Tips for Designing a Garden for Birds


Follow some basic principles to guide your garden design. Assess your garden site carefully before you start. Garden with the future in mind - your garden could make a difference to your local biodiversity and may even encourage your neighbours or wider community to do the same.

Some basic design principles

The key to designing a bird-friendly garden is to create a multi-layered habitat of ground covers, small and medium shrubs (i.e. create density) and, where possible, trees that will provide year-round food and shelter locations for many different species. Use these simple principles to help you plan your garden. You will find them equally useful for designing a brand new garden or modifying an existing design.

  • Plant for vertical and horizontal structure: Avoid stark simplicity. Simplified garden structure and design may seem convenient but reduces the volume and variety of food and shelter for small birds.
  • Plant for shelter: Several shrubs close together (five or more) can form dense, protective thickets, great habitat for small birds. Grow rambling, light climbers in amongst medium to tall shrubs and trees, to give extra shelter and possible nesting sites
  • Plant for food: Small birds eat nectar from native flowers and seed from native grasses, as well as associated insects. Mulch your garden to encourage insect life.
  • Plant locals: Plants that grow naturally in your area are suited to local conditions. They will provide the right food and shelter for local native birds, unlike some hybrids or plants from other parts of Australia, and are less likely to become weeds in adjacent bushland areas. If you can't get locally native plants, general natives are the next best thing.
  • Create diversity: Small birds use ground covers, grasses, small, medium and large shrubs.
  • Plant below trees: A dense understorey is less attractive to Noisy Miners but enjoyed by smaller birds.
  • Plant for seasonality: Different plants will flower and fruit at different times of the year. Ensure there is always food sources available in your garden by looking at the flowering and fruiting times of potential plants.
  • Remove exotic species that produce berries: Over time, replace fruiting plants like Cotoneaster that attract Currawongs.
  • Reduce lawn area: Replace unused lawn areas with garden beds or native grasses which produce attractive seed heads that provide food for finches and other seedeaters such as Crimson Rosellas.
  • Use small gardens effectively: With limited space, it is better to plant several plants of the same type, than only one of several types of different plants.
  • Design for formality or informality: A variety of Australian native plants can be planted to create a formal garden or a bush-like garden, whatever you prefer. Most native plants respond very well to pruning.
  • Provide water: Birds need fresh water. This can be provided in a bird bath or garden pond but remember, birds are vulnerable when they are drinking or bathing and need to feel safe.

Gardening for the future

Gardens can help to maintain local biodiversity, an essential part of ensuring long-term ecological sustainability. Many plants, particularly trees and large shrubs, take quite some time to mature and provide valuable habitat for birds and other wildlife. It is just as important to plant some of these as it is to grow plants that mature quickly. Fast growing plants will often have a fast life and need frequent replacing. By using slower growing species to form the structure of your garden, you will always have a constant framework to work within. Also think about how big your plants will become - will they be all canopy with no understorey? And do they complement the bush nearby or the plants of neighbouring gardens, making wildlife corridors?

Can your garden really make a difference?

Yes, by making sure that you do some of the following things, you can really make a difference to your local birds:

  • Talk to your neighbours. Together you can create a larger area that is suitable for small birds.
  • Be patient. Bird attracting gardens take a while to become established. Make a start now.
  • Tell your local council you want more dense shrubs and native grasses in public parks and gardens, to provide a home for small birds.
  • Develop good gardening habits. By not using chemicals for pest and weed control and mulching all leaf fall and garden cuttings on-site, you can easily increase available food for birds.

Related information

 and   @birdsinbackyards
                 Subscribe to me on YouTube