How to Create a Pollinator Sanctuary

Habitat loss is the leading cause of species endangerment, and urbanisation is an increasing cause of loss of native vegetation. Although our gardens can never fully replace the intact ecosystems that native vegetation areas represent, plants in our gardens can provide food and shelter for animals, including birds, allowing a greater diversity of avifauna to persist in our cities.

Animals involved in pollination are vital to the health and functioning of ecosystems. When foraging on plants for nectar and/or pollen, they fertilise the flowers, resulting in seed set, allowing plant populations to reproduce and persist over generations. These plants in turn provide habitat, shelter, nesting substrates and carbon sequestration, produce oxygen, control climate, and provide food for a range of organisms and humans, in the form of fruits and seeds. Birds benefit from these factors, as well as indirectly through plants promoting lerps, insects, spiders, and other avian fare.

Birds and bees are major pollinating agents, with native species particularly important in the pollination of native plants. These in turn promote greater biodiversity than exotic flora. Creating gardens that attract and promote native bees and birds is therefore a laudable goal.


Bees are the most effective pollinators for a great many plants, as they rely exclusively on nectar and pollen for all aspects of their life. Native bees, as opposed to the European Honeybee Apis mellifera, are especially important keystone pollinators across Australia’s ecosystems. Unlike honeybees, native bees are docile animals that rarely sting, and so are highly desirable in your garden. Australia has approximately 2000 species of native bees. The vast majority cannot be kept in managed hives, so encouraging them to your garden to pollinate plants that birds and other animals depend on requires creation of a bee-friendly environment. Only 11 species of native bees—commonly known as Stingless or Sugarbag Bees (Tetragonula and Austroplebeia)—are eusocial, colonial species with the potential to be kept in managed colonies.

However, they are geographically limited to northern Australia, down the east coast to just past Sydney.

Many native bees prefer or are completely reliant on native vegetation as food sources. Major flowering plant resources include many Myrtaceae (Eucalyptus, Corymbia, Angophora, Melaleuca, Callistemon, Thryptomene), Fabaceae (Davaesia, Jacksonia, Hardenbergia), Asteraceae (ie native daisies like Rhodanthe and Brachyscome), Eremophila, Scaevola, Plectranthus, Hibbertia, and Boronia. In addition, native bees need nesting resources. About 70% of native bees nest in the ground, with the remainder nesting above ground in small holes. You can provide these nesting resources in your garden by leaving patches of bare ground (no fake grass), minimising mulching, and by retaining old trees and creating ‘bee hotels’.


Compared with many parts of the world, Australia has a relatively high number of nectivorous birds, which also serve as pollinators. The main taxa are the Meliphagidae family and some parrots.

There is some overlap in the flowers which bees and birds both prefer, especially for mass-flowering tree species like the Myrtaceae. Other important nectar sources for nectivorous native birds are Grevillea, Banksia and Anigozanthus (commonly known as Kangaroo Paw). Like native bees, birds need nesting resources.

In this respect also, retaining trees in and around your garden is important. Installing nesting boxes is an option for some parrots as well.

Many native birds also require places to roost and rest, and retaining trees— preferably native—in your garden and along verges, is encouraged. Having structural heterogeneity and trees to nest and roost in promotes a greater diversity of birds. In urban areas especially, trees can also encourage birds to gardens where there is a lower chance of predation from cats. All cats, regardless of cute names and owners convinced that they ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’, have the potential to predate on birds and dissuade them from visiting gardens. It is therefore advisable that cats be kept indoors or in an enclosed cat run for the welfare of birds and, indeed, the safety of the cat, given how many are run over by cars.


Our gardens are places where we spend our leisure time and are an important part of our homes. They have the potential to also be home to a diversity of biota, if managed with the needs of wildlife in mind. Encouraging birds to our gardens can be facilitated by managing vegetation structure that supports the habitat needs of wild birds. In turn, encouraging native bees to forage in our gardens can mean pollination of the plants that birds directly and indirectly require for resources.

For further details about how to create a bee-friendly garden, refer to my booklet, Bee Hotels for Australian Bees. It provides concise information on bee hotel designs, profiles of common species that inhabit bee hotels, and cavity-nesting native bees, as well as a section on favourite native bee flora.

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