Institute News

Conference 2003
Greening the City:
Bringing Biodiversity Back
into the Urban Environment


Birdscaping the Suburbs: The Australian "Birds in Backyards" programme and its potential for use in Wellington

Eric Dorfman (Department of Conservation, Wellington)
Kate Ravich (Birds Australia)
Annabel Riley (Greater Wellington Regional Council)

Although Sydney is an urban centre of four million people, there are many green places where, despite substantial loss of biodiversity, some bird species still thrive. Residential gardens in Sydney are therefore important repositories for small passerines (perching birds) that spill over from these areas in search of food and new nest sites. Birds Australia, the country's primary bird conservation organisation, has initiated a programme to enhance avian diversity in urban Sydney by boosting the utility of private residences and schools as bird habitat. Streams of this programme include primary research on habitat requirements and distribution of urban birds, education, planting initiatives, and information available on the Birds Australia website. The research component of this programme adds substantially to the steadily growing body of knowledge about what brings wildlife into gardens.

Translating these results to a New Zealand city is useful because it encourages us to think about generalities in rehabilitating urban bird communities. In many parts of New Zealand, much the native avifauna has disappeared outside reserves. Thus, offshore and mainland islands are critical in conserving the birdlife of New Zealand and, as in Sydney, birds move into suburban areas looking for additional resources. Habitat quality greatly influences the relative success of these birds and, as such, people's taste in garden design have direct implications for conservation. We use an example the suburbs surrounding Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellington, where residential gardens are expected to provide important resources. Many residents, however, are resistant to the traditional "bush garden" typically associated with provision of bird habitat and alternatives are necessary if gardens are to be useful for native fauna.

In this talk, we consider basic requirements for birds, such as food, vertical complexity, water, and shelter from predators. We apply them to different garden styles, presenting a number of alternative designs and discussing the relative merits of each for supporting wildlife.

(for more information, see

Conference sponsored by:

British Council NZ
The Community Trust
Landcare Research

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Last updated: August 2, 2004