Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Water is Critical For Birds During Drought
August 20, 2016
By Steve Grinley

     With our area in an extreme drought, it seems appropriate to re-emphasize the need to provide water for birds. Birds need fresh water to survive just as we do. They need water to drink and water in which to bathe. Water in these warmer months also helps birds stay cool just as it does us. If you haven’t provided water for birds during the summer before, you may want to consider adding a bird bath to your offerings for the birds now.

     Bird baths can often be more effective than feeders in attracting the greatest variety of birds to your yard. In addition to providing water for the birds at your feeders, bird baths or ponds also attract many insect-eating birds that won’t visit feeders including bluebirds, warblers, vireos, wrens and thrushes. Birds will also bring their young to bird baths during nesting season.

     Bird baths are most natural on the ground but some may be hung or placed on a pedestal or pole to keep them up and away from cats and other problem predators. There are also baths that can be attached to the side of a deck railing with a clamp or screws. Baths should be placed near, but not under, feeders, or they can be placed in an area of the garden or yard by themselves.

     Baths that have areas that are not more than 2-3″ deep are best for most birds to bathe. Rocks or sand can be added to accommodate the birds if your bath is deeper, or for better footing in slippery baths.

     Moving water is like a magnet to birds and movement can be created by waterfalls, a dripper or a mister. Some baths have built in fountains or waterfalls. There are also waterfall rocks, with a self-contained pump, that can be placed in any bird bath that recirculate the water in the bath. There is also a “Water Wiggler” which runs on batteries, and a solar model, and just adds ripples to the water in any bath. This simple device creates ripples that help aerate the water and attract more birds. 

     A mister or dripper can be added to your existing bath to create movement. The slow drip from a dripper creates ripples that are irresistible to birds. These come with a valve that allows you to regulate the flow to very conservative levels. You can also make a your own homemade dripper by hanging a can above the bath with a hole punctured in the bottom to allow water to drip.

     A mister creates a fine spray that is particularly attractive to birds on warm summer days. Placing a mister near foliage allows birds to take mist baths and provides a “rain forest-like” environment. These can be put on timers to conserve water. Hummingbirds especially enjoy misters. Birds will also drink from the droplets left on the vegetation.

     It is important to keep a bird bath clean with fresh water. Water levels should be checked daily and water added as necessary. You should clean a bird bath often depending on the size and type of bath, water source, prevailing temperatures and the amount of use that it gets. A recirculating bath or one with a dripper adding constant fresh water may need cleaning less often, but most baths should be emptied periodically and brushed to remove any algae build up. There are also nontoxic additives that can help keep a bath or fountain free of algae and mineral buildup.

     If you plan to continue to provide water into next winter, which is also a critical time for birds to find open water, you may want a bird bath with a built-in heater for winter use, or you can add a heater to an existing bath as winter approaches. Remember that ceramic or concrete bird baths may look nice and are great for warmer weather, but they may crack in winter. A granite or resin bath is best for the winter months.

     We enjoy watching the birds flock to our baths. Early morning and late afternoon are the busiest times, when the moving water attracts birds to drink and bathe. In the past, when we had drippers in our baths, we have even seen chickadees and finches sit on the dripper tube and drink directly from it!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply