Baths, lounges, ponds and nest boxes
Planting native species is an important step to creating a wildlife friendly garden, but there are other things that you can do to bring animals into your garden and to provide them the resources they need. Try installing some of these features to help out our furred, feathered and scaled neighbours.
Birds that eat seed need to drink twice daily, you can help them by providing birdbaths in your garden. Birds also need to bathe regularly regardless of the weather.
Different birds prefer birdbaths in different areas and of different depths. For example, small ground-feeding birds like superb fairy-wrens like birdbaths that are close to the ground and that have protection from predators like cats. Wattlebirds like to fully immerse themselves in water.
Birdbaths should have:
Clean and shallow water.
Non slip surfaces.
An overhanging perch (branch).
Shade from midday and afternoon sun to keep both water and birds cool.
A dense, prickly bush nearby where birds can quickly hide from cats or hawks
Birds are easy prey for cats while using birdbaths. You can make birdbaths safer by hanging a birdbath off the ground, where cats can't reach.
It isn't just birds who benefit from bird baths. All of our local wildlife need water to survive. Adding some water features in your garden could attract some surprising visitors.
Many gardens already have frog visitors but if you'd like them to breed in your garden you'll need a pond or bog. Tadpoles grow to frogs in water and feed on algae and decaying plant matter, then as frogs they mainly eat insects.
As well as water, frogs like tall native grasses and ground covers and rocks to sun themselves on. Adding these four ingredients will attract frogs. Once you create a frog pond you need to plant a range of local indigenous plants both on the edge of the pond and in the pond. Frogs need plants inside the pond and on the pond’s edge to hide from predators
Do not relocate tadpoles or frogs as it risks spreading disease
Do not introduce fish or turtles into a pond as they eat frog eggs and tadpoles
Frogs absorb water and air through their skin so insecticides, heavy metals and herbicides harm them, their soft eggs and tadpoles.
Create gently sloping pond walls/edges as many frogs cannot climb steep pond walls
Avoid planting deciduous trees around your pond as the leaves will clog the water
Frog ponds should ideally be located in a sunny spot; however shady spots are acceptable too. There is no minimum area pond required by frogs, the bigger the pond the more frogs your pond can house.
The frog pond will preferably be more than 50 cm deep, but shallow ponds are also useful as they dry up in summer killing any predator invasive fish that are threatening your frogs.
Common urban lizards, skinks and geckos eat small insects, worms and pests such as snails and are in turn food for birds and bigger lizards.
Lizards are cold-blooded, so they cannot control their own body temperature and need to bask in the sun or lie on warm surfaces to absorb energy from the sun to provide them with the energy to move and digest food. Making a lizard lounge in your garden can give our local reptiles a safe place to soak up some sun.
Here are some steps towards making a 'lizard lounge' in your garden:
Set aside a warm sheltered corner of the garden covered with a thick layer of mulch
Furnish with some logs, fallen branches, leaf litter and low-growing plants such as native grasses and daisies.
Add some rocks, or even some recycled corrugated iron, which will radiate heat to reptiles sheltering underneath when the cooler weather limits opportunities for lizards to gain enough warmth.
Given that there aren't many gardens lucky enough to have big mature trees with nesting hollows, we can add nest boxes to encourage fauna to hang around and hopefully breed. A nestbox isn't as good as a natural hollow but they do fill a gap in areas where there are no hollows.
A possum in the roof or a parrot nesting in an old fence post indicates there is a shortage of hollows locally.
The design elements of the box such as how big it is and where the opening is determines which species are likely to use it. Some birds are very picky about the boxes they choose to use and before you begin installing boxes, you should think about they types of birds you'd like to attract.
A general principle to bear in mind when building a nest box is that, to provide the best thermal insulation, nest box walls should be as thick as possible.
Design ideas for building nest boxes can be found here
Where to get nestboxes?
Not everyone has the time or skills to build a nestbox but luckily there are people who do sell them. You may like to contact your local Men's Shed Group to see if they make boxes or contact Wildlife Nestboxes. Miles Geldard lives near Castlemaine, makes a range of nestboxes and also installs them if required.
A quality nestbox is well designed, of thick material, built for a specific bird or animal, made of material that doesn't harm the occupant and lasts for about 15 years if regulary checked each year and fixed when needed.
The material and design is very important as hollows are essential for many birds and animals to successfully breed. Some species will become locally extinct if they can't find the right sort of hollow.
Some nestbox making and placement tips
Painting makes the box last longer but don't use a dark colour.Use 2-3 coats of an exteral grade acrylic house paint. Don't paint the inside of the box.
Place the box on the south-east side of a rough barked tree. Being on this side of the tree shades it from the hot afternoon sun. Heat stress in late October may kill the young birds or animals in the box if it is in the direct sun and gets too hot.
Place the box 3.5-4m up the tree and no higher. You need to be able to be able to maintain the box and check inside.
Attach the box by hanging on a non galvanised 6" nail that is hammered into the tree trunk on a 45 degree angle. The box should have a corresponding hole drilled into it at the back so it slides onto the nail. Make sure the box is properly attached/bedded onto the tree.
Don't use screws to attach the box to a tree as the bark growth and tightening may expel the box off the tree. If you use a strap to attach a box to a tree you will need to check it every 2 years and adjust for the growth of the tree trunk.
Choose a tree that doesn't have hollows.
If adding a phascogale nestbox attach it onto a tree that has bark not a smooth trunk. They can't scale smaooth trunked trees very well.
Scorch the inside of the lid with a blow torch to make the surface unstable and deter bees. Adding carpet on the lid is a myth as it doesn't deter honey bees.
Make sure the lid opens and use 2 hinges. The lid and the base should be 32mm thick. a heave lid keeps it in place and a thick floor stops some mammals sctaching holes in it.
Add a drip line to the back of the lid to keep moisture out of the box.
Screw the box together with 3 screws per side and don't use glue as it is too hard to get the box apart if you need to fix it.
You don't have to clean a nestbox out each year but you may need to check there are no dead bodies inside. Placing some dry potting mix in the bottome of the box stops eggs rolling around inside. Some occupants like to birng there own furnishings and will add fressh leaves, bark or feathers etc.
If you put up nestboxes you are responsible for making sure they are safe and usable for the occupants. They need to be checked at least twice a year.
Nest boxes may attract bird species that you don't want in your garden, such as Indian mynas and starlings. These birds are aggressive and push native birds out of their nests. Keep watch on what birds are using your nest boxes and discourage invasive species by removing their nesting material as they build their nests.
Frogs need shelter in cool, damp places to avoid predators and to stay out of the heat. This shelter can take many different form, such as dense foliage (Lomandra or Poa tussocks are good options), logs or rocks.
Another option is to create a special "frog hotel" in a cool place in your garden. A simple design (as pictured here) is to place some lengths of PVC pipe, vertically, on the ground or in a bucket. The pipes hold in moisture, and make it hard for predators to reach frogs as they shelter in the pipes.
Keep your frog hotels damp when possible, and do not allow them to become clogged with leaf-litter and debris.
Make sure the poly pipe is cleaned prior to installation, however try to avoid using strong chemicals during the cleaning process.
Native Bee Hotels
So called "bee hotels" have become increasingly popular and widely available; with pre-made versions available in shops and at markets. However, there are some serious considerations that must be made before building or installing a native bee hotel in your garden.
Who will stay at the hotel?
While they are called "bee hotels" most will actually be inhabited by many different kinds of invertebrates, including spiders, wasps and beetles. Some will be beneficial to your garden, while others may not be (through they may be food for other garden inhabitants). It is important to keep a close eye on your hotel to see who is using it and if it is attracting the types of wildlife that you want to see in your garden.
What do my local bees need?
Most bees that we see in the Moorabool area are European honey bees. They perform important duties pollinating flowers and crops, but they live in hives and therefore won't utilise bee hotels.
Bee hotels are intended to support our native bee species (of which there are dozens of species). Most of these species are solitary (i.e. don't form hives) and form nests inside hollow stems or in burrows in clay soils.
Providing these features in your garden, with or without a formal 'hotel' structure will keep bees in your area.
Other ways to support bees and insects (bee buffets):
The most important feature in the landscape for our native bees are areas of native forest. Second to this is the availability of native plant species as food sources. Perhapse, instead of offering bee hotels, it is more important to offer bee buffets so that native species have all the nectar and pollen they need. Native bees need food during every season, so try to diversify the plants in your garden so that something flowers during every month of the year.
What harm can bee hotels cause?
Having a single, large, bee hotel has the potential to attract unusually high numbers of insects to the one place. This can increase predation and allow for pathogens, parasites and diseases to spread. Ensure that your bee hotel is well designed and maintained so that you avoid causing inadvertent harm to your garden visitors.
Features of a good bee hotel:
There's no need to spend a lot of time and money on a hotel. designs can be extremely simple and a lot of suitable materials can be found around the house.
As with anything in nature, diversity is best, so use a mix of these materials, but avoid using plastic, metal or treated timbers for nesting material.
Here are some steps to creating a good bee hotel:
Ensure the structure has a sturdy overhanging roof that protects the material from becoming wet and moldy.
Include solid walls on three sides to give protection from wind and rain.
Position the bee hotel at approximately head height in a location that receives plenty of sun (especially morning sun).
Include some hollow plant stems (less than the diameter of a pencil). Ensure there is at least 10-15 cm of clear tube in the stem between joints as bees won't nest is short hollows. Bamboo can be used, as can other plant material including fennel stems and grape vines.
Add some Drilled logs, but always use untreated wood. Cut into blocks or logs about 20-30 cm long, then drill holes at least 10 cm deep into the cut end, using a range of drill bits from 3-8 mm. Space the holes around 2 cm apart.
Make some clay-packed pipes and blocks. Blue-banded bees make nests in the soil, so you can replicate this by packing clay or clay soil into PVC piping or concrete blocks. Using a stick about 8 mm wide, poke holes into the clay around 10-15 cm deep.
Set up a regular cleaning regime. Don't allow your bee hotel to become dirty, moldy as this will harm any insects that try to use it. Consider bringing the hotel inside over winter (when bees are not active) to protect the structure from the harshest weather conditions.