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Tui on Kowhai tree Tui on Kowhai tree

Native Plants and Habitats for Native Birds

Chris and Brian Rance

Birds of the forest

In Southland, the main native birds of the forest you will want to attract to your garden or property are kereru (native pigeon), tui, bellbird, warblers, fantails and waxeyes.

Of these birds two are nectar feeders, two are foliage and berry eaters, two are insect eaters and one eats the lot – the waxeye (or silvereye) gets the prize for versatility.

Exotic birds tend to go for exotic fruits e.g blackbirds spreading blackberry or barberry. Native birds also eat some exotic fruits like holly and barberry. So please don’t keep such trees in your garden because the birds like them – in the end you will be not be benefiting native birds because their natural habitats and foods will disappear.

In Southland the favoured native foods for:

Kereru – kowhai, hoheria and lowland ribbonwood foliage, miro, wineberry, cabbage tree, totara, kahikatea berries. Also exotics - broom, laburnum, plums! Kereru are the only birds in New Zealand that can swallow (and therefore distribute) the large native miro berry.

Tui and bellbird – kowhai, flax, fuchsia, rata nectar. Sugar water, eucalypt particularly in winter. They also eat berries (particularly Coprosma) and insects when feeding young. Tui and bellbird are the only birds to be able to twist open beech mistletoe flowers.

Waxeyes or silvereyes – eat most berry species particularly Coprosma, wineberry, cabbage tree.

Warblers and fantails - are insect eaters so any plantings will help – and avoiding the use of insecticides is essential.

There is a list of native plants and the food type they provide for native birds on the Environment Southland web site under Environmental Information - Southland Native Plants for Forest and Wetland Restoration
Also have a look at DOC's website Attracting birds to your garden

Birds of Wetlands

Other birds that you can attract to your property are birds requiring a wetland habitat. By enhancing or creating a wetland habitat you can attract harriers, herons, kingfishers, ducks, bittern, shags, crake, fernbirds to visit. We have had all of these species in or near to our created wetland habitats in Otatara.
Planting around wetland areas allow birds to shelter and be protected from predators e.g. planting Carex secta, toe toe, jointed rush and Coprosma near the edge of ponds.
Creating islands provides safe nesting areas and adding perching poles gives kingfishers and shags places to dive into the water from.
For more information see the Southland Native Wetland and Streamside Native Planting Factsheet on the Environment Southland Web site.

Garden Habitats

Any native planting must be better than lawn or exotic grass! Planting native species in your garden can be for a variety of reasons for food for birds, for invertebrates, for lizards, for fish, for shelter/nesting.

Often the fast growing native species (the colonisers or nursery crops) that we use mostly for restoration are those that provide the most food for native birds. Planting good habitat for species doesn’t need to be boring or unattractive.

Some things to think about

• Make your garden a distinctly Southland garden and use plants native to Southland.

• Remove weeds and animal pests, both have a detrimental affect on native habitats and native birds. Make sure you don’t plant any invasive exotic plants on your section.

• Plant specific native species to encourage native birds.

Want help? - Southland Community Nursery

Southland Community Nursery was established in 1996. Funding has been received from many environmental funding sources – this year from WWF. It is an entirely voluntary project where people come and pot up native plants for their own projects and can take them away for free. Locally sourced seed and cuttings are made available.

The nursery is used as an advocacy and education facility with many groups, schools and visits by the public.

Southland Community Nursery Web site

For factsheets on native restoration –look at the Environment Southland web site – – for the information we have jointly produced with Environment Southland and please feel free to come and have a look for yourself at our own pond, bush, shelterbelts and native plant borders.
Chris Rance, 185 Grant Road, Otatara (2131161)
or email

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