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RBCN
Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network

Bring back the Birdwing Butterfly

A project of Wildlife Queensland
Community members, conservation groups and representatives from local, state and federal agencies can become members of the Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network. The RBCN is a non-profit voluntary group.
Attracting Butterflies to your Garden
(This article is adapted from an RBCN newsletter article "Adult birdwings need nectar: What flowers could be their enticements?" by Lois Hughes)

Have you ever been entranced by a Richmond Birdwing sipping nectar from a flower or witnessed the beautiful courtship dance as a pair spiral through dappled sunlight, jewelled colours contrasting sharply with the deep greens of rainforest foliage? Memorable moments like these have surely inspired us to greater efforts by recreating conditions suitable so that these rare glimpses become more commonplace.

Is it possible to attract birdwings back to breed in habitats once their vines are flourishing and entice them to stay? Could an abundant source of nectar nearby help as an enticement? It is worth a try. At the time of writing, the prolonged drought would certainly be affecting nectar plants as well as vines, so supplementing natural, native sources would seem prudent, as the butterfly's energy needs would be great, considering the long distances they travel in search of host plants and the energy required for egg production. Having a ready source of nectar may be one reason why some colonies are flourishing in private gardens and not in the wild.

Flowers - shape, colour, perfume, abundance and situation
Drawing on the experience of others and personal observation of butterflies in general and their often distinct preferences, it is apparent that Birdwings find red and also white blossoms highly attractive. Funnel or trumpet shaped flowers, as well as fluffy or pompom shapes are excellent for their long proboscis to probe. Other factors influencing butterflies' plant preferences include perfume, profusion and a certain wildness (thickets of Lantana are a classic example of this) as well as their situation, whether growing in sun, shade and sheltered from the wind, so mass plantings are a good idea, providing a wind break.

Exotic or Native - Adult birdwings are not that fussy
Buddleia, Pentas and Lantana, and Duranta with their masses of trumpet shaped flowers, are particularly attractive to most butterfly species. The vanilla-scented white Duranta is preferred as it doesn't produce copious quantities of seed as does the purple flowered "Geisha Girl". However, it is wise to collect and safely dispose of seed to prevent its spread into bushland, keeping in mind that all of the above are, or have, invasive weed potential.

  • Buddleia
  • Penta
  • Duranta
  • Calliandra (Pompom bush)
  • Icecream Bean tree
  • Hibiscus (old fashioned single blooms)
  • Bouganvillea
  • Agapanthus
  • Impatiens (single form)
  • Ixora,
  • Vinca or Periwinkle
  • Justica (red)
  • red flowered (Clerodendron splendens)
  • daisies
  • flowering herbs in “cottage garden” profusion.

Natives
Any blossoms that attract honeyeaters may also attract the Birdwings. Unfortunately many natives have short flowering periods and some exotic species may be more reliable as a way of providing sources of nectar throughout the year.

  • Bloodwoods
  • Callistemons
  • Syzygium spp. (Watergums, scrub cherry, lillypillys)
  • Hymenosporum flavum (native frangipani )
  • Eucalyptus spp
  • Lophostemon confertus (brushbox)
  • Euodia elleryana (pink euodia)
  • Alloxylon pinnatum (red silky oak) and other grevilleas
  • Castanospermum austral (blackbean)
  • Eleaocarpus grandis (blue quandong)

As we wait expectantly for the appearance of the glorious Birdwings in our area we will be blessed with many other beautiful butterfly visitors to our abundant nectar sources, surely an added bonus.

Captive Rearing Program
Experience from the captive rearing program undertaken at Fleay's Fauna Reserve at Burleigh (2009-2010) has found that the adult birdwings have a preference for magenta colours and a liking for callistemons rather than grevilleas.

Of course, if Birdwings have long been extinct from your area, there is no chance that planting an abundance of adult attracting flowering plants or for that matter larval host vines will entice the butterflies back to your area. See the section on Lifecycles for information on the Birdwing's travel movements. However, if your area has only recently lost the birdwings, there is every chance that you will see them visit your garden. Experience in Brisbane, which is considered to have lost their breeding colonies over the last decade or more, has found that sightings of both male and female Birdwing butterflies are being reported when seasons are more favourable.