The Wind in the Willows......
by Gill Jackson
November 12, 2000

Ratty & Mole.....

'Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing-half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: 'messing-about-in-boats!'
I have been getting a great amount of pleasure from watching the birds in my garden of late. They are very plentiful this Spring and I think it may be attributed to the fact that I am probably providing a safe habitat for them, and an abundance of food.
Blackbirds and Thrushes are digging up my mulched areas, raiding my worm farm and are busily building their nests. Ylva, from Little Fresh provides me with a box of old fruit, once a week, which my birds go crazy over - the blackbirds, especially, love the apples and grapes, and the Silvereye's relish the pears.
If you want to encourage the birds to your garden, here are some well proven methods :-

  1. I have driven quite a few hardwood stakes into my garden in various places and have then put a nail into the top each stake. The apples, pears, melons, bananas get put on to these nails and hey presto - the birds move in and have a feast! Great watching them feeding - beats the goggle box any day!!

  2. Another great idea is to hang an onion bag in a tree after filling it up with bits of paper, strips of cotton, wool, cardboard etc - the birds will help themselves to bits and pieces and will incorporate these into their nests.

  3. Bird feeding platforms which are supported on a rod keep the birds up and out of reach of cats whilst they are dining.

  4. Birdhouses provide a safe haven for the young birds. The size of the entry hole is very important in nesting boxes, and contrary to popular belief, a perch under the entry hole is not a good idea as this allows predators to gain easy access. The houses should also be easy to dismantle as they need to be cleaned out each year and should be made from natural timbers that have not ben chemically treated.

Some information on a few of the introduced birds we see -

Common name :
Blackbird - these birds were introduced to NZ by the early settlers.
Habitat: The blackbird has adapted to a wide range of habitat from the suburban garden to the pastoral countryside, to exotic forests and even into native forest. Found throughout both islands of NZ and on most of the off-shore islands. The male bird is black with a bright yellow bill in the breeding season, the eye-ring is yellow whereas the female is generally dark brown, her breast is light brown, speckled with dark brown and in the breeding season, her bill is yellowish, otherwise brown. Both birds help with nest building and the feeding of the young.

Song Thrush - these birds were also introduced to NZ by the early settlers, and are generally a gentle and shy bird although they are one of the finest bird musicians. They are olive brown on their upper parts, whitish/speckled with brown on their under parts and their bill is brown with a speck of yellow at the base. They feed mainly on the ground on worms, snails and insects and are, therefore, particularly vulnerable to predators.

One of my favourite little birds which helps keep the garden free of insects is the "Silvereye" or "white eye". This bird is self-introduced and colonised NZ in the 1850's, probably from Australia. The head, nape and rump are green, the eye-ring is white, a grey collar encircles the neck and throat, the abdomen is whitish and the tail is grey. They are often seen feeding alongside Grey Warblers in canopy trees. The Silvereye has no white in the tail as has the Grey Warbler.

And lastly, for this issue of Russell Lights, we have our Grey Warbler. (Maori name: Riroriro) This little bird is smaller than a House Sparrow but larger than a Rifleman. It's sweet but plaintive song can be heard anywhere there is sufficient vegetation for the bird to hide in. The upper parts of the body are grey with paler grey on the throat, has white on the abdomen and has a grey tail. The white tip to the tail is conspicuous on feeding birds in high branches and when in flight. The nests are pear shaped with a small hole for a side entrance. In northern NZ the first brood of fully fledged young can be on the wing by August. It does state in one of my bird books the following: "because this bird is the major foster parent for the young of the Shining Cuckoo, warblers nest early so that one brood will be on the wing before the arrival of the cuckoo in September or October". I wonder....
All from the Gardener for this week - I am now going to sweet talk my non-gardening boatie husband into building me some birdhouses - if I can lure him away from messing around in boats with Sparky!!!

I am an organic gardener - promote the use of non-chemical sprays and fertilisers. I use seaweed, comfrey and compost. Love nature and animals. My preference is for cottage gardening - flowers, fragrance and textures. Married with grown up (thank goodness!) step-children and one little Bichon Frise "Rosie". I look after properties for overseas owners - primarily tending their gardens and this has now lead into renting some of these properties out as holiday accommodation -


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