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Australian Plants online

and the Birds in Backyards Project

Shirley Pipitone

This article is a report on a talk by Tony Saunders to a meeting of the Society for Growing Australian Plants (ACT) on 11 November 1999. The article covers some of the principles of birdscaping and examples used by Tony in his talk. The article then goes on to summarise the Birds in Backyards Project, based partly on the talk and partly on the synopsis of the Project kindly provided by Birds Australia.

Tony is deeply involved with Birds Australia and the National Bird Atlas Project. He has been birdscaping gardens (i.e. Iandscaping to encourage native birdlife) for 20 years, and has been studying the relationships between plants and birds for about 15 years as part of his postgraduate studies and general birdwatching in the field.

Principles Of Birdscaping

Gardens must have a variety of food sources to attract a variety of birds. Very rich sources of nectar such as Grevillea hybrids and callistemons attract large birds and Common Miners which displace smaller birds. Other birds need food sources such as berries. insects. seed, skinks, frogs and worms. For example, large mulched areas attract skinks and therefore kookaburras.

Levins honeyeater

Levin's honeyeater

  • Small birds need suitable shrubbery to provide protective cover. Grevilleas with small flowers and prickly dense foliage attract small birds.
  • Gardens must have a wide range of vegetation to provide varied habitats e.g. mulch, grasses, rocks, trees and shrubs of different heights and density.
  • Birds should not be fed artificially. Feeding often encourages exotic and large birds again at the expense of smaller birds and the variety of birdlife.
  • Birdbaths should be provided with a resting place for birds nearby which is not strong enough for cats.
  • Indigenous plants should be used to minimise the potential weed problem in nearby bushland. The introduced Indian Mynah likes lawns and European-style gardens.

The Birds In Backyards Project

Landscapes dominated by human habitation support many species of birds, sometimes at high population densities. However, populations of small native birds in cities have noticeably declined since the 1950’s, often resulting in local extinctions. Concurrently, populations of some large native birds and some exotic bird species appear to have adapted successfully to human altered environments and have expanded considerably.

People want to attract birds to their gardens but little information is available. Some of the potentially important factors determining which species co-exist with human settlement are the fragmentation of bushland, plant choices and garden designs, predation by exotic predators, supplementary feeding by humans, high levels of residual pesticides and other pollutants.

The Project

The Birds in Backyards Project is a Birds Australia Project initially being carried out in the greater Sydney, Hunter and Illawarra areas of New South Wales.

The ultimate aim of the Birds in Backyards Project is the re-establishment of a diverse bird community in urban areas. This will be achieved through research into urban habitats, developing methods to improve bird habitat and encouraging widespread awareness and understanding within the community both of the need for change and the means by which that change can be implemented.

There are three separate but interconnecting components of the Project – research, education and conservation.


The Birds in Backyards research is structured as a series of interrelated modules. Each module is a discrete research project undertaken as a collaborative venture between a University and Birds in Backyards. Projects are designed for Honours, Masters or PhD studies and Birds in Backyards provides research funds and a stipend to attract an outstanding student and university supervisor. Birds Australia also provides a co-supervisor with expertise in the research field of each module.

Rainbow lorikeet

Rainbow lorikeet


Data will be collected from a range of sources such as bird clubs, municipal bushcare workers and individuals in their own gardens. The research program will also seek to maximise current knowledge by encouraging contribution from other organisations that have complementary wildlife and habitat projects or databases. As each module interrelates with the others, the combined results will give a comprehensive pricture of the ecology of birds and bird/plant relationships in the urban environment.

The first of these modules commenced in July, 2000. Almost half the funds required for the second module which is due to commence in July, 2001 have now been received, predominantly from individual donations. However full funding for this module is still being sought.


The education component of the Project aims to develop an awareness and understanding of the current status of urban birds and a “hands on” culture of birdscaping and monitoring of bird populations. The environmental education program will be aimed at all levels of the community through a range of education methods such as the development of an accredited teaching program to be used in schools, presentations and workshops with community groups, and development and distribution of informative publications.


The conservation program aims to increase the diversity of urban avifauna. Practical models will be developed to actively encourage and promote the use of appropriate plants and planting designs, which will create habitat for birds and other wildlife. Municipal Councils and schools which are responsible for large tracts of open space will be encouraged to participate. The Project also intends to encourage the commercial development of a greater variety of endemic plants.

In Summary

Birds in Backyards plans to achieve the reintroduction of a diverse and dynamic bird community into urban areas by maximising educational and conservation opportunities within the broader community thus developing a “hands-on” culture of birdscaping and monitoring of bird populations. This will contribute to the creation of an environmentally pro-active, aware and responsible community.


In the long- term, after completion of the research program, a Birdscaping Advisory Service is planned together with informative publications. In this way it is hoped that Birds in Backyards will eventually become self-funding and be able to continue until its objectives are fully realised.

Currently however, the project is seeking funding from the corporate sector and from individual donations. All donations contribute directly to the research grants being provided to university students. Donations over $2 to Birds Australia are tax deductible and should be send to:

Birds in Backyards,
Birds Australia,
GPO Box 1322,
Crows Nest, New South Wales, 1585.

For more information, contact Kate Ravich (kuindah@bigpond.com) or phone: 02 9436 0388.

Updated by Kate Ravich from the journal of the Society for Growing Australian Plants (Canberra Region), June 2000.


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Australian Plants online - September 2000
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants