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Hobby to Chirp About

Chirping over bird visits to home

A fascination for wild birds has allowed Neville Bartlett an insight into the unique and colourful world of birds. He has been an avid bird watcher for most of his life, but it's only been the past seven years that he has been wholly dedicated to feeding and attracting birds to his home.

We spoke to Neville recently and asked him about his experiences and insights into attracting wild birds to his home in North East Victoria.

Harmony: "How long have you been interested in and feeding wild birds?"

Neville Bartlett: "I have been interested in birds all of my life, and have been feeding them for about seven years and I'm lucky enough to be living in an area that attracts beautiful birds such as King Parrots, Crimson/Yellow Rosellas, Eastern Rosellas, Crested Pigeons, Galahs, Eastern Spinebills and New-Holland Honeyeaters."

H: "What is the most unusual bird you have ever seen?"

NB: "I was fortunate enough to see a male Satin Bowerbird. Fortunate, because it is rarely seen . . . is very shy and looks absolutely stunning; especially through a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope."

H: "What bird is your personal favourite and why?"

NB: "King Parrots are my favourite of all the birds, and that's a big call because they are all beautiful and each have something to offer any bird watcher.

But as well as looking magnificent, they have a charming character which you just cannot help but be seduced by them as they call for my wife and I to place seed out for them - we have even had the rare thrill of them eat from our hands. You have to remember that these are wild birds and they just fly right up to us and eat from our hands - it's just fantastic . . . a truly wonderful privilege."

H: "Are there any tricks you use to attract different types of bird to your home?"

NB: "Yes. It has been my experience that there are different approaches to attracting different types of birds and this is usually with the type of food that we put out. I concentrate on feeding seed because it's easy and the birds love it.

I'm also going to start feeding nectar to Honey Eaters because the nectar eating birds particularly enjoy the range of plants in our garden. Some species of Grevillea flower for most months of the year and many species of birds appreciate them. You should always have something in flower."

H: "What are some of the most successful tips that you could pass on to people who want to attract birds into their yard for the first time?"

NB: "The placement of bird feeders is very important. The feeders need to be in a location that suits the birds. It helps to have taller trees nearby so that there is a place available to them to watch for any predators. Birds are reluctant to feed if they feel under threat and so you need to ensure that there is a range of plants in the near vicinity they can escape to.

Feeding also needs to be reasonably reliable so that the birds are encouraged to check out the feeder. We place seed in two feeders once a day so that it is guaranteed that none is left by the end of the day, but feed is not supplied every day. It does not hurt to skip days so that birds do not become too dependent on a particular source of food and that's important to learn and to do.

It helps to maintain a clean feeding environment so that disease is not spread.

Ordinary household bleach or disinfectant is excellent for this purpose, but make sure that you thoroughly rinse it away from the area and from any dishes immediately. And the seed husks need to be discarded and sifted from the food regularly or the birds will be unable to eat."

H: "What are your bird feeders made of?"

NB: "My bird feeders are simply terracotta dishes placed on a raised wooden platform about 1.5m from the ground. These are easy to clean and cheap to replace."

H: "Do you do anything different depending on the seasons?"

NB: "Not really. Basically, the mix of species and overall demand fluctuates during the year. We don't supply seed every day, but when the breeding season nears its end the calls from young birds remind us to keep up the supply of seed."

H: "What is the funniest or most unusual thing that you have seen a bird, or birds do?"

NB (laughs): "Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos visit occasionally and once we saw a number of them hanging upside down from our power line that passes near one of the feeders." 

H: "Compared to when you first started bird watching and feeding wild birds have you noticed their numbers change - are they on the decline, on the increase or remained the same?"

NB: "I'm actually buoyed by the numbers of birds I'm seeing and I think their numbers are definitely on the increase. And I think this is most likely due to the development of trees and shrubs in our immediate area. There are also more natural sources of food and the amount of trees around our home have grown thick and tall."

H: And speaking of food, what type of seed do you mainly use?"

NB: "I use a wild bird mix that is aimed mainly at parrots. And also the occasional apple is appreciated; and our apple tree is maintained primarily for birds to use and this is a centre of much amusing activity throughout the apple growing season."

H: "If a person was to find an injured bird in their back yard or a chick fallen from a nest what should they do?"

NB: "One of the best things they can do is to call WIRES (Wildlife Information and Rescue Service) or the nearest branch of the State wildlife service. All native birds are protected and all care of them should be handled by the professionals."