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Key plants used by Australian birds:
Usage

There are many (more or less obvious) ways in which birds can make use of plants. We list some of these here (without making a serious effort to achieve completeness), in order to elucidate why some of the plant species presented on these pages are listed. We also attempt to demonstrate how plants, in turn, use birds to achieve their own goals.

There is now also a page on how plants use birds for their purposes.

Usage

This is not necessarily a complete list. We collate here various ways in which birds can use various types of plant.

Perches

The most trivial use a bird can make of a plant is to sit on it, which is called "perching".

Birds sitting ("perching") on a near-horizontal branch of a Casuarina tree: Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater

Roosts

When a bird settles in for the night, this is called "roosting". Plants, such as trees or shrubs, offer birds protection against predators while they are asleep.

Example of birds roosting in a tree: family of Crested Pigeons

Shade

Australia being a hot continent, finding shade is important for birds. Foliage protects birds against intense radiation from the sun.

Pair of Red-rumped Parrots seeking the shade of a White Cedar

Plant food

Since leaves or more lignous (woody) parts of plants have low nutrition values, there are not many birds on land that feed on them. This is more common under water (where one cannot observe this as easily).

Purple Swamphen with part of an aquatic plant in its bill
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, April 2012]

Nectar

There are many plants that rely on birds for pollenation. They offer birds nectar in return to attract them. Nectar is one of the major food sources of many different species of birds.

Little Friarbird feasting on the nectar of a eucalypt tree

Fruit

Various types of plants bear fruit that offer a valuable food source to many bird species.

Figbird feeding one of its young with a native fruit

Seeds

Many bird species feed on plant seeds, ranging from tiny grass seeds to nut-like large seeds.

This Double-barred Finch has found a way to feast on the seeds of a grass stalk that is too tall to reach from the ground

Male Australian King-Parrot shelling a nut of a White Cedar

Prey

Not only birds seek shelter in the foliage of plants. Lots of insects live there too, on which many bird species prey.

Silvereye with its catch, a parasitic insect that it has pried loose from a branch

Nesting space

In plants birds find places to hide not only themselves, but also their nests. One of the most important "assets" of old trees that cannot be replaced in a hurry by replanting new, young trees after felling old ones are nesting hollows large enough to accommodate big birds, such as e.g. cockatoos and parrots, but also some raptors.

Striped Honeyeaters like nesting in drooping plants, in this case a hanging Mistletoe bush

Two nestling Nankeen Kestrels peeking out of the hollow with their nest; this large hollow is the leftover of a former major side branch of a River Red Gum

Forks in trees can also be seen as nesting space, as this example shows - a Magpie-lark pair's mudnest sitting on the fork of a eucalypt tree

Nesting material

Plants not only provide birds with the possibility to find places to hide their nests, but they are also a valuable resource of material from which to build the nests.

Grey Shrike-thrushes specialise in nests made from strips of bark

More conventionally, sticks are used; this Cattle Egret is carrying a eucalypt twig for its nest

Shelter

Plants, especially dense growth, offer birds refuge from predators, including birds of prey. Raptors, such as e.g. falcons, will not risk damaging their wings ore eyesight in pursuit of their prey and will therefore let go of a target that dives into a tree or shrub.

This female Red-rumped Parrot is hiding in dense tree cover after an attack by an Australian Hobby

Vantage points

Tall plants (compared to their surroundings) provide birds with potential vantage points from where their calls can be heard over long distances.

Example of a bird using a vantage point to be heard over long distances: Olive-backed Oriole

Other birds hunt from vantage points, for example Black-shouldered Kites

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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