For The Answer
Weekly Express-News Articl
eBy Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Saturday, July 15, 2006
“Water for the Birds and Other Wildlife”
Feeding the birds is a popular activity. For most of the year, however, providing water for the birds is probably more important to the survival of individual birds, and attracts a larger variety of birds than bird feeding does. In many neighborhoods during a droughty summer, water can be difficult to find for wildlife. If you provide it with a bird bath, you can expect a large selection of birds to use the water.
Bird baths are the basic way to provide water. A bird bath is just a shallow saucer on a pedestal. The birds roost on the edge to drink from the saucer and/or enter the saucer to bathe. The concrete and plaster bird baths are popular because they are attractive and sturdy. The surface is also the best for the birds to grip and the material is less inclined to heat up when the water level is low. Other bird bath materials that are used are plastic and metal. A garbage can cover does the job and can even be attractive when matched with an appropriate pedestal such as an old sink stand. The saucer should be shallow enough for the birds to walk in the water.
The bird bath will work in sun or shade. There is considerably less evaporation from a bird bath in the shade, but even in the shade the bath will have to be rinsed and refilled every two days. Refilling every day is better.
The placement of the bird bath in relation to cover is important. Birds at a bird bath are vulnerable to cats and to hawks. Put the bath too close to a dense shrub and the neighborhood cats can reach the wet bird with one leap. Place the bath too far from cover and the cardinals, doves, and finches that would normally use the bird bath may avoid it because of the clear targets they become for hawks. A good compromise is to place the bird bath six or eight feet from a large thick shrub.
The attractiveness of your bird bath to the birds can be increased if you rig up a dripper. Bird supply stores such as Lockhill Feed, Wildbirds Unlimited or the Curious Naturalist offer inexpensive drippers that can be attached to a hose to automatically fill the bath by a constant drip from a gooseneck tube mounted in a cement or metal base. The drippers use very little water and attract warblers and other species that may pass up a regular bird bath. A fountain or pond with a recirculating pump feeding a waterfall or short stream are even more appealing, but the cost is many times that of a bird bath outfitted with a dripper.
Because of my interest in gardening, I rarely provide ideas that may contribute to an increased number of deer or squirrels, but water is a key to their survival in the summer as well. Especially in the case of squirrels, a ready source of water may even reduce the damage they do to shade trees. Some gardeners believe that squirrels are less likely to girdle branches of oaks and other trees because they are less desperate for moisture when water is provided. There are manufactured watering devices, but a wash tub works nearly as well. Keep in mind that the deer will compact the soil within 20 or 30 feet of the tub and that nothing green will survive in a similar radius if the deer concentration is high.
Try a bird bath this summer, the birds and other wildlife will benefit and you will likely be able to observe a wide variety of species taking advantage of the water source.