Why are our gardens important for birds?

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Birds are in trouble

Our native birds are in trouble. Natural habitats are suffering from droughts, floods, land clearing and any number of other threatening processes. No doubt, the protection of our natural environment and the wildlife within it should be our number 1 priority but the value of our built-up environments to birdlife cannot be underestimated. The process of urbanisation typically results in a landscape vastly different from the original, with the original vegetation often surviving only in small pockets scattered throughout the city. It is unsurprising that, given the dramatic impact that urbanisation has on the natural environment, some bird species simply cannot make the transition into urban areas. However, urban environments are not totally devoid of vegetation—remnant patches, parks and suburban gardens all form suitable habitat for a range of native bird species.

Our bird life has changed

The bird communities in our urban and regional centres have undergone change in the last 40 years with a loss of small birds (such as Superb Fairy-wrens and Eastern Spinebills) corresponding with an increase in larger, more aggressive native and introduced species (such as the Noisy Miner, Pied Currawong and Common Myna). With our changing gardening styles, loss of natural habitat and climate change amongst a range of pressures facing our native birds, we are at serious risk of losing a great many of these species that we derive such joy from. This loss of birds and biodiversity in general as a consequence of urbanisation is of great concern, and while no amount of remediation will be able to exactly recreate a natural ecosystem, our gardens can become important for a range of native species. In turn, this can have great benefits for us all.

Our gardens are important

Gardens today tend to have lawns that require watering and mowing, a few scattered trees and some shrubs and they are intersected with concrete, roads and houses and bears little resemblance to our natural forests and woodlands. Even the species of plants are different; exotic and a select few native plants (especially hybridised species and cultivars) replacing the local natives. These types of gardens will not help the birds that we are loosing from our gardens - the small birds that need that important shrubby layer.

But the common assumption that, simply by planting a few native nectar-bearing cultivars, bird diversity will increase and that birds found in forests will start to appear in the garden is simply not true. Birds need abundant resources that cannot be provided by such a small area. While suitable habitat cannot be managed simply within our gardens it must occur across numerous patches at the landscape scale. We need to change the culture of gardening in Australia to make changes across the landscape. However, individuals can make a start right now and the more people that create these gardens, the better the neighbourhood will be.

For the smaller birds most adversely affected by urbanisation, this means creating dense, understorey vegetation in gardens as opposed to just scattered trees and lawn. Many small birds use vegetation up to a height of about 2m for shelter, feeding and for nesting. By providing a diverse range of different shrubs and ground covers within gardens we not only start to replicate what is found in natural woodland and forest habitats but also provide a range of food sources (primarily nectar and insects) that can be used by birds.

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