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Strictly for the Birds

By Grant McKechnie
Rodney Rural Lifestyle Magazine
April 2009


The tui, primarily a nectar eater, is a great fan of flax flowers.
One of life’s simple pleasures for me is sitting on our deck on a summer’s day watching the tuis feeding on the flax flowers. They are so cheeky and seem completely unconcerned when only a metre or so from us. They send the cats’ hearts racing too and seem to enjoy teasing them.

If you want to bring birds into your garden, it’s very easy, with lots of suitable plants to choose from.


Kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides) produce prolific fruit some years.
At the moment the tuis are going all out eating the little orange-red fruit off the kahikatea trees, some of which are fruiting very prolifically this year.

Many native plants provide food for the birds with either fruit or nectar and sometimes both. Some you might already have in your garden and not realise the birds really appreciate them.


Akapuka (Griselinia lucida).
For instance, birds love the fruit of the Griselinia littoralis, everybody’s favourite hedge at present, and its less well known cousin, the bigger leafed Griselinia lucida. The fruit starts off as little green berries and then turns black when the seeds are ripe, but the birds usually get them before that happens.

Among the natives, top tucker favourites include the long yellow nectar-filled flowers of the kowhai, particularly for the native pigeons
A kereru (native pigeon) fills its belly on nectar from the kowhai flowers.
(kereru) and tuis; the big yellow to orange karaka fruit for the pigeons; and nectar in the flowers of all types of phormium (flax) including the coloured forms. The Phormium cookianum versions flower first, followed by the tenax versions, giving a continuous source of nectar for some months. 

Other common natives with fruit for the birds are the five fingers (pseudopanax). They are good, reliable producers and the birds love the berries, which start off green and turn to dark purple. Puriri also reliably produce fruit and the best part about puriri is that they fruit virtually all year round. They also have almost year-round flowers for the nectar eaters.


Karamu (Coprosma robusta) offer a bird’s banquet in autumn.
If you have native bush nearby, it’s probably got karamu (Coprosma rousta) as under-storey. The karamu are just starting to fruit now, and their prolific small orange berries are great bird tucker. Lots of the garden variety coprosmas have fruit as well.

Other fruit or seed producers we haven’t mentioned yet include pittosporums, cabbage trees, corokias, titoki, nikau palm, whiteywood (mahoe), matipo, wineberry, taraire, totara and kawakawa.

Nectar producers include pohutukawa, rewarewa, pittosporum and matipo.


Matipo (Myrsine australis).
So how could you incorporate some of these species into your plantings? An easy way is to plant a mixed border or shelter belt, using several layers of plants.

For a shelter belt, you would use the taller growing trees, such as kowhai, titoki, karaka, rewarewa, pohutukawa and puriri in the middle row at 6 – 10m spacing. 

Fill in between them and around them with medium size growers, such as pittosporums, cabbage trees, griselinia and matipo at 2 – 4m spacing. For your outside layer, use smaller growers such as coprosma, flax, five finger and kawakawa, 1 – 2m apart.

Shelter belts are usually viewed from both sides, hence the need for the tallest in the middle and layered growth on either side.


Nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida) are a favourite with nectar eaters, while the fruit is enjoyed by pigeons and other birds.
A garden border, on the other hand, is very often mostly viewed just from the garden in which case you would have your taller trees at the back, medium sized forward of them, then your lower layer at the front.

By using the many forms and colours of flax, five finger, coprosma and pittosporum, you can make your plantings look interesting and colourful.

So far it’s all been about natives, but lots of the common exotics are good value for birds too. For instance, bottlebrush, melaleuca, protea, albizzia (silk tree), grevillea, fuchsia and some types of gums (eucalypts) produce nectar.  And the birds will eat the fruit on syzygium, viburnum, crab apple, melia and dogwoods .

So as you can see, there are plenty of choices here and lots we haven’t mentioned: some must fit into your garden.

And for something a bit different pigeons love the flowers and the new leaves of the golden weeping willows in spring, when other sources of food are scarce.

©2010 Grant McKechnie


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