Home' Greymouth Star : July 22nd 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
In the Garden
any people put out food to
help birds survive in winter.
Obviously, as well as the
pleasure from watching them,
feeding helps ensure their
Birds are essential for many plants, too, for without
them, some native species would disappear. The
curved beaks and unique tongues of tui enable
them to sip nectar and play their part in pollinating
plants, among them kowhai, puriri and the rare red
mistletoe (peraxilla tetrapetala), the latter threatened
not only by possums but because lower bird
numbers mean less pollination and therefore fewer
Even a tiny garden can be bird friendly by limiting
or eliminating chemicals and growing suitable
plants. Before heading to the garden centre, think
about avian eating habits. Generally, birds are
grouped by their main food sources into those that
eat insects, nectar (the honey-eaters), grains, fruit
Insect-eaters can do their bit for the gardener:
roses infected with aphids can be cleared in a day or
two by a team of waxeyes and it is always amusing
to see a line of starlings working their way across a
grassgrub-infested lawn or a thrush bashing a snail
on a path. Like other insect eaters — fantails, grey
warblers, swallows, blackbirds and kingfishers —
they are more likely to be seen in gardens where
chemical sprays are not used.
Grains and seeds are the preferred diet of
numerous introduced birds, among them
goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, redpolls
and sparrows. They also tend to feed their young
on insects and hungry sparrows will take spiders’
leftovers from webs on the outside of houses.
The honey-eaters include three of our best-loved
native birds, tui, bellbirds (makomako) and waxeyes
or silvereyes (tauhou).
Native pigeons (kereru) are primarily fruit eaters
and enthusiastically gobble berries of miro, tawa and
pigeonwood (hedycarya arborea), and have adapted
to European settlement by adding the likes of plums
and elderberries to their diets. When fruit is scarce,
they eat the foliage and flowers of kowhai, Dutch
elm, tree lucerne, prunus and willow.
When planting to bring in the birds, there are
plenty of natives to choose from.
One of the best is kotukutuku (fuchsia excorticata),
the world’s largest fuchsia, a fast-growing small tree
that will reach about 10m. Its flowers appeal to the
honey-eaters and the purple berries are popular with
the fruit eaters.
Other native trees to attract birds are cabbage
trees (cordyline australis, c banksii, c obtecta syn,
c kaspar); pohutukawa (metrosideros excelsa);
rewarewa or New Zealand honeysuckle (knightia
excelsa); kaka beak (clianthus puniceus, c maximus);
five finger (pseudopanax arboreus) and the similar-
looking but smaller (3m) plaetus; kowhai (sophora
microphylla, s tetraptera). Dragon’s gold, one of
the first kowhai to flower, is a smaller (1.5m) shrub
suitable or container growing.
Non-native trees and shrubs could include rowan
(sorbus) — the red-berried forms are birds’ top
choice — prunus, tree lupin, grevillea, banksias,
waratah and mahonia, whose yellow flowers are
popular with bellbirds, especially in winter.
Among smaller bird magnets are native flaxes
(phormium tenax species and cultivars) whose
flowers bring tui, bellbirds and starlings, while
hot pokers (knifophia) are recommended, for they
bloom in late summer when nectar-rich flowers are
a little scarce and also attract insects. In autumn
and winter, the seeds of most taller grasses provide
food, the latter favoured by introduced birds like
goldfinches. They also like thistle seeds and probably
help spread these weeds.
In frost-free areas, two Australian perennials with
avian appeal are the gymea lily (doryanthes excelsa),
whose red flowers rear on 6m stems above the flax-
like foliage, and its close relative, d palmeri, slightly
shorter at 5m.
Come winter, sunflowers’ seed heads are an
excellent food source for bigger seed eaters.
Unless plants topple, there is no need to pick
sunflower heads: just leave them to dry naturally and
the birds will find them.
The gardener gets a bonus, as some seeds inevitably
fall to the ground and germinate in spring.
I suppose you could call that a symbiotic
relationship, a positive relationship between birds
Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 7
with Gillian Vine
For the birds
Native five finger (pseudopanax arboreus) has berries that last into winter.
In winter, bellbirds fly in to feed on mahonia’s blooms.
Bellbirds love the flowers of kotukutuku (fuchsia excorticata).
In frost-free areas, doryanthes palmeri is a dramatic garden plant that attracts birds.
The Greymouth Star has five copies of the NZ Gardener magazine
to give away for July.
This month’s edition features articles on how to make your home-
grown crops taste better, winter soup recipes, and the history of
To enter the draw, your entry must include your name, address and
Send them to.—
c/o Greymouth Star,
PO Box 3,
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with garden in the subject
One entry per household. Entries close July 29.
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