Tui on kowhai
Tui feeding on kowhai

Each autumn. young native birds fly out from their parents’ territories, looking for a new place to settle. Imagine flying over a suburb; a birds-eye view of certain suburbs does not look inviting for our native feathered friends. Where will you land, what will you eat? So many roads, roofs, well-manicured grass lawns, introduced cypress and carefully arranged annuals. This is not a habitat for a wild bird.

To your liking would be a friendly backyard, where layers of New Zealand trees and shrubs complement and surround a refreshing pond and provide a balance between the lawn and other features that humans like too.
Local native birds will be at home in a garden that matches the surrounding native habitat, whether it’s a dense forest with tree tops, bush or coastal shrubs.

So the secret of how to attract wildlife your garden is to reproduce the local ecosystem, and especially to include some of the more important ecological things that birds find attractive, such as flowering trees, fruiting berries or simply taller trees. By providing some of these important things, many birds will find your garden more attractive than the surrounding environment.

Bird food calendar

To offer natural bird food in your garden, year-round, consult our fruit, seed and nectar calendar.


Shifting habitats, for example where a forest edge gives way to a more open shrubland, or islands of vegetation, also offer a great place for birds, where they can keep an eye on each other without being in their neighbour’s territory. Open areas such as this will attract birds like fantails, swooping low in loops to catch tiny insects.

These areas can look unnatural if not planned carefully though. The best way to avoid an unnatural look is to smooth edges with smaller plants such as ferns or grasses between shrubs and open areas.

Boundaries and corners

One basic approach is to use a generous bed of shrubs or trees along the boundaries of gardens to screen off neighbours and provide habitat. Corners offer more space for plants. These mixed shelters and corners can otherwise be used as wild areas, where dense plantings can make it difficult for children and pets. Corners are often problematic areas for ex lawns, which makes them ideal as a wild space.

Plant border
Mixed plants along a boundary offer shelter and food for birds

Tall trees

Using taller trees can create a great backdrop. Tall trees also act like a beacon to attract birds such as tui, who like to overlook the rest of the canopy.

Sometimes planting trees on a north side of a property can create unwanted shade. An easy way to go around this is to plant on the southern side block instead.

Because birds usually don’t like to fly over large open areas it’s good to have a tree and shelter in each corner of the block. Having a green shelter not only looks good, but will reduce strong winds, traffic noise, pollution and some annoying neighbours.

Don’t forget your neighbours. Some trees can grow extremely wide and tall, such as kahikatea and other podocarps. Keep larger trees away from buildings and drains, and consider the shadow they cast. It can take a few hundred years for some trees to reach their full height, this is a wonderful legacy to leave so you need to have confidence that the tree will not become a nuisance later.

Rocks and logs

Rocks and logs are vital for smaller wildlife such as skinks and insects; these provide food for kingfishers, fantails, warblers and many more.

They don’t only do a job, but they also look good between trunks, leaves and mulch. Just make sure that you position the rocks in the right lines. Select rock types that are found nearby for a more natural look.

Water features

A pond or bird bath is one of the best ways to attract birdlife. Read more in the pond and wetland section.

Planning and inspiration

One of the best approaches is to wander through a nearby bush reserve, forest or other habitat area to get the sense of the different layers of vegetation.

Photograph the scenes you like and make a rough sketch of how this could work in your garden. Some species need shelter, so primary species need to be well settled in first.