Wildlife Furniture

Bird baths, lizard lounges, ponds, bee hotels 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.

Bird baths

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:

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. 

Other visitors:

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.

White-browed scrubwren (David Whelan)

Frog ponds

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

Important notes: 

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. 

Frog Identification for Beginners

Lizard Lounges

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:

Nest boxes

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 (in Ballan & Bacchus Marsh) 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

Unwanted visitors

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. 

Frog Hotels

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: