Years ago I read that providing seed and / or fruit to attract birds to one’s garden does not necessarily make them dependent on it for survival. Having been away for three weeks, I can attest that birds clearly seek their nourishment elsewhere when none is provided on a daily basis for I have not noticed a decrease in them since our return.

We have truly gardened for birds, transforming our garden from a cactus haven to one with a wild forested area, indigenous fruiting trees, aloes and other indigenous flowers as well as providing an area with natural grass that is allowed to seed at will. There is actually plenty of shade, water, fruit, worms, grains, nectar and insects for the local birds to live on without them depending on me to augment their intake.

I do though – for my own enjoyment when I have tea outdoors and wish to enjoy observing the presence of the birds in my garden. Otherwise the birds feast on whatever bounty they can find. The yellow carpet of canary creeper blossoms and the orange Cape Honeysuckle flowers currently attract Cape White-eyes and Village Weavers; the fig tree hosts African Green Pigeons, Redwinged Starlings and Blackeyed Bulbuls; while the Olive Thrushes appear to be finding all sorts of interesting things to eat after the recent rain – all without any help from me.

Two articles appeared in my inbox this week that set me thinking. One suggests that providing food attracts aggressive birds, such as doves and sparrows, to the detriment of indigenous species. Can one get a bird more aggressive than a Fork-tailed Drongo on a mission? I have often mentioned the way it whips food out of the beaks of weavers on the wing – yet they happily share the ‘pub’ with the weavers, white-eyes, Black-headed Oriole and sunbirds. The other really aggressive bird is the Pin-tailed Whydah – we had a resident one in our garden for years that actively chased away anything from a canary to a Rock Pigeon – yet even he had to retire from time to time to chase his wives or to gather strength for the next onslaught!

It is true that the number of Laughing Doves feeding on the seed I scatter on the lawn have increased – I counted seventeen of them perched on the Acacia tree today and often there are many more – but they move off when the seed is done to seek food elsewhere in the garden and wider afield. They jostle for the food along with weavers, bulbuls, thrushes, Bronze Manikins among others – each intent on getting what they can while it is still there and sometimes returning later in the day to glean what had been missed. They certainly do not hang around waiting for the next feeding session.

I mix the finer wild bird seed with crushed poultry grain for the hanging feeder as this gives the smaller birds, such as the Bronze Manikins and various canaries a better chance of getting something more suited to them.

Granted, the findings described in the article refer to gardens in New Zealand. In South Africa we are fortunate to have a wide variety of bird species that have adapted to urban living and which enjoy the natural food in addition to whatever I might provide.

Of greater concern is a warning against using artificial sweeteners in bird feeders. The article specifically mentions Xylitol, an alcohol sugar used in many brands of sweeteners. It refers to such concoctions having caused the death of up to 30 Cape Sugarbirds in one area.

Some people are opposed to the provision of providing sugar ‘nectar’ while others actively encourage the practice – especially in times of drought. My experience is that when there are many other natural sources available, our ‘pub’ is hardly visited at all.

What are your thoughts on providing some food for the wild birds that visit your garden?


  1. I agree that it is okay to feed birds. They are finding the food on their own and if it’s not there they will definitely look elsewhere. We have a small garden with indigenous plants and we also put out seed and sugar water. My sister-in-law does the same and the sunbirds will actually come and sit on her finger while she holds a small jar of sugar water for them. Her garden is on the mountainside of Simonstown and the Cape Sugarbirds, Orange-breasted, Double-collared and malachite sunbirds are frequent visitors. She also gets grey mongooses drinking at the water trough. A genet is also a nocturnal visitor to her garden.


  2. Thank you for your comment. That sounds such an exciting garden to visit! Up until a year or two ago we would sometimes find slender mongooses visiting our garden, alas no more.


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