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How to Feed Native Birds in your Garden

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You can attract native birds to your garden by setting up a feeding station.

Many of our native birds eat nectar, fruit, and insects. You can help supplement their food by setting up a bird feeder in your garden.

It can take a while for birds to get used to feeding at the table. Make sure feeding stations topped up regularly in winter and early spring when natural food sources are more limited.

Foods to avoid

  • Seeds and grain. They attract introduced birds that out-compete natives.
  • Bread. Birds are likely to become malnourished.
  • Milk. It can't be digested by birds and causes stomach upsets. Fermented dairy products such as cheese are okay.
  • Honey or honey water. It is good for some birds, but is likely to attract bees.
  • Cooked oats or porridge. This can harden around a bird's beak. Uncooked oats are okay.

Keeping birds safe

Before you start feeding native birds, it is important to make sure your backyard is a safe place for them to visit.

  • Set traps to control introduced predators like rats, stoats, and possums.
  • Keep your cat inside, particularly at night.
  • Put any feed stations well out of reach of introduced predators.
  • Clean your feeder regularly to avoid the spread of disease.
  • Provide water, particularly in summer, so birds are able to stay hydrated.

What should I feed native birds?

Native birds that you are likely to attract to your garden prefer to eat fruit, nectar, insects, and foliage. Common species and their preferred food are:

Species Nectar Fruit Foliage Insects
Kākā  
Kererū (wood pigeon)    
Korimako (bellbird)  
Kōtare (kingfisher)      
Pīwakawaka (fantail)      
Riroriro (grey warbler)      
Tauhou (silvereye)  
Tūī  

Native plants

Native plants and shrubs are the best way to attract native birds to your garden. Try growing species that provide nectar, seeds, and berries all year-round so birds always have food available to them.

A kereru with its mouth full of leaves

Kererū (wood pigeons) prefer to eat the fruit and foliage of native plants. Credit: Chris Helliwell

Leaf litter

When leaves fall off your plants and shrubs, do not pick them up or relocate them. Over time, a thick layer of mulch will build up. This boosts insect populations, which provides a great food source for insectivorous birds.

Fruit

Try hammering some nails into a board and securing pieces of fruit to the table. Half-cut oranges, apples, and pears can attract tauhou (silvereyes), korimako (bellbird), and tūī, as well as kākā and hihi if they are present.

Sugar water

Sugar water is a great supplementary food for nectar-loving birds like tūī, korimako (bellbirds), and kākā.

Three tui feeding on sugar water in a bottle and a dish

Sugar water is a great way to supplement food for nectar-loving birds like tūī. Credit: Anna Arrol

To make sugar solution, dissolve half a cup of sugar in four cups of water. The best sugar to water ratio is 1:8. Anything higher may attract bees and wasps or start to ferment more quickly. 

You can leave sugar water in a shallow dish or make a feeder using household items.

To make a sugar feeder, take a one-litre milk bottle and attach the lid to a shallow dish or jar lid. Fill the milk bottle with sugar water and make a few small holes about half a centimetre from the bottom of the bottle. Screw it into the lid and turn the dish upside down. Sugar solution will come out of the bottle and fill the dish to the height of the holes. 

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