How our humble front yards are helping bird life

April 11, 2018

New Holland Honeyeater (pic: Randy Moore)

Native sensitive: The New Holland Honeyeater is among the native bird species that are sensitive to the presence of non native plants in our gardens (pic: Randy Moore)

New Murdoch University research has revealed that front gardens can be crucial habitat for native birds, and they don’t just have to be filled with native plants to be useful.

After surveying more than 2,000 front gardens in the Perth metro area, the environmental scientists said that despite being modified, this land is doing an important job in supporting species like the white-cheeked honeyeater and the cuckoo shrike.

Although native plant species are well known to attract birds to our gardens, providing food and shelter, the researchers found that yards dominated by non-native plant species can also provide habitat.

Dr Joe Fontaine from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences said they found only one species type – the nectarivores, which comprise birds like honeyeaters and wattlebirds – that were sensitive to the presence of non-native plants.

“The remainder of the birds we saw regularly, including insect-eating species like the magpie-lark and the willie wagtail, were not so fussy,” Dr Fontaine said.

“Perth gardens offer a clear opportunity for local government policies encouraging the planting of street trees and shrubs or ground layer vegetation which, if we want to encourage the nectarivores also, should be native to this region.

“Tackling the dominance of lawns and vegetation-free zones in the Perth metro region in this way is not only water wise, it will really help our native birds and other wildlife.”

In the 200 years since European settlement, almost 90 per cent of the original woodland vegetation in the Perth metro region has been cleared, restricting many species to the surviving remnants of this once pristine environment.

For their study, the researchers identified 28 species that might be spotted in the gardens and then surveyed the bird life seen in front yards in 25 suburbs (11 north, 14 south).

The grey butcherbird, the Australian magpie and the singing honeyeater were among the 12 species regularly recorded. A further 15 species were also seen, including the threatened Carnaby’s black cockatoo and introduced species like the rainbow lorikeet.

“While our gardens don’t work for every bird species that used to roam the Perth metro area before European settlement, our study has highlighted they can play an important role in supporting urban biodiversity,” Dr Fontaine said.

“With development only set to increase, it is important we find new ways to support our amazing native wildlife. Our gardens are a great place to start.”

A paper on the study, which was a global collaborative effort between Murdoch University, the University of Western Australia and the University of Idaho and Oregon State University in the US, was published in Ecosphere and can be read here.

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Comments (One response)

unice robinson April 29, 2018

Thank you for doing this study – my garden is a mix of local natives and anything which flowers, I like and fits into my garden. At this time a year when day lilies are coming into flower there is a noisy fight for flowers from New holland honey eaters and little brown honey eaters.

I'm very lucky to have 15 species of birds regularly visit and an occasional small bird of prey (sorry I think its what we used to call a chicken hawk) and most enjoyable are red-capped parrots. Yes we have a bird bath. Interestingly the mudlark only visits backyard and magpie only visits front yard.

Please continue to do these type of studies as I have noticed gardens are going due to ?cost of water, time poor and size of blocks (more units where there was 1 house)

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