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AU Sharing your garden with wildlife

Property Here - Wednesday, August 21, 2013

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 A lush garden created by Secret Gardens of Sydney. Picture: Jason Busch.

A lush garden created by Secret Gardens of Sydney. Picture: Jason Busch. Source: News Limited

SHARING your garden with native birds and animals can be a pleasure as well as a privilege.

For most of us, home is a place of sanctuary, a retreat all our own where we control who comes and who goes.

That sense of ownership extends into the garden where fences draw boundary lines between neighbouring properties.

However, many of us unknowingly share our gardens with a range of native birds and animals.

Jason Buttigieg, call centre manager for animal rescue service WIRES, says most Sydneysiders don't know how lucky we are to share our gardens with a wide range of native birdlife.

``We are probably one of the last international cities with so much birdlife available,'' he says.

Thanks to a network of national parks and reserves woven throughout Sydney, birds and animals ranging from little native finches, honey eaters and cockatoos through to possums, fruit bats, lizards and even bandicoots are finding their way into suburban backyards.


Apart from playing an important role in preserving native species, Jason says it's a privilege to be able to observe our native species from the comfort of our own gardens and there is a lot to be gained from providing a welcome environment for them.

Krystal Thomson, who runs the Backyard to Bush program at Taronga Zoo, says doing nothing is a great way to make your garden more native friendly.

``It's important to stop using pesticides to encourage things like snails into the garden which will in turn encourage bluetongue lizards who feed on them,'' she says.

Many bird species such as the fairy wren feed on small insects found in dense foliage and even vegie patches while lizards like to eat a range of insects and spiders.

Leaving a few fallen branches about will also provide valuable habitat for ground dwelling animals like lizards.

``The loss of habitat for some animals is a byproduct of our preference for tidy gardens,'' Jason says.

One solution is to half bury small pieces of plastic piping which can make attractive homes for lizards including bluetongues, water dragons and bearded dragons which can commonly be found around the north shore and northern beaches as well as Sydney's southern suburbs and the northwest.


If you actively want to attract native birdlife to your garden, Krystal says the first place to start is to plant native shrubs and trees such as grevilleas, lilly pillies, bottle brushes and flowering gums which will encourage nectar eaters including honey eaters, noisy miners and lorikeets as well as flying foxes.

``Nectar producing plants will encourage the birds to come in to feed and it will attract ringtail possums as well,'' she says.

Larger species such as kookaburras and cockatoos prefer to nest in the hollows of large trees such as eucalypts, while magpies, who feed off grubs, will make their nests from found objects such as twigs, leaves and even wire. Insect feeders such as blue wrens, finches and willy wagtails prefer dense, prickly ground cover.

Jason says some of these smaller species are especially at risk from larger birds who move in and dominate territories, so providing protection is vital to their continued survival in the Sydney area.

 Many bird species provide an ecological balance to your garden.

Many bird species provide an ecological balance to your garden. Source: News Limited

``We are losing a lot of the smaller birds like the fairy wren in favour of the larger birds and introduced species like the Indian myna which attack the smaller birds and kill their young,'' he says.

``They are a classic example of a species being pushed out. They are insect eaters and they like prickly dense foliage to hide in.''

Threatened species co-ordinator for the National Parks and Wildlife Service John Briggs says providing a food source across the seasons will make your garden a popular destination for birds all year round.

``Try to get things to flower across the seasons,'' he says. ``The more often your garden is producing something, the more likely the birds are to visit.''

Opinion is divided on whether it is a good idea to offer additional food sources such as seed, fruit or even meat and cheese to birds and animals in your garden. Krystal says it can do more harm than good.

``A lot of people are keen to feed birds and animals but they often feed them the wrong kind of food or the animal becomes reliant. If for some reason there is no longer food available, that's a real problem,'' she says.

However, John argues as long as it is not a regular event, the occasional offering is not necessarily harmful.

``A lot of people say you shouldn't feed wild birds but it's not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a stress period when food sources may be limited,'' he says. ``As soon as there is more food elsewhere, they go.''


For many Sydneysiders, possums are unwelcome guests, especially when they decide your roof makes an excellent home.

Brushtail and ringtail possums are the most common species in Sydney but, as habitat declines, they are looking closer to home for shelter.

Krystal from Taronga Zoo says a family of possums in your roof is generally a sign that they have nowhere else to go.

Catching possums without a licence is illegal but offering alternative accommodation is the gentlest approach.

``You can buy a possum box from WIRES and then you pop it into a tree in the garden,'' she says. ``If they are reluctant to leave the roof, put a light or a torch on in the attic and leave it on overnight. Possums will not sleep in an area that is too bright.''

The bandicoot is becoming a more common sight around the northern beaches, where its habit of digging small holes in the lawn is not always appreciated.

However, Jason from WIRES says it is a privilege to see such a shy animal in the wild.

``They are a nocturnal animal and ground dwelling. Provide them with another habitat to move them out of the lawn and into the garden,'' he says.

This can be as simple as gathering a mound of leaves for them to burrow into.


By far the biggest threat to native wildlife is household pets. Jason says encounters with cats and dogs account for half the calls to WIRES for animal rescue.

``For pet owners, the best advice is for them to keep their animals in their yard and to keep cats and dogs in at night,'' he says.

``A lot of our native animals are nocturnal so it will make a difference just containing them after dark.''

Even if the family pet does not bite the animal, it can still be at risk.

``Cats and dogs carry a bacteria in their saliva that our native animals find difficult to cope with and they need antibiotics to treat it, even without a puncture wound,'' he says.

``Just the fact that they are covered with saliva can be enough to kill a small marsupial within 24 hours without treatment.''

If you find an injured native animal, Jason says to call WIRES and they will send a trained carer to your home.

``If it is safe to approach it, put it in a box in a warm dark place and contact us and we will come out and collect it,'' he says.

Wildlife and your garden

Learning to love having native wildlife in your backyard is not difficult, especially when you consider what they can do for your garden. Here's a few of the benefits of making your place wildlife friendly.

Many bird species provide an ecological balance to your garden. Smaller birds like wrens and willy wagtails feed on insects while magpies love worms and curl grubs that can damage lawns. Kookaburras eat insects, snakes and small rodents.

Lizards such as bluetongues, bearded dragons and water dragons will keep the snail, spider and insect population under control without the need for pesticides.

Bandicoots like to burrow for food which aerates the lawn. They also have a taste for curl grubs.

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