes, lacebark and muelenbeckia as well as all the flowering annuals. Stinging nettles may not be a first choice for landscaping but are essential as a food plant for the developing admiral caterpillars.
Providing nest sites for birds
Nesting is all about keeping baby birds safe. This means trees and shrubs with a dense growth habit are preferred. Tall trees also represent a safe nesting spot and it may help to install a metal possum guard around the trunk to prevent cats reaching the nests.
A permanent water source in a garden is not only a welcome oasis for visiting wildlife; it can become a home for frogs, insects and fish. Consider installing native fish like inanga instead of traditional goldfish.
Chemical sprays and wildlife don't mix. Use organic varieties or none at all.
Skinks will be become regular visitors where there is a warm surface to bask, and shelter within scuttling distance, such as low growing creepers and shrubs. A shallow dish of water will be well utilised in the warmer months. Though not particularly attractive, a piece of corrugated iron is the perfect skink home.
To attract honeybees and native bees, choose a selection of plants that ensure a year round offering of flowers. Some insects harm plants such as an infestation of aphids; however a well-balanced planting should attract their predators as well. Ladybirds prey on aphids, while spiders, hoverflies and praying mantis help keep other pest species in check. A rotting log or small woodpile will soon become home to weta, beetles and other insect guests.
Cats, stoats, rats, mice, possums and hedgehogs can all have a negative impact on local wildlife. Refer to last week's blog for cat proofing ideas and speak to your local council for assistance with pest control.
Even just a few native trees in our collective backyards help to keep local wildlife around, so keep these 'neighbours' in mind when undertaking your next backyard project.