How to attract sunbirds

Attracting sunbirds to a garden might seem as easy as installing a sugar feeder, with sugar or honey water, and red dye (read further down for a short rant*).

But nectar-rich flowers are prettier and contribute better to biodiversity in a garden. Agapanthus inapertus (if that darn Agapanthus borer has not drilled into them all, yet!) are one of several flowers attractive to sunbirds (see above).

Here is a list of plants that will lure the tiny, gorgeous creatures to your garden:

Aloes, Cotyledons (see below), Erica, Hibiscus, Cape honeysuckle, Proteas, pagoda bush (Mimetes), perennial Fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica),  pincushions, red hot pokers (Kniphofia), Watsonias, and wild dagga.


In addition to slurping nectar (pollinating as they brush up against flowers), sunbirds also feed on the juice of over ripe fruit, and on insects and arthropods, picking them off stems and leaves, and out of bark.

* If you absolutely cannot resist using a feeder, please do not use artificial red colouring (sunbirds are attracted to red) – instead, use grated beetroot for the red, and strain it out of the sweet solution before bottling. Once they are used to the feeder they will return even if the sugar solution is clear. Or tie something red to the outside of the feeder, or PAINT a part of it red. You get the picture. And remember to wash and sterilize the bottle often or bacteria will grow (this has proved to be a problem for hummingbirds, in the United States).  Avoid using honey: honey and water solutions can ferment quickly and create harmful bacteria. Sugar is safer.

Best of all, plant those flowers.

Have you seen sunbirds feeding on plants not listed above? Please let us know in the comments

Photo credit: Marie Viljoen

2014 Open Garden preview

open gardens constantiaPretty enough for you? This garden belongs to Nicholas Walker, and is one of the open gardens for 2014. Note the permeable paving, which helps prevent run off from hard surfaces after rain.

Open Gardens Constantia will be held on November 14th and 15th this year. Tickets are on sale from early October, from the gardeners themselves, and from selected merchants. An advance ticket costs R50, otherwise tickets will be available at the garden gates for R60. Tea and cake included!

(Addresses will be provided much closer to the time, but they are with easy driving distance of one another.)