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Take Action: Bringing the birds to her backyard
ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary

Take Action: Bringing the birds to her backyard

At Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, we recommend planting trees to attract manu/birds to your backyard. Zealandia volunteer and local artist Melissa Boardman shares her experience with feeding and planting in her own backyard.


When I first moved to Wilton from Hataitai I was really looking forward to living in a bird-rich area and being closer to Zealandia. As I went on walks exploring my new suburb I heard and saw so many birds, it was really quite mind-blowing.

As a native bird fanatic, I wanted to bring the birds closer to me, so I decided to hang a couple of sugar water feeders from the massive pōhutukawa tree behind my new home. It didn’t take the birds long to find the feeders and I was thrilled to see a range of birds flocking to them; tauhou/waxeyes, tūī, kākā and the occasional korimako/bellbird. The birds were guzzling down litres of sugar water daily. I thought I was helping them, and in return I got to see and photograph them; it seemed like a win-win.

As more and more birds discovered the feeders, they started to become quite aggressive and were fighting each other. I felt uneasy about how the feeders were causing tension, especially amongst tūī. Then one day I noticed some tauhou perched nearby preening each other, I quickly grabbed my camera to take photos and saw something distressing, they had avian pox lesions around their beaks. I felt sick to my stomach that my sugar water feeders could be causing the spread of this highly contagious and deadly virus, even despite my best efforts to keep the feeders clean. I took down my feeders immediately.

I knew taking down the feeders was the right thing to do, but I worried it would mean that birds wouldn’t visit me anymore. Since I work from my home studio, I loved hearing birds outside and wanted to keep them around, so I started researching plants that would provide natural food instead. Over time I built up a collection of native plants, a lot were cheap or free from TradeMe and Neighbourly, but I purchased more gradually from local garden centres. I also purchased a couple of Goodnature traps to help keep predators at bay.

My garden is quite ‘bitsy’, with little sections of ground here and there. As a renter I couldn’t make huge changes to the property, I could only alter areas on steep slopes and around the edges of the section that couldn’t be utilised for any purpose, so I got to work enhancing and building on areas that already had some small plants growing.

I focused on one area at a time, clearing weeds and adding mulch. I noticed that even just doing this meant that the native plants had a chance to grow. I have seen many plants pop up that I can’t take credit for, like rangiora, kohekohe, five finger and so much kawakawa. I’m guessing most of this is thanks to my daily kererū visitors!

I was lucky to have pre-established trees like the massive pōhutukawa and some small karamū trees scattered around the section when I moved in. They were being smothered by ivy and cotoneaster which I removed and the karamū trees are now huge, thriving and are visited by many birds daily. Karamū are great because they produce berries in autumn, the tauhou especially love them and I’ve even seen kererū feasting on them.

One kōwhai tree that I planted has been a great food source for many birds; riroriro, pīwakawaka and tūī forage for insects in it, kererū munch on the leaves, and for a few years I had a pīpīwharauroa that spent successive days in the tree, picking off and eating the caterpillars one by one.

I’m really proud of the many harakeke flaxes that I’ve planted, they took several years to really take off but now they provide food for many tūī during the summer months. It is such a thrill seeing birds feeding on them right outside my kitchen!

Of course it isn’t all about the birds, our insects and lizards need places to live too. I deliberately keep my garden messy and over top of mulch I leave branches and logs for insects to live in. As a bonus - insects attract birds like pīwakawaka and riroriro/grey warblers. I also have some native flowering plants growing in planter boxes, which is a great option for renters. Insects can still visit and pollinate the plants even if they’re not planted in the ground.


Find out more about Melissa, her photography, and her art at:

Melissa's Instagram

Melissa's website

Photos by Melissa Boardman

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