Creating a garden for fruit-eating birds this Bird Day

Bird Day takes place every year on the 5th of January,  so the landscaping division, Life Landscapes, of Life Green Group has decided to explore how to go about creating a garden that attract fruit-eating birds because at Life Landscapes we're bananas about barbets.


Crested barbet © Steve Slater

Frugivorous birds are some of South Africa’s most beautiful, not to mention charismatic birds, as parrots fall under this category. A lot of the indigenous fruit baring trees are not only edible to birds but can be consumed by humans too, which is another plus for adding indigenous fruit trees to the garden.

List of some common fruit eating birds in South Africa

• Turaco species - Knysna and purple-crested turaco
• Barbets – pied and crested barbets
• Pigeon species – African green pigeons, Rameron pigeons and cinnamon doves
• Parrots – Cape, Brown-headed and Meyer’s parrot
• Certain starlings species
• Mousebird species

purple-crested turaco

Purple-crested turaco © Dick Daniels

Why birds are important garden assets

Bird populations act as a litmus for an environment. If you want to know what ecological services your garden is offering  - look at the bird species in it. Environmentally minded directors like, Oscar Lockwood, are looking at creating urban wildlife islands to protect birds in cities.

Bird Day

Bird Day began in America to coincide with the annual Christmas Bird Count that has been going for more than a decade. It is a citizen and Science survey that aims to collect data on urban bird species both rare and common.

Creating a garden for fruit-eating birds in South Africa

Food, water and shelter can attract any bird to a garden but to attract the likes of mousebirds, green pigeons and turacos you can entice them with regular helpings of fruit salad on the bird feeder.
Supplementing extra fruit in winter also helps keep frugivorous birds alive and happy in the harsher months. Birds can also eat fruit that are no longer fit for human consumption if you do want to be wasteful. Avocado and tomato are toxic for birds.

cinnamon dove

Cinnamon dove © Dick Daniels

Birdbaths and bird feeders are sometimes not enough. Bird species have co-adapted with indigenous plants - while the bird gets it much needed nutrients from the fruit, the tree also relies on the bird to disperse and pollinate its seeds.

meyers parrot

Meyer's Parrot © Oce Eeco

Another thing a landscaper should know, is that fruit-baring trees are beautiful, but messy. Life Landscapes recommends an effective compost heap or worm farm to collect the fallen fruits that the birds don’t consume. The vermicast can then be used in the garden again and eliminates the need to bring in harmful fertilisers that kill the birds.


Speckled mousebird © Derek Keats

Fruit-baring trees and putting fruit out may also attract unwanted guests like vervet monkeys and flies so make sure cleaning and sweeping up fruit before it rots is part of your garden maintenance programme. A bird garden is also restricted in the pesticides and fungicides it can use because it harms the birds.

Trees that attract fruit-eating birds

There is a medley of indigenous fruit producing trees in South Africa. Life Landscapes has focused on a select few. The fruit is the juicy fleshy part that encloses the seed not all trees have fruits.


White-eared barbet © Johan van Rensburg

Fig trees (ficus species)

All indigenous fig tree species attract fruit-eating birds especially green pigeons; they also attract bats and sunbirds. These trees have an invasive root-system and need space.
- Zambezi Fig (Ficus bussei)
- Broom-cluster fig (Ficus sur)


Tree fushia (Halleria lucida)

The tree fushia is the ultimate bird attracting tree and it’s not just the frugivorous birds, nectar feeding birds love the flowers and insect-eating birds rely on the insects it attracts. Read our blog on: how to create a sunbird garden.



Jacket-plum (Pappea capensis)

The low hanging fruit of the jacket-plum are an easy sell for mousebirds and starlings. This is a particularly good garden specimen in Gauteng and the fruit can be made into an edible jelly that goes well with ham.

Waterberry (Syzygium cordatum)

The waterberry is a popular landscaping tree and is great for attracting fruit-eating birds. In Natal it is also the only nesting tree for South Africa’s population of woolly-necked storks.


Yellowwoods (Podocarpus species)

The yellowwoods in South Africa’s mist belt are famous for their close association with South Africa’s endemic parrot, the Cape parrot. The Cape parrot is the only animal that can eat the hard kernel of the yellowwood and therefore is the disperser of its seeds.
- Henkel's yellowwood (Podocarpus henkelii)
- Breede River yellowwood (Podocarpus elongatus)
- Outeniqua yellowwood (Podocarpus (Afrocarpus) falcatus)
- Real yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius)

White pear (Apodytes dimidiata)

This is Oscar’s favourite tree. The white pear is known to specifically attract Rameron pigeons, red-winged starlings and pied barbets. It is a good-looking tree with shiny foliage and pretty white blossoms.

Pied barbet © Francesco Veronesi

Pied barbet © Francesco Veronesi

White stinkwood (Celtis africana)

Bring the frugivorous birds to the garden by the dozen with the white stinkwood. It’s a large deciduous tree and needs space but a very attractive garden specimen!

Wild peach (Kiggelaria africana)

The fruit is so nutritious and oil rich that cinnamon doves, olive woodpeckers, Knysna turacos, purple-crested turacos, trumpeter hornbills, Cape robins, Heuglin’s robins and boubou strikes all turn up for a meal. The acraea butterfly caterpillar also brings in the Diederik’s cuckoo. The birds love the fruits so much that to find a pod or a fruit is rare.

© Derek Keats

Diederik's cuckoo © Derek Keats

Wild plum (Harpephyllum caffrum)

This is a Natal coast specimen and the fruit is appreciated by Cape parrots and green pigeons. Only the female tree gives fruit. The fruit of the wild plum is edible and can be made into a lemonade-type drink.

© Derek Keats

African green pigeon © Derek Keats

Marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea)

This is an African tree known by its fruit. The marula tree is a bushveld specimen that has a worldwide reputation from Amarula. The fruit of this tree is higher in vitamin C than the common orange. In a season a female marula tree can produce a ton of fruit!

Plants and shrubs for fruit-eating birds

Plant these shrubs and enjoy the fruit of your labour when the bulbuls arrive.

Num num berry (Carissa species)

Yum yum! The num num species besides making a fantastic hedge are important bird feeder with their big bright berries.
- Carissa macrocarpa (larger variety)
- Carissa bispinosa froms a green carpet.

num num berry

Micky-mouse bush (Ochna serrulata)

This is a firm favourite among Rameron pigeons. It gets lovely yellow flowers and micky-mouse looking fruits.


Grewia species

The grewia species has delightful fruits that are known to be utilised by local Southern African tribes as well as fruit-eating birds. Its don’t get particularly large and are ideal for a smaller bird garden.
- Cross-berry (Grewia occidentalis)
- Brandybush (Grewia flava)
- Sandpaper raisin (Grewia flacescens)
- white raisin (Grewia bicolor)
- Karoo crossberry – (Grewia robusta)


Kei-apples (Dovyalis caffra)

The vicious thorns of the kei-apple offer safety not only for bird nests but for humans too as it makes for a mean hedge that can be used along paved areas to keep people on the path. Its yellow fruit is appreciated by humans and birds.

Kooboo-berry (Mystroxylon aethiopicum)

This shrub has an incredibly long fruiting period from Summer to Autumn, its large red fruits are enjoyed by fruit eatings birds. The Kooboo-berry get 6 metres high with a round crown and is perfect for the coast.

© Derek Keats

African red-eyed bulbul © Derek Keats