Native Australian Trees which Provide Food for Birds

Birds are an integral part of most Australian gardens and afford much joy with their antics.

Birds have a role to play in the garden in maintaining the balance of nature. For birds to be attracted to a garden, three basic requirements need to be met. These are food, water and shelter.

Food may be in the form of nectar, insects, seeds or nuts. Planting a variety of Australian natives will encourage a variety of birds and much pleasure can be gained by watching a spinebill probe deep into a kangaroo paw to extract the nectar. A supply of cool, clean water will be appreciated by your birds. Place any water containers in an area safe from domestic cats and other predators.

If birds feel safe, they will remain in your garden and may even nest there. Some dense, prickly plants will provide a haven for small birds.  If there is room, larger native trees will eventually produce fruits and nuts which will be sought after by larger species. Large trees also develop hollows in branches and trunks. Such hollows are vital as nest sites for some bird species and a lack of such hollows is a major problem with increased land clearing and development.

The following are a selection of Australian native tall shrubs and trees (over 4 metres) which will be sure to entice more birds to your garden.

Acacia pycnantha or Golden Wattle has large, globular, golden-yellow flowers mainly during July to October. It is an adaptable species but prefers well-drained soils. Birds and insects are attracted to nectar which seeps from glands on the phyllodes. Parrots and pigeons also eat the seeds. This species is often used to depict the wattle of the floral emblem of Australia.

Acmena smithii or Lilly Pilly       is a small to medium tree, with dark green shiny leaves. The relatively insignificant cream to greenish flowers are followed by globular, white, pink or purple succulent fruits. The fruit is edible by both birds and humans. It is usually eaten as jam by humans!

Angophora costata or Smooth-barked Apple has highly decorative, smooth bark. The new bark varies from bright orange to a pinky-brown colour. Profuse white to cream flowers are borne during November to February. It is hardy to a wide range of soil and climatic conditions but it can suffer frost damage, especially when young.

The Banksia ericifolia    (Heath-leaved Banksia) has small, narrow leaves. Flower heads up to 25cm long appear from April to November. The strking flowers are in a range of yellows, oranges, deep reds and creams. Although adaptable, it prefers well-drained soils. To retain the same flower colour as the parent, the plant must be propagated from cuttings.

Callistemon ‘Harkness’ is spectacular cultivar. New leaf growth is an attractive pink. Bright red flower spikes to 15cm long are produced from (mainly) September to January. It is popular with gardeners and adaptable to a wide range of conditions. It responds well to pruning after flowering.

Eucalyptus caesia is endemic to Western Australia and is a decorative small tree with silvery grey foliage, buds and fruits. The pink flowers are tipped with gold. The flowering season lasts from June to November. It is suitable for a wide range of well-drained positions. It may need regular pruning and/or staking to avoid damage caused by the weight of flowers, buds or fruits. It is frost-resistant. A large-flowered form known as ‘Silver Princess’ is also popular in cultivation. It has long pendulous branchlets which bear a profusion of blossoms.

Another eucalypt native to Western Australia is Eucalyptus conferruminata or Bushy Yate (sometimes known as Bald Island Marlock). This dense small tree has large clusters of yellow-green flowers mainly during July to December. Green decorative buds precede the flowers. It is useful as a screen or windbreak plant. Its broad, dense crown and low stature make is popular as a street tree. The bushy yate can cope with exposed coastal conditions.

Also from Western Australia is Eucalyptus macrandra or the Long-flowered Marlock. This attractive tree has a smooth, brown-grey trunk and lustrous, relatively large, green to blue-green leaves. Large clusters of yellow-green flowers are produced mainly from December through to March. These are followed by long, narrow, horn-like bud-caps. It is very hardy and the flowers are rich in nectar.  It is also frost resistant.

Grevillea shiressii or Blue Grevillea is a native of New South Wales. It is a quick-growing bushy plant producing bluish-green flowers mainly from July to December. The flowers are often hidden within the foliage but honey-eaters have no trouble locating them. It is an excellent bird-attracting species and resistant to frost.

Also endemic to New South Wales is Melaleuca hypericifolia or the Hillock Bush. This is a dense shrub with pendulous branchlets. The leaves can become reddish during cold weather. Orange-red flower spikes up to 8cm long are produced on older wood mainly from September to February. It adapts to a wide range of conditions.

With birds facing a decreasing number of nesting and feeding sites due to clearing of land and ever-increasing development, it makes sense to plant trees that will make some small compensation to our feathered friends.