2. Bird Habitat Necessities

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Plants provide birds with a number of resources, including food, shelter and protection, nesting material and nest sites. These resources can be enhanced by the choices gardeners make when choosing plants for their gardens.

Food

Plants provide food for birds both directly and indirectly. Many species of plant, most commonly those with red flowers, are pollinated by birds and provide a nectar reward that is rich in high-energy sugars. Other plants rely on birds to disperse their seeds, so they provide a reward in the form of energy-rich fruit. The seeds of plants are also eaten by a range of bird species, with seeds of mature grasses particularly popular. Plants also provide habitat for insects which in turn are eaten by birds. Insects are rich in protein, and most birds include insects as a significant part of their diet.For more information on some of the types of native plants suitable for different birds consult this table and read our section on Gardening for Birds.

Shelter and protection

Most animals, including birds, form part of the diet of other animals. Birds must always be vigilant against predators, and this involves either evasive action or a retreat into shelter. Vegetation is often densest in the shrub layer, and so thickets of understorey vegetation are important habitat elements for many bird species, particularly the smaller ones. It is this feature that is essential for us to put back into our gardens.

Nesting material

A major feature of birds is that they lay eggs, and for the vast majority of species this involves building a nest. Three important elements of the design of most nests are that they are robust, provide good insulation and are well camouflaged. Sticks, bark and grass commonly provide the support structure, and these items are usually abundant. However, they may be in short supply in extra 'tidy' gardens. Structural materials are frequently bound together with spider web, and so garden plants that provide habitat for spiders are also valuable for birds. For insulation, nests are often lined with 'rootlets' (small roots), fine grasses and plant down. Some of the plant species we recommend in our Gardening section are included because of the soft down they provide. Many species of bird will camouflage their nests with strips of bark, lichen or moss, so these are valuable components of a bird-friendly garden.

Nesting sites

Most eggs that are produced by birds are eaten by predators (typically 70%) so there is a high demand for concealed nest sites. Many small birds nest in the understorey where the vegetation is often thickest. Some species also show a preference for nesting in spiky shrubs, and several examples are listed in the Gardening section. Some species, notably parrots, nest in tree hollows, so old (greater than 100 years) gum trees which have started to form hollows are particularly valuable resources for birds (as well as native mammals).

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