Frequently Asked Questions

We love answering your questions, but please check through the questions here to see you can find the answers before sending us an email.

Some Important Definitions...

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity (or biological diversity) describes all life on Earth. It refers to the wide variety of living organisms: animals, plants, fungi and bacteria (and their genes) along with their habitats and ecosystems.

Biodiversity is critical for the functioning of ecosystems which provide us with products and services without which we couldn’t live. It provides us with oxygen, soil, water, food, medicines (more than 70,000 plant species are used in traditional and modern medicine), shelter, stable climate and recreation. The value of global ecosystem services supplied by biodiversity is estimated at $16-$64 trillion.

Threats to biodiversity are numerous and human activity is responsible for most of them.

  • Habitat loss and degradation affects 86% of all threatened birds, 86% of the threatened mammals assessed and 88% of the threatened amphibians.
  • Introductions of Invasive Alien Species that establish and spread outside their normal distribution.
  • Over-exploitation of natural resources. Resource extraction, hunting, and fishing for food, pets, and medicine.
  • Pollution and diseases. For example, excessive fertilizer use leads to excessive levels of nutrients in soil and water.
  • Human-induced climate change. For example, climate change is altering migratory species patterns, and increasing coral bleaching.

What is sustainability?

Living sustainably is about living within the means of our natural systems. The World Commission on Environment and Development outlined sustainability as: "forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

However it is not just about caring for the environment, sustainability is also about understanding the many interconnections between economy, society and the environment. Sustainability education develops skills, knowledge and values that promote behaviour in support of a sustainable environment. Here at Birds in Backyards, we use sustainability education to promote the creation of habitat for the birds that live where people live.

What is habitat?

The place or type of site where an organism or population naturally occurs. Basically it is the home and surrounding neighbourhood that individuals of a species live in. Habitat must provide an individual with food, water and shelter as well as the space to search for mates.

Different species need different sized habitats as well as different features within those habitats. For example, a Grey Goshawk may need to search large areas of forest whereas a Superb Fairy-wren can live in a suburban neighbourhood needing only about a hectare of space. For the goshawk, the forest might need to have tall canopy trees to perch in but an open floor of grassland to search for prey, whilst the Superb fairy-wren relies on dense shrubs in suburban gardens to shelter and nest.

 

What is fragmentation and what impact does it have on birds?

Habitat fragmentation is the process by which the natural world is divided and subdivided into increasingly smaller pieces, termed fragments. These fragments are either completely isolated from each other, like islands in the ocean, or destroyed altogether through further development.

Fragmentation not only reduces the amount of functional habitat available for organisms to use, but it may isolate a species population into subpopulations, and can result in risk local extinction of a species if individuals cannot move between the patches of habitat that remain. There can also be a number of trickle-down effects such as the invasion of feral plants and animals.

While natural events such as volcanos can cause habitat fragmentation, the main cause of habitat fragmentation is human development for activities such as agriculture, rural development and urbanisation. In the wheat belt of central western New South Wales, for example, 90% of the native vegetation has been cleared, resulting in many of our woodland and grassland birds declining in numbers in these areas.

Why is the landscape scale important for birds?

Even a small bird cannot live entirely within a single garden. They need to be able to move from garden to garden in order to obtain enough food, water and shelter.  Research shows that what is available for birds at the landscape scale, whether in a natural environment or where we also live, is crucial for the survival of our bird species. To this end, we need to think not only of our own gardens, but what else is available for birds across the landscape – other gardens, parks and patches of bush and we need to work with others within the community to do this.

With our natural environments becoming more fragmented as well, there is a need to examine how to connect patches of habitat across these landscapes to using wildlife corridors and ensuring that the remaining habitat is conserved. Birds Australia is running a program called Reconnect the Bush. You can learn more about it here.

Bird Identification

I have seen a bird in my yard and I have no idea what it is. How do I identify it?

It can be quite daunting to see a bird, try to remember what it looks like and then try to identify it. When looking at a new bird, keep an eye on it for as long as possible and note as many features as possible:

  • Size (compared to something you already know)
  • Colour
  • Silhouette (does it look like an owl, or a pigeon etc?)
  • Behaviour
  • Habitat

For more identification tips see our Know Your Birds article.

If you have a note pad handy, jot down as many points as you can after the bird has gone.

To identify the bird you can go to a few sources. A good field guide is worth its weight in gold. They are relatively cheap ($40) and have a description and image of every bird in Australia. You can also use our Bird Finder. Follow the steps to give you a list of possible birds.

Finally, if you have no luck with these options, you can either visit the Birds in Backyards Forum to ask the numerous experts there, or you can email us here and we will endeavour to help you. Remember to tell us where you are located too.

There is a bird that is calling all night, what is it?

Come spring time this is one of our most common questions! Along the east coast of Australia it heralds the arrival of 2 cuckoos – the Asian Koel and the Channel-billed Cuckoo. The Koel is especially noisy when it arrives in an area and calls to advertise to potential mates (and to warn rivals).

Of course these are not the only 2 birds that call at night. We have many nocturnal birds including:

And there are a range of diurnal birds (daytime birds) that can get noisy at night too. Some examples are:

Sometimes these birds can be an inconvenience but they rarely hang around for too long so please be patient and hopefully you won’t have too many undisturbed nights.

There are so many field guides out there. How do you pick a good one?

 Unfortunately there is no easy answer as it really is a matter of personal preference. Most birdos tend to prefer field guides with illustrations rather than photos, because the illustrations usually show similar birds in the same pose and they are not affected by light/shadows that may hide important features.

Most field guides are available at bookstores for around $40. Go and have a look at a selection of guides, pick a bird that you know to look up in each of them and compare across the books. You should get a feel for which of the books you like.

You will notice that the order that birds appear in field guides is not what you expect. You will soon get used to the groupings of families and where to go in the book to find the different orders of birds.

Birds in Backyards doesn’t have a search feature for calls. Why is this?

This is a question that has come up a few times and it is something we have thought about. The difficulty lies with how different people interpret different calls, there can be a lot of different descriptions of how each bird sounds. The same bird species can also sound different in different locations – they can have their own regional dialect! It would quickly become a very complicated and difficult task. We have classified some of the more common and distinctive calls though on our Top 40 bird songs page.

 

There is one parrot that looks different to the rest of the flock. Do you know what it could be?

There are a few birds, especially parrots,  that escape from aviaries and take up residence with other similar birds. Two of the more common reports we get are of Indian Ringnecks and Alexandrine Parrots. Both of these birds have a range of different colour mutations and often stand out.

If you do find a bird that you think is an aviary escapee, search lost and found pet ads to see if anyone is missing a pet (remember birds can fly large distances so don’t restrict your search to just your suburb) and contact and appropriate ads to let them know of your sighting. Occasionally, if the bird is somewhat tame, they will come down to your shoulder or may be enticed into a cage with food and water. In most instances though they will be impossible to catch – and of course never try to capture and keep a wild bird.

 

I have seen a bird with a band on its leg. Who do I tell?

Various organisations will put bands on birds in order to identify them. Pigeon fanciers and racers will band their flock, some aviary keepers will also band their birds so they can be identified both within the aviary and if they escape.

Scientific researchers (called banders) also use banding as a way of identifying individual birds and learning all about them. The Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS) helps this research by supplying numbered metal bands to banders. These bands are usually fitted around the bird's lower leg (or tarsus). Each band is stamped with a different number and the ABBBS address. In addition, some banders will also add different combinations of coloured bands to identify the bird visually without having to recapture it. Since the banding scheme was started, over 2.6 million birds and bats have been banded and about 140,000 of these have been recaptured.

If you find a bird with a band, take note of the type of bird and the type of band it has on its leg. Pigeon bands usually are closed rings (as opposed to split rings that the ABBBS uses), and are covered in a coloured plastic coating with a paper insert underneath the plastic coating. Most carry a banding year and a code for the Pigeon Racing Club that the bird has come from. If you have found a pigeon band, you can try to contact your local Pigeon Club.

Go here: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/science/abbbs/recovery.html to find out how to report an ABBBS band.

Birds Behaving Badly

Why do some birds swoop?

Having a bird swoop towards your head can be very scary. Birds generally swoop for one of 2 reasons – to protect their eggs or young during the breeding season, or to get food.

Swooping is a common defensive behaviour. The birds aim to threaten or bluff and the intention is only to ward off intruders from their territory. They are simply trying to ensure that their babies are safe. Not all birds, or even all individuals of the same species swoop.

The most well known example of a swooping bird is the Australian Magpie. However it is estimated that only about 9% of magpies actually swoop and the vast majority of those are males. Pedestrians tend to be swooped within 30-50m of the nest and bike riders from about 100m from the nest. The likelihood of an attack is increased if they are teased or feel threatened in any way. In most cases, the bird won’t make contact, but, if they are going to strike they will generally swoop, then hover above your head before striking. Hearing fluttering above you can indicate a strike is imminent.

The best strategy is to avoid areas where aggressive birds are swooping at people during breeding season, based on local knowledge. However, don't be concerned simply because there are magpies present.

If you have to move through an area with an aggressive magpie (or any other bird) you can try:

  • Moving straight through the area. If you are on a bike you are less likely to be attacked if you hop off and walk rather than ride quickly through
  • Wearing a hat or helmet (note that a helmet will not protect your neck) and sunglasses to protect your eyes
  • Drawing a pair of eyes and wearing them at the back of your head. Birds are less likely to attack if they think you are watching them

Remember do not harm your local birdlife. Attacking aggressive species can escalate their behaviour. Also leave their nests alone – removing the nest will result in the birds becoming more aggressive and usually simply breeding again. All native birds are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975 and there are serious penalties for taking, harassing or injuring native wildlife. It is illegal to kill birds, or to interfere with their nests containing eggs or young without a permit or authority. 

If you have a particularly aggressive bird that you are concerned about, contact your local council. In extreme cases, aggressive birds may be relocated or destroyed by a licenced wildlife controller.

How do I get rid of Common (Indian) Mynas?

Probably the most disliked bird in the country, Common Mynas are one bird that people do not want around. They are increasing in number along the east coast of Australia and can be noisy and messy.

The main published data on the negative influence of the Common Myna on biodiversity in Australia has focussed on Canberra, following its release there in 1968. These relate mainly to observations of Common Mynas aggressively excluding hollow-nesting parrots from potential nest sites.  At present, the impact of Common Mynas on native bird communities across Australia is uncertain. In coastal locations, where Common Mynas have been established for a long period of time, studies have found no impacts of Common Mynas on the rest of the urban bird community. However, much more research is needed to improve our understanding of the possible impacts of this and many other introduced species. In locations where the Common Myna’s range is expanding, it is likely that their impact will be much more pronounced than where there has been populations established for decades.

Culling by trapping and euthanizing individual birds is both labour- and cost-intensive and the success of such control measures is unknown. Many councils and community groups have established trapping programs in an effort to cull this species. These programs do not usually target specific areas and instead, traps are simply provided to those on a wait list in order of the application. This approach is unlikely to be successful. Basically if you remove some mynas from your yard but they are still in the area, then you simply create a vacuum to draw more in.

So what can you do? You can still trap if this is a method you want to try (always ensure euthanizing is done humanely), but it needs to be done in conjunction with habitat modification. You need to make your yard unattractive for the mynas. Think about where you usually see them – hanging around the house/roof and on the open lawn space. Plant a shrubby layer wherever possible (and this is great for our small native birds), block holes in rooves where they may breed and ensure that they don’t have access to pet food or rubbish bins. If they are perching on your decking you can also try various methods outlined in the next FAQ.

How do I stop birds making a mess on my decking?

Constantly having to clean up after birds that are making a mess on your decking and outdoor furniture can be a real pain. Here are some tips to try to discourage birds from perching:

  • Rubber snakes – place some around the area. Ensure to move them occasionally, birds soon work out that the snake hasn’t moved for a week.
  • Hang mobiles or CDs – movement can deter birds. Hang some CDs from string around the decking and the light reflection and movement may discourage the birds.
  • Fishing line – attach fishing line securely (ensure it is taut so birds cannot get tangled or injured) and run it about an inch off the decking rails. This should make the site difficult to perch on. To make it even trickier, put some thin pvc piping over the fishing line, this will rotate on the line and the birds won’t be able to balance.

How can I stop birds attacking my windows?

Generally birds attack their reflection in a window during their breeding season. They are seeing another bird encroaching on their territory and they want it gone! In some cases the behaviour can get very extreme, with the bird attacking the reflection for most of the day. Not only can it drive you crazy, but when it becomes obsessive, it is bad for the birds too.

In most instances, the birds will simply do it a couple of times and move on, but if it is persistent then you need to remove the trigger for the behaviour – the reflection. You can try:

  • Cling wrap or cellophane on the outside of the window
  • A bird silhouette (like a hawk or owl) stuck on the window
  • A rubber snake in front (remember to move it)
  • A CD or other mobile hanging in front of the window
  • Soaping or dirtying the outside of the window

Remember is illegal to capture or harm a bird, its nest or its eggs, even with the best intentions. The bird should never be harmed in order to stop it attacking its own reflection.

Cockatoos are destroying one of my trees, how do I get them to leave it alone?

 It is in a cockatoos nature to chew things. They do it to keep their beaks trim, to search for bugs in the bark and sometimes, we think, to simply alleviate boredom. Unfortunately, they often take a liking to chewing branches off certain trees such as White Cedar and they take great delight in taking fruit crops too.

It can be very difficult to deter them once they have started. As soon as you notice them, you can try scaring them off – make a loud noise or try a water pistol (or hose but don’t waste water).  You can also try:

  • CDs or plastic bags tied to string and hanging from the tree
  • Tie a kite that looks like a hawk or owl to the tree
  • Strong bird netting covering the tree. Note it is best if the netting is framed larger than much of the tree so the birds can’t try to get through it.

There is a heron who has taken up residence at my fish pond. How do I get it to leave?

White-faced herons are usually the culprits here. They show up at a pond, pick off all the fish and then leave with a full belly. Of course we want these birds to be able to survive in our landscape but if you want to limit fish losses you can try a few things:

  • Net the pond and ensure there is lots of aquatic vegetation for the fish to seek shelter in
  • A fence-like barrier with taut wires or strings 20 and 35cm above the water surface erected at the edge of the water can prevent a heron from reaching the fish. Make sure it is taut so birds cannot get tangled and injured.
  • Plant aquatic plants around the outsides of your garden pond and make the sides quite steep. If the heron is unable to access the fish then it will quickly learn to try somewhere else.
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Sick and Injured Birds

There is a bird in my yard that is bald, what is wrong with it?

A bird that is missing feathers is generally very unwell. If it is a parrot, then chances are it is suffering from a very nasty disease – Psittacine beak and feather disease. You can read up about this disease here.

If you have a bird bath or feeder and there is an infected bird around then it is best to remove this resource for a while and make sure it is thoroughly cleaned.  In most cases nature will take its course but if the bird is able to be caught safely (and with minimal stress for the bird), contact a wildlife carer or take it to a vet to be euthanised humanely.

My cat caught a bird. It is still alive, what do I do?

Even if there is no visible injury to the bird, it can die from infection after a cat attack. Bacteria found in the saliva and the mouth of a mammal can cause fatal septicemia (infection in the bloodstream) of a bird very quickly. Cat bites should be considered the most dangerous, as the Pasteurella bacteria commonly found in a cat's mouth, is extremely hazardous to birds. Even a simple puncture by a tooth can result in a fatal infection. Scratches from claws are also extremely dangerous, as the risk of infection is very real.

If a cat brings you a bird, place it in a dark, well ventilated box and contact either your local wildlife rescue or nearest vet that has wildlife/bird experience.

What do I do if I find a sick or injured bird?

Birds are very good at hiding illness and so when we find a sick bird it usually means it is very sick. Sick birds often look; fluffy and hunched when it isn’t cold, weeping, puffy eyes, or crusty eyes, dirty and matted or missing feathers, visible wounds or injuries.

A healthy bird will generally be behaving as others of the same species do, however birds that are behaving oddly might be unwell or injured. They may be unable or reluctant to fly, making shallow, rapid breaths, head tilting, limping, not moving when approached or sitting in unusual, open places. Often other birds will also attack an unwell bird.

If you do find a bird that is sick or injured, contact your local Wildlife Rescue group and, depending on resources, they may be able to come and collect the bird themselves directly or will provide you with advice based on the situation you are describing. Being captured is a very stressful experience for a bird and so steps need to be taken in order to minimize that stress.

A bird must be handled gently but firmly (and wear gloves where ever possible). For small birds, use one hand and hold the bird so its head is between your index and middle fingers. The rest of your hand will wrap about the body. For medium sized birds you will need two hands – one over each wing. Large birds like raptors and owls have large beaks and claws so avoid handling birds of this size if at all possible.

Put the bird into a well ventilated box and keep it dark and quiet while you get treatment for it. This reduces the stress and shock for the bird and is the best treatment you can give it. Don’t feed the bird or give it water. Only people with the appropriate wildlife carers licence are legally allowed to look after wild birds so the next step is to get it either to a carer or to a vet – preferably one who has experience with wildlife and/or birds as soon as possible. A vet will not charge you to bring in wildlife.

Here are some contact details for Wildlife Rescue Groups:

New South Wales: Call WIRES (NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service) on 13 000 WIRES or 1300 094 737, or Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Service Inc. 9413 4300.

Queensland: Call Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service 1300 130 372 (state wide referral service) or ARROW (Australian Rescue and Rehabilitation Of Wildlife Assoc Inc) on 0430 904 415

Victoria: Call Wildlife Victoria on 13 000 94535

ACT: Call Wildlife Carers Group Inc on 0406 056 099

South Australia:  Call Fauna Rescue of South Australia Inc on (08) 8289 0896

Tasmania: Call Wildlife Care on (03) 6233 6556

Western Australia: Call the Wildcare Helpline (08) 9474 9055

Northern Territory: Call Wildcare Inc on 08 8988 6121 or Wildlife Rescue Emergency Hotline 0409 090 840

Note: Australian Fauna Care  also provides a comprehensive list of wildlife rescue groups from around the country.

These organisations will give you advice on what to do until a trained rescuer comes to take the animal to a vet or foster carer. The foster carer will look after the animal until it is ready to be returned to the wild.

How do I stop bird strikes on my windows?

It can be heartbreaking to find a bird dead at the side of your house after it has hit a window. Most birds collide with windows because they see the reflection of trees and the sky in the window, or they are being chased and are distracted. Sometimes there may be another window or a mirror inside the house that fools the bird into thinking it can fly through.

If you find a bird that has hit a window, it may be concussed or have internal injuries and occasionally there may be wing or leg injuries.  Put them in a dark, well ventilated box with a lid and keep them in a quiet place for an hour or so. Do not give them food or water. During that time the bird may recover from its injuries and be able to be released. If not or if there are initial obvious injuries, contact your local wildlife rescue or take the bird to a vet who knows wildlife or birds.

If you have a window that is, or suspect will be prone to bird strike you need to make the window as unattractive to birds as possible. Some tips are:

  • Soap the window or allow it to get dirty so it doesn’t reflect
  • Place cling wrap or cellophane over the window
  • Stick decals in the shape of raptors or owls (or any shape really). Note these first three tips of course obscure your view as well.
  • If you have vertical or ventian blinds angle them so it is obvious that the window is an obstruction
  • Bird netting taut over the frame will obscure the appearance of the window. This netting should be drawn taut across the windows, 2-3 inches from the glass, or birds could get entangled. You will be able to still see out the window and the birds should avoid it. If the do hit the netting should bounce them off with less risk of injury

None of these measures will solve the issue of bird strikes but they will reduce the occurrence.

Baby Birds and Nests

I found a baby bird on the ground, what can I do to help it?

It is a stressful time when you discover an apparently helpless little bird. Sometimes however, they don’t need our help at all. If the baby bird is fluffy and downy or has only a few feathers and it is unable to grip your finger then it is a nestling – so it isn’t ready to leave the nest yet and wouldn’t have travelled far. Search nearby trees and shrubs for the nest and pop them back in. If the baby is largely feathered (but usually has a stumpy tail) and it can perch on your finger and hop around, it is a fledgling and it is actually ready to leave the nest. Its parents are likely around nearby keeping an eye on it. If you put it in the nest, chances are it will jump back out again, so simply find a nice safe branch and pop it up there. Mum and dad will call to it and come and continue to feed it. If you suspect the bird is ill, injured, mum and dad are dead, or you watch for a significant amount of time and they don’t return for the baby, then pop it in a well ventilated box and contact a wildlife rescue group or take it to a vet. 

Is it true that if I touch a baby bird then the parents won’t take it back because of my scent?

Thankfully no! Birds recognise their offspring by call rather than smell, and in fact they have a pretty bad sense of smell. So if you find a nestling out of a nest simply pop it back in and mum and dad will do the rest.

I have seen a baby bird that is bigger than the parents and looks nothing like them, what is going on?

You have seen a pretty baffling sight. The baby bird will be a young cuckoo. We have quite a few cuckoos in Australia, but if you are in suburbia, and you are on the east coast of Australia, chances are you are seeing a young Asian Koel or Channel-billed Cuckoo.

Most Australian cuckoos are brood parasites. That is, the adult cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds nests. In most cases the baby bird hatches and pushes out the eggs or nestlings belonging to the host parent. The exception to this is the Channel-billed cuckoo where the baby grows so large, so quickly that it monopolises the host parents and the other babies starve.

You may wonder how a parent bird cannot recognise that this baby is obviously not their own as they struggle to feed it, but they are simply doing what instinct tells them to –feed the baby that is in their nest. There is an evolutionary arms race happening however between some cuckoos and the host birds. Whilst the Horsfield Bronze-cuckoo eggs mimic a Superb Fairy-wren egg so closely, the adults can’t tell the difference, research has shown that 40% of Superb Fairy-wrens studied were able to recognise a cuckoo chick in their nest once it hatched and, if they did, they would abandoned the nest. Read more about the cuckoo-wren arms race here:http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/03/0311_030312_cuckoo.html

The baby birds have left our nest box. Should we clean it out?

Generally birds are good at getting a nest box ready for breeding so you shouldn’t have to do a thing. If you remove the nest material, don’t scrub out the box with any detergents.

Some birds like having some soil or compost in the bottom of the nest box so, read up on the type of box you have and whether that step is needed.

 

I have discovered a nest in some shrubs near our house. We are due to have some renovations done. What can I do about the nest?

If at all possible it is best to delay any activities that will be occurring around the nest till the young fledge so as not to disturb it, however we realised that that is not always practical and possible. If there are going to be people on site and lots of things happening, make them aware of what is going on in the shrub and ask that they please keep as much distance from it as they can. You may be able to rope off the area to make it obvious the stay clear.

 

Bird Feeding

What food should I put out to attract birds to my garden?

We feel that a garden where birds forage for their food naturally is much better than purposefully putting out supplementary food for birds. Australia is very different to Europe and North America where the extreme winters mean that birds rely on supplementary food to survive. The birds we feed here are also the ones that don’t really need our help – magpies, rainbow lorikeets, currawongs and cockatoos are the big winners in our parks and gardens and some of these birds can be aggressive or predatory on smaller native birds (the ones that really do need our help!). Many of the foods we provide especially fatty meat, bread and honey/water mixes are also very bad for birds and encouraging huge numbers of birds to congregate in a small area can spread disease amongst a population. Think of bird feeding like giving the birds takeaway – it can be tasty and its easy an easy meal for them (they don’t need to do much!) but after a while it can start to cause problems. You wouldn’t eat takeaway every day so its best if your birdlife doesn’t either.

However, we understand that many people take a great joy from feeding birds and may not want to stop all together. If you do feed birds we would advise that:

  • Birds are fed infrequently. This will encourage birds to find their own food and to obtain a more healthy diet. Wean yourself off daily feeding and down to something that is an occasional treat for you and the birds.
  • Stations are placed out of the reach of cats and other predators.
  • Stations are cleaned daily and food removed after an hour. Vary the time of day in which you provide the food.
  • Good quality food is used such as commercial nectar mixes or seed mixes. The cheaper supermarket seed does not contain sufficient nutrition for birds.
  • Cease feeding if large flocks (20+) birds begin feeding at the same time.
  • Pets are fed indoors or remaining food is removed. Common Mynas and other birds regularly eat pet food so we should limit their access to it.
  • Get out in your garden and create habitat for your bird life.

A garden that provides natural food for birds such as one with native grasses to provide seed, mulch to encourage insects and small-flowering locally native shrubs to feed honeyeaters is much better for our whole bird community than one that feeds only a few potentially problem birds.

Is it true that if I stop feeding the birds they will starve?

Thankfully this isn’t true. Research has shown that birds still continue to forage for food naturally even whilst being fed by humans, but having large proportions of supplementary food in their diet is still not healthy for them. Young birds in particular need to learn foraging skills from their parents and it is important that birds not become too accustomed to human interaction or else this can lead to issues, such as birds becoming brazen and aggressive to take food.

If you do feed birds, wean yourself off so it is something that is just an occasional treat for you and the birds. See our Guidelines for Domestic Gardeners for more information.

Bird-friendly Gardening

How do I know what to plant in my yard for birds?

Deciding what to plant in your garden is a big decision and it takes lots of careful planning. See the various articles in our Creating Places section, including ourGuidelines for Domestic Gardeners to get started. You can also take inspiration from our Gallery of Gardens to search for a look that you like.

However each garden is different and so, while we have provided general information on the types of plants that different birds need, you will need to consider the characteristics of your garden (aspect, slope, soil type etc) to work out what will grow well. Find your nearest local council or community nursery and have a chat to the staff/volunteers in there. They will have a wealth of knowledge that can help you.

Where can I get a list of suitable plants for my garden?

Where possible, we suggest getting a list of locally native plants to put in your garden. Your local council will have a list and will be able to direct you to your nearest native nursery (where tubestock is often very reasonably priced). Birds in Backyards also has lists for locally native plants of most Sydney Local Government Areas. We want to expand this and have lists for all major cities and towns and so if you are keen to contribute to this please Contact Us.

It isn’t always possible to get locally native plants though, so don’t feel you have to restrict yourself. Getting the right structure (lots of layers) in your garden is the really important thing. Native plants in general can be great but steer clear of hybrid natives with large flowers that flower throughout most of the year (like the big showy grevilleas) as these can attract large aggressive honeyeaters which can in turn make it difficult to get other smaller birds to visit.

I want to plant a garden for birds but my neighbours have cats. What can I do?

