Indigenous Nursery News Blog

Create a Small Bird-Friendly Garden 3 - The Open Zone

Watching garden birds in your own back yard can be very rewarding, particularly if you landscape your garden to include an open area to attract birds and other garden wildlife.

What is an Open Area Zone for birds?

The open area is the part of the garden where birds like to have an unimpeded view of happenings in their immediate surroundings.

Birds will not find much shelter in the open zone, but will rather be found in this part of the garden when looking for food and water, sunning themselves or taking a sand bath. The open area can be a small section of lawn grass area next to a pond or other accessible area of water in the garden. Water at ground level is a form of open area zone in a bird friendly garden. For inspiration to design a small garden for birds, have a look at our article: Create a Small Bird Friendly Garden Using Indigenous Plants.

Where should the open area be situated?

Top of a garden owner’s mind is how to make their garden look nice. Aesthetically, an open area or zone looks beautiful when garden plants of various heights are planted in beds near the lawn, water feature or low growing plants.

Birds like to be able to survey the open area from a secluded vantage point. They also like to escape to taller shrubs and trees such as those in the Exclusion Zone when they feel they are in danger. Implement your garden design ideas in such a way that bird watching with binoculars is not essential.

The open area should be observable from a spot that gives you an open view of the lawn and / or bird friendly water feature.

What to plant for birds in the open area

Blend low growing indigenous plants such as groundcovers, some succulents and indigenous lawn grasses into the open area.

Include species that will attract insects and provide seeds and fruit for birds to feed on. A good variety of plant types will entice more types of South African birds out into the open, encouraging them to be active where you can see them.

Include an area of longer veld grasses (e.g. Turpentine Grass – Hyparrhenia hirta) and taller flowering herbaceous grassland plants (e.g. Milkweed - Gomphocarpus fruticosus) on the edge of the lawn. This will provide food and nesting material. It will also provide cover for birds if they are startled and need to seek refuge quickly.

Some low growing indigenous plants for the open area of a garden:

Lawn grass such as Stenatotaphrum secundatum - Buffalo Grass (E)

Insect attracting plants

Becium obovatum (= new name Ocimum obovatum) - Cat's Whiskers (E), Katsnor (A) Size to 30cm

Stachys aethiopica and Stachys aethiopica ‘Pink’ - African Stachys (E), Katpisbossie (A) Size 25 to 35cm

Gazania species, especially Gazania "Gazoo" - Citrus Mix & Fire Mix. Hybrids. Size 15 to 25cm

Hypoxis hemerocallidaea - African Potato (E), Sterblom (A) Size to 30cm

Cotula sericea - Sikly Buttons (E) Size 20 to 40cm

Geranium incanum - Carpet Geranium (E), Bergtee (A) Size up to 30cm

Scabiosa columbaria - Wild Scabiosa (E), Bitterbos (A) Size 15 to 30cm

Otholobium decumbens - Carpet Pea (E), Agtdaegeneesbossie (A) Size 5 to 10cm

Arctotheca calendula - Cape Dandelion (E), Kaapse Gouseblom (A) Size up to 10cm

Arctotis arctoides - Putswa-pududu (Tsw), Ubushwa (X) Size 8 to 10cm

Cineraria saxifraga- Wild Cineraria (E) Size 15 to 20cm

Delosperma lydenbergense - Klipvygie (A) Size up to 10cm

Nectar plants

Aloe greatheadii  - Kleinaalwyn / Grasaalwyn (A) Size 20 to 30cm

Cotyledon orbiculata- Pig's Ear (E), Varkore (A) Size 40 to 80cm

Fruit and seed bearing plants

Eragrostis capensis (Seed) - Small Heartseed Grass (E), Hartjiesgras (A) Size up to 50cm

Stipa dregeana (Seed) - Stipa Grass (E) - Size 0,5 to 1,2m

Asparagus densiflorus  - Cat's Tail Asparagus (E), Katstert (A) - Size to 1m

Water feature plants

Kniphofia pauciflora - Dainty Poker (E) - Size up to 35cm

Mentha longifolia- Wild Spearmint (E) - Size 30 - 50cm

Nymphaea nouchalli - Blue Water Lily (E), Blouwaterlelie (A) - Size: Floating parts spread to 1m diameter , Nymphoides indica - Yellow Water Lily (E), Geelwaterlelie (A) - Size: Floating to 1m diameter.

Other considerations when creating an Open Zone for birds in your garden:

  • Including rock and wood on the ground will increase habitat for small creatures that the birds may feed on.
  • Most birds that are not naturally ground-dwelling but like to use this area will require taller planting close by. It is a good idea to provide a stepped height of plants leading from the exclusion zone to the open area so that birds can “creep” closer, being ever vigilant for danger as they do so.

More ways to attract birds to the open area of the garden:

  • A rocky outcrop in this area planted up with grasses and nectar producing plants will attract birds such as the Familiar Chat, Sunbirds and Common Waxbill.
  • A shallow depression in the open area filled with clean sand will be gratefully accepted for regular sand baths by quite a few species of birds.
  • To encourage owls to the garden - install a light and plant an owl post near the light. An owl post is simply a pole put into the ground that is 1.2m or higher above ground level just outside where the light reaches. Many insects will be attracted to the light and you could also scatter some seeds. The owls will then hunt the creatures that come to eat the insects and seeds.

Garden birds you are likely to see in the open area zone:

Lapwings (Blacksmith, Wattled, Banded), African Hoopoe, Cape Robinchat, Thrush species, Hadeda Ibis, Laughing Dove and other Dove species, Guinea Fowl, Francolin, Egrets, Weaver bird species, Sparrow species, Quela Birds, Bokmakierie, Longclaw species, Wagtail species, Waxbill species, some Starling species, including the Cape Glossy Starling, Pied Starling, Stonechat, Swallows and swifts (mostly flying), Bee-eater species including the European Bee-eater.

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