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An estate agent in Melbourne’s outer eastern Diamond Valley has listed amongst the assets of a family home he is marketing that “abundant birdlife adds to the appeal”.

An American study has recently gone further in suggesting that “desirable avian residents” can add actual dollar value to the price of a home. And taking this as a lead, UK realtors are starting to wonder if the same holds for the picturesque British country properties they market?

A bird lover who lives near a rural stream in England (good for Egrets), who locks up his cat during bird breeding season, and who leaves shed doors open for swallow nesting – among many mindful bird charming strategies, more than less seriously suggests that in future, prospective buyers of his house might be presented with a bird species list to illustrate its biodiversity credentials and thus its enhanced value.

On an “ambience factor rating” Matthew Rice reckons a Nightingale should be worth 20 points, a Barn owl 10 points, swallows and doves and house martins worth five points apiece, and so on.

Peter Koiker of Barry Plant Diamond Creek reckons that while he did point out the bird life and the treed views in spruiking the above-mentioned property, and knows “that people like it,” he’s not sure that in Australia they would really pay for the company of wild birds, at least not in his neck of the woods “which is full of native birds”.

But there are a lot of folk who take the task of encouraging wild birds to their houses as a very serious business and a national organisation, BirdLife Australia that is very keen to encourage particularly suburban householders to make viable habitat in their gardens “to create bird friendly spaces”.

In their ongoing research, education and conservation programme, “Birds in Backyards”, the organisation which has a membership growing by about 10 per cent a year, says, “we all have a responsibility to ensure our biodiversity is maintained”.

“Cultivating the nectar plants and keeping up the water that native birds need is also a way of responding to the loss of small birds from our parks and gardens.”

When Phillip Island birders Sally and Derek Whitehead were laying out the garden of their new Rhyll house three years ago, Sally says the whole planting scheme of massed Correas, Banksias and Grevilleas was designed “not just for the aesthetics but so there is always something flowering throughout the year”.

Ensuring abundant nectar and lerps – or sweet larvae on which some species feed – “and having birdbaths dotted all around the place for Wattlebirds, Honey-eaters, Spinebills, Rainbow and Musk Lorikeets, and the Magpies and Ibis that visit too, means we can do a lot of passive bird watching while sitting in an armchair at home”.

“We’re not obsessive twitchers,” she says. “We won’t drive halfway across the country just to see one bird. But we do take some epic camping trips around Australia.

“But sometimes too, it’s just as interesting to see how extraordinarily well camouflaged a Musk lorikeet is when he’s 20 metres up in the gum tree above our house.”

Mrs Whitehead says “the grevilleas with big pendulous flowers can be very enticing as the birds like to hang off those. And the big Moonlight grevilleas are really good because they seem to flower nearly all year round.”

Stuart Dashper, vice president of BirdLife Melbourne, a city branch that meets monthly in Balwyn and Carlton, says that the long-term movement towards the planting of more flowing gums in suburban parks and gardens has fostered “a large change in the urban bird populations over the past 15 years.

“The result is a huge explosion in the populations of Rainbow Lorikeets which, in the past, were hardly ever seen in the city. A lot of honeyeaters were also historically rare until recently.”

This is all good in his eyes. What could be done better, “what’s missing”, he says “are very dense plantings of understory plants; the lower (native) shrubs and bushes that encourage the smaller birds like Wrens and Red-browed finches. The smaller thicker bushes are where they can hide from cats and larger birds.”

“So it’s not only about native plants, it’s about variety and plant structure as well.”

In Mr Dashper’s small Northcote garden, a few streets back from what he sees as a very successful exemplar of revegetation, the Merri Creek corridor, he says that one of the most rewarding single plants he has are Kangaroo paws “which bring in the New Holland Honey eaters. They drink the nectar out of the flowers.

“They don’t stay in my garden. They live along the creek. But they will come and visit.”

Both Sally and Stuart say that it takes just little honey pot to entice a native bird to your place and that even several nectar plants flowering in pots on an apartment balcony might be enough to earn a flying visitor or two…


Posted by Jenny Brown – The Age on 3rd January, 2015