Nothing seems to divide a neighbourhood like wandering cats! It can be heartbreaking to see birds in the garden you have grown for them being taken by domestic pets. If you have cats in your garden, either your own or your neighbours, there are some things you can do:

  • Firstly, talk to your neighbours – be polite and calm and explain your concerns. Research shows that cats that are allowed to roam live significantly shorter lives than those who live indoors or in a cat run. By approaching it with being concerned for the cats welfare as well as the birds rather than attacking their decision, you may be able to open a dialogue. Whilst bells don’t stop cats hunting (the cats can move stealthly without setting them off), there may be some devices like Cat Bibs that the owner might be willing to try (note Birds in Backyards does not endorse this product or know of its success rate). Explain that you are not going to harm their pet but you would like to look at ways to stop them coming into your yard.
  • Plant prickly shrubs – have nice dense habitat that little birds would like to hide out in but cats won’t chase them. There are a range of native shrubs that fit this bill. Clippings from these plants placed under other shrubs may also stop the cats from stalking.
  • Use a water spray – if you are home, a short sharp spray of water won’t harm the cat, but will be unpleasant for it and may stop it visiting.
  • Surround part of your garden with a fence (chicken wire etc) that leans in the direction from which the cat will approach. The cat should be unable to climb over at an angle.
  • Place flimsy plastic roll-up fencing on top of a fence etc to prevent cats climbing over it.
  • Taut wire or string fitted 10-15 cm above the fence-top can make it difficult for cats to balance on the fence.
  • Spray citronella or water with lemon or orange peel around the borders of your place. Cats apparently do not like the smell. Not this will have to be repeated regularly.
  • If you try many methods with no success and your neighbours are not willing to seek an amicable solution, you can hire cat traps from your local council. Once trapped the cat can be taken to the local pound to have its microchip checked and owner contacted.

Remember, it is illegal to harm any animal, whether domestic pet or wildlife.

If I plant for small birds, can you guarantee they will appear?

We wish we could! However the birds you can get in your yard is influenced not only by what you plant, but what is going on in the space around you. Inspire your neighbours by creating a beautiful and practical garden, you will be surprised by the great example you can set. Talk to your local council about what is going on with your local parks and see if there is a way to incorporate planting for birds in them. Most councils will have plans for local wildlife corridors as well and as these develop they can be very important for moving birds across the landscape.

Remember your garden is one of many stepping stones that birds need to use. So even if you think that your garden is too isolated, it might just be an important piece of the puzzle for bird-friendly habitat.

Is it essential to have a garden entirely full of locally native plants?

Definitely not! Whilst we would love people to plant locally native plants and recommend they are great for birds, depending on where you live, they can sometimes be difficult to get a hold of. It pays to do your research to find out what is available in your area. In many cases, birds require structure (so density of shrubs) rather than a specific species of plants, so don't go and rip out a garden full of exotic plants if they are providing good habitat for birds. We do suggest though that you avoid those large, long-flowering hybrid natives though (like the showy Grevilleas) as they attract large, aggressive birds like Noisy Miners that can then dominate other birds and keep them from your garden.

Try and get locally native plants in your garden if you can, but don't think that this is the only way to have a bird-friendly garden. You can work with what you already have and add new plants to it.

Birds in Backyards

Can I use some photos or calls from the Birds in Backyards website for something I am working on?

Birds in Backyards only has permission to use photographs and calls for the purposes of our own project. If you are interested in using Fred Van Gessel’s bird calls please contact him directly:

You can contact some photographers directly as well. For permission to use Woj Dabrowka and Kevin Vang’s Bird Explorer images, please email them: (http://www.birdquest.net). Similarly, you can contact Akos Lumnitzer through his website: http://www.amatteroflight.com

For all other photographers, please Contact Us and we can seek permissions for you.

What do you do with the survey data we send you?

Firstly, thank you for submitting surveys to our Birds in Backyards database. The data you submit will be used in a variety of ways. The Program Manager looks up specific information for member e-Newsletters as well as for talks and workshops and will be updating the website regularly with survey findings. We also use survey results for specific projects such as our Powerful Owl project or at the request of different universities, schools or local councils.

Within the Birds in Backyards family we also have a number of students at different times who are using the databases as part of their projects. See our Research pages for examples of student projects that have been conducted.

Remember, with our new survey page set up and our relationship with the Atlas of Living Australia, you can search the Birds in Backyards survey database yourself and see what is happening in your area, the state or throughout the country.

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