For the Birds: Water - Serve It and They Will Come

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Black-throated Gray Warbler (female)
Photo by Christine Southwick

By Christine Southwick

As more trees, grasses, and native habitats are cut down, plowed under, paved over, and built upon, finding  much needed water becomes harder and harder  for birds and other wildlife.

You can literally save the lives of many migrating and native birds by supplying moving water.  The sound of dripping water will bring tanagers, warblers, thrushes, even flycatchers down from their travels.

Western Tanager (female/juvie)
Photo by Christine Southwick
With native trees and fruiting shrubs, migrants may spend up to a week of welcome respite and refueling before flying on.

In my yard, I have two different set-ups: one is a day-light recirculating fountain on a timer, which the hummingbirds seem to prefer. The second set-up I have developed over the years through trial and observation.  

Yellow Warbler enjoying bath
Photo by Christine Southwick
I have a three foot tall, shallow birdbath with a dripper attachment. I have it positioned at a slight incline so that it will drip into the half-inch deep leaf that you see in the pictures. That in turn drips into the two other bird baths. The reddish one is set up so that birds can walk into the water. The shiny one is a garbage can lid, with a flat rock in the middle.  

This way I have shallow enough water for the small birds, and slightly deeper water, like one would find in a mud puddle, for the larger birds like Spotted Towhees, Robins, Flickers, etc. The dripper is on a ¼ inch line, and I turn it on in the morning of hot days to just drip a little throughout the day, and turn it off about 6:30 pm. Since I have moving water I don’t worry about mosquitoes. 

Northern Flicker and dripping water
Photo by Christine Southwick
I have shrubs nearby for cover, which encourages more birds to partake, than a birdbath out in the middle of a lawn. I have fencing on two sides, and native plants with thorns on the third side to discourage roaming cats.

Since I work during the day, I have set up a motion-activated camera positioned on the lower baths.  I often wonder who is using the top birdbath while I am gone…

Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Photo by Christine Southwick
If you offer moving water, you will attract a wide variety of migrating and resident birds to stop to drink, and clean their flight feathers.  You will be helping wild birds survive, and the birds will brighten your day with their bathing antics.

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she is sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.

For previous For the Birds columns, click on the link under the Features section on the main webpage.


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