Make your garden safe for wildlife

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Love the idea of attracting native wildlife into your backyard? Planting natives, providing the right food and creating safe spaces are all great ways to make your garden a place where native birds, lizards and other species can thrive.


Introduction

Not sure what’s in your backyard? Even if you haven’t spotted them, all kinds of wonderful creatures such as geckos and wētā might already be living there. You can identify them by making your own tracking tunnel with inked cards (see a how-to guide from DOC) or buy them from our shop.

Even if you’d rather not trap rats or possums, there are plenty of other things you can do to help our vulnerable native species. Below are some great ways to become a backyard wildlife champion.


Plant for nectar, fruit, foliage and insect eaters

With a little forethought, the plants in your garden can provide food, shelter and nesting sites and materials for birds, bugs and lizards. 

Here are some tips for planting a range of native trees and shrubs that will provide food for a range of different species.

For nectar, fruit and foliage eaters

A variety of flowering and fruiting plants will give visiting native species year round food.

That doesn’t just mean feathery friends. Lizards supplement their diet with berries too, so plant some species that produce fruit small enough to be a lizard’s lunch e.g. coprosma, muehlenbeckia, melicytus or gaultheria.

Kōwhai, pūriri and kohekohe are great in the garden because they can provide food in colder months when food is most scarce.

The Department of Conservation has a month by month calendar of native plants and when they produce nectar/seeds/fruit.

Kōwhai provide food
Kōwhai in flower. Image credit: John Barkla (iNaturalist NZ)

For insects and the birds that eat them

Plant multi-layered vegetation: ground covers, shrubs, trees and climbers. A good way to get started is to make note of the natives in your area that are busy with insect life.

Cabbage trees, flax, hebe and hoheria are native plants that can attract insects.

For lizards, providing plants that flower close to the ground can bring insects and flies within their reach.

For bird nesting sites and materials

Mānuka can be used by wildlife in nests
Mānuka in flower. Image credit: Kate McAlpine (iNaturalist NZ)

Finely branched shrubs such as kanuka, mānuka, māpou and kōhūhū provide nesting sites and materials for birds like tūī, riroriro and pīwakawaka.

If you’ve ever wondered if our native birds were gardeners, what would they plant? See our blog post to find out more

You can also plant rough-barked trees such as pūriri, tōtara and pukatea for native bats.


Buy or build them a little ‘house’

Encourage insects like wētā, beetles and solitary native bees by building or buying a wētā house or an insect palace – a special place for them to hide during the day that’s made up of lots of tunnels and tubes and nooks and crannies – just the way they like it.

To protect Aotearoa’s endangered native bats, buy or build a bat roosting box.


Keep your cat safe inside 

Domestic cats are a threat to native birds, lizards, bats and insects. However, cat owners can still play a part in protecting our wildlife.

Keeping your cat in from dusk until dawn stops it from hunting birds and lizards when they are most vulnerable and it also protects your pet from harm. Did you know that outdoor cats are exposed to far more dangers than indoor cats and therefore have a lower life expectancy?

The PETA Foundation (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) believe that all cats should be indoor cats. However, there are ways to make outdoor activity healthy and safe. Cats can be walked outdoors on leashes. Another option is screened-in porches or outdoor cat enclosures (sometimes known as ‘catios’), which can make your cat feel like they are outside without exposing them to any outside dangers.

Keeping your cat inside keeps them and wildlife safe
One frightened cat up a Fuchsia tree. Image credit: John Barkla (iNaturalist NZ)

If you do still want to let your cat roam at times:

  • A cat collar with a bell won’t always alert native birds but it’s better than nothing.
  • Desexing prevents any unwanted kittens. 
  • Microchipping helps identify your cat as owned and will help it be reunited with you if it is lost.
  • Position bird feeders and water sources carefully so cats can’t stalk without being seen by birds.
Wildlife tip: You can't measure a cat's impact by what they drop on your doorstep. In an Auckland study, using cat cameras, cats killed 33 "prey" and took none of them home to their owners.

Provide water in summer and sugar water in winter

Using a sugar water feeder can attract hungry nectar feeding birds like
Bell birds using a bird feeder. Image credit: Nick Goldwater

In the winter months, nectar sources can be scarce. Using a sugar water feeder can attract hungry nectar feeding birds like:

  • Tūī
  • Kākā
  • Korimako (bellbird)
  • Tauhou (waxeye)

It’s important to keep the sugar concentration no higher than 1:8 in the water you provide. This prevents birds from becoming dependent on sugar water and they will continue to search out natural food sources. 

In the summer months, a water source like a birdbath or a shallow tray of water can attract thirsty native birds, overheated skinks and pollinators like bees and butterflies. Water dishes can be placed both on the ground and in elevated positions, but elevated water sources can help to protect birds from introduced predators.

Wildlife tip: Clean your feeders and water sources regularly to avoid the spread of disease.

Keep your garden messy!

There are several reasons why opting for a messier garden over a well-kempt lawn is a good way to attract native species like insects, insect-eaters and lizards. 

When leaves fall off your plants and shrubs, allow it to accumulate. A thick layer of leaf litter will attract insects like spiders, moths and beetles. If you’re interested in having wētā visit your backyard, they love leaf litter, rotten logs and tree holes.

By doing things to attract insects, this will in turn attract insect-eating birds like pīwakawaka and riroriro. 

Another bonus to a messy garden is lizards. Our native lizards love messy gardens because they offer shelter and lots of hidey holes. A piece of corrugated iron is the perfect home for a skink. Geckos and skinks will become regular visitors where there is shelter like low growing creepers, shrubs, rocks and logs. 

Creating a ‘lizard garden’ is a fun way to get kids involved in conservation too.  Download our guide to make your own lizard friendly garden (PDF, 1.7MB).

LizardGarden
Create a lizard friendly garden. Image credit: PFNZ Trust.

By making these little urban sanctuaries for our wildlife, you’re helping with what’s called habitat creation – and habitat loss is a huge problem for NZ’s threatened species. Planting is a big part of it, but also creating protective boundaries such as fences or waterways – it all depends on the type of land you own, where it is, and what you’re trying to achieve. If you own a large block of land, chat to the experts (DOC, Forest & Bird) about restoration planting and how to protect native wildlife on your property.

Wildlife tip: It's illegal to collect native lizards without permission and it is recommended that you do not handle them.