SMH Birds in Backyards Article Today

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SMH Birds in Backyards Article Today

We have a great article in the Sydney Morning Herald that came out today. Everyone have a read

How to make a little bird happy

Planting the right native shrubs could help little birds like willie wagtails, silvereyes and superb fairy-wrens, writes Lissa Christopher.

Please plant a few native shrubs and help save some tiny native birds. That is the plea from the recently established Birds in Backyards program, a joint conservation project between the Australian Museum and Birds Australia.

Clearing their habitat in favour of highways, houses, farms and the like has meant a lot of birds have had to find alternative digs in parks and gardens. Larger and more aggressive species, such as pied currawongs, rainbow lorikeets and noisy miners, are finding the arrangements satisfactory because they are multiplying like mad.

But it is different for smaller native birds, such as willie wagtails, silvereyes and superb fairy-wrens. "Sadly, they seem to be declining," says Holly Parsons, the manager of the Birds in Backyards program. A number of factors are at play, she says, primarily the small birds' need for dense native shrubbery as a food source and for protection against a range of predators and aggressors, including some of the larger native birds.

Unfortunately, native shrubs are not exactly the most popular plants, and there are not enough of them around. Sophie Thomson, a presenter on ABC TV's Gardening Australia, says native shrub negativity is a hangover from the 1970s, when bush gardens became popular but the plants were poorly understood.

"There was a false belief that Australian natives require no maintenance or pruning," she says. "In fact, native shrubs, like any shrub, benefit from pruning after they flower. It stops them from getting leggy and keeps them lush. There was also this belief that Australian natives are drought tolerant. That is incorrect. Australia is a big place, and we've got to be a lot more specific than that. You have to choose natives that are climate compatible with your particular area."

These sorts of misconceptions led to a lot of straggly, hard-to-love native gardens, and disillusioned gardeners. While we know a lot more about choosing and growing native plants, Thomson says, the myths persist.

Another myth is that native shrubs are messy and only good for making bush gardens.

"Australian natives actually make fabulous formal gardens," Thomson says. "You can hedge them, you can even make topiary and you don't have to use natives exclusively, either. You can combine exotics with natives as long as you choose the right plants."

The Birds in Backyards website,, includes links to plant associations and nurseries that specialise in local natives. It also contains guidelines on establishing bird-friendly habitats in a range of spaces, including domestic gardens, schools, council precincts and entire rural townships. These can be downloaded free.

"If we can see more shrubs starting to appear and if people such as property developers, who manage larger areas, also start to take note then we'll know [the program is succeeding]," Parsons says. "We've already had some good feedback from councils saying they're using our guidelines."

Leichhardt Council, for example, recently distributed a "living with birds" leaflet to its residents that points out, among other things, that silvereyes are fond of pinnate boronia and sweet-scented wattle. Hybrid grevilleas, on the other hand, such as the Robyn Gordon, will simply attract more of the larger, aggressive birds who will in turn chase away the little guys.

Even those with only a few pots on the veranda can provide habitat for small birds and enjoy the pleasure of their company, Parsons says. "You just need to plant enough to make it worthwhile for a bird to drop by." Two or three plants might do the trick. But do remember to keep the cat inside.

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