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Sustainable Life: Loving Backyard birds

Mia Swainson

Are you awake in the early morning, when the world is filled with a chorus of birds?

There’s a musical song of magpies, a screeching of parrots and sweet tweeting of wrens that welcome each new day.

Canberra and our surrounding region have the richest bird life of any Australian capital city. There are more than 200 species of birds here, including seven of Australia’s fourteen species of loud and spectacularly feathered parrots.

There’s so much to love about backyard birds in Canberra. How can you get some more of this love? Here are my tips for encouraging backyard birds.

Plant a habitat garden

A neatly manicured lawn is nice for lawn bowls, but it doesn’t encourage birds. For more birds in your garden, start with some dense, native shrubs like wattles or correas that provide shelter for smaller birds as well as nectar from their flowers. If you’ve got space, try some of the smaller gum trees as a habitat and food source.

Canberra Ornathologists Group, along with the Australian Native Plants Society, Canberra Region Inc. have published a list of recommended plants for attracting birds to your garden.

It’s a bit unconventional, but if you have space, consider large fruit trees as a way of attracting large birds. When my apple trees are laden with fruit, we harvest from the bottom of the tree, leaving the tree tops to cockatoos and rosellas. The flash of colour and raucus chatter are a welcome addition to our backyard.

Install a nesting box (or two)

One of the biggest threats to native bird populations is land clearing and habitat loss. When land is cleared and established eucalypts are removed, the hollows for nesting cannot be replaced by young trees. Enter nesting boxes. To encourage native birds to nest, attach a box to one of your taller backyard trees.

Different box sizes will fit different birds, so choose your box carefully.   Birds in Backyards, an Australian NGO, has published plans for building nesting boxes that suit 12 different types of native birds. You can also buy nest boxes online at Nest Boxes Australia. If you install a nesting box this month, you might just be in time for some lucky birds to lay their clutch of eggs this springtime.


Even the nicest cats are bad news for backyard birds. Indoor-only cats are the latest in pet trends and native birds love it. Good for cats and great for backyard birds. Unfortunately, there are still many domestic cats roaming Canberra neighbourhoods day and night.

So, if you live in an urban area, it’s likely that someone’s cat regards your back yard as their territory, even if you don’t have a cat yourself. If neighborhood cats are a problem for you, check out the advice on the Backyard Birds website. You could also check out ACT Government’s new cat containment suburbs when deciding where to live.

With these three simple tips, you’ll be able to make the most of our capitol’s incredible bird life and enjoy the richness of Canberra’s morning tweets (for real).


Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy ( More about the Author