Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Water Helps To Attract Different Birds
October 03, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     We have been in a moderate drought here is eastern Massachusetts, so this weeks rain is welcome. The ponds lakes and reservoirs have been lower, and rain-filled puddles have been non-existent. Birds need water to survive, just as we do, so adding water to your bird feeding “station” will help birds survive.

     Water draws in different birds, bird that may not be interested in the seeds that you put in your feeders. Many birds eat just insects and berries, and may never show up at your feeders. However water is essential to most birds and you might surprised in the number of birds that will flock to a bird bath or fountain. In addition to helping the birds, supplying water might help you enjoy more birds. 

     Doug Chickering of Groveland describes his success with his simple bird bath:

     “Our bird bath. In the winter I take it in; or to be more accurate I don’t do anything to keep it from icing up. So for many months it does nothing. But come spring and the warm weather I clean out the ice and keep it clean and brushed and filled. It is generally well received. It is visited regularly by the birds that flock to our feeders and [it] gets busier as the summer grinds on, which is understandable. During a year like this that wasn’t exactly a drought but did have some dry periods, it was quite active and provided Lois and I with some entertaining moments. 

     “The bird bath is of a modest nature; one of those standard shallow plastic ones attached to the railing of our deck and is at a location where we can see it practically all the time. It gets dirty and empties all too quickly but it is a cherished feature of the yard. Lois and I have friends who have installed a lot more elaborate and advanced bird baths and naturally they get much more spectacular results! But our simple straightforward bath gives us many moments of special pleasure. Its most important feature is that the birds love it. 

     “The Chickadees visit in an orderly, one by one pattern; take a drink, give me a suspicious stare when I sit out on the deck, scold me briefly for my effrontery and then fly off. The House Sparrows usually come in pairs or even teams to take a drink and then some suddenly plunge into a quick frantic bath then dive back into the nearby forsythia. The Catbirds don’t drink very often but send the water flying in frantic splashing prolonged baths which are more like showers. I don’t think I have ever seen a bird more jubilant than the Catbird when it takes bath in our shallow dish. Sometimes the hummingbird will come down for a quick look. We get two, sometimes three hummers but they are more interested in poking into the salvia than bathing or drinking. Yet I have seen them partake. 

     “The bird bath is also a great favorite of Squirrels, both red and gray and of Chipmunks. I have even seen a curious Turkey fly onto the railing and at least have a look. I don’t think I have ever seen one actually take a drink. The bird bath needs to be scrubbed down and refilled often; which is ok by me. It was especially ok today. 

     “Just after I had refreshed it and sat down in my chair on the deck a yellow bird flicked over to the edge of the bath and paused on the lip of the dish. It was too close for the binoculars but it was evident to me this bird wasn’t one of the usual crowd. Yellow with thin but distinct streaking on the breast and sides and a dull gray pattern over the ear. Immediately I recognized it as a Cape May Warbler. 

     “It only stayed a few seconds; probably somewhat annoyed at my presence but when I stepped inside to tell Lois it suddenly returned and now at a distance where we could both pick it up with our binoculars. It looked around, always wary and then started to drink and finally hopped into the pool for a quick dip. Then as suddenly as it arrived, it was gone. A little moment of magic from our simple bird bath. It is that time of year when life is filled with these delightful little surprises.”

     Doug’s point is that you can “keep it simple” in the way that you provide water for the birds. But if you do have an outside electrical outlet available, you should consider a heated bird bath. Water is most critical for birds in the winter when fresh water sources start freezing over. Water availability almost becomes more important than food. And, yes, winter isn’t all that far away!

     There are simple dish bird baths with built in heaters, others that come with stands or attach to a deck, or you can add a de-icer to almost any plastic bird bath. Most heated bird baths and deicers are thermostatically controlled so they only run as needed. Many use only as much electricity as a single light bulb and cost pennies a day. This is a small price to help birds survive the cold and for you to have some added visitors to your yard.

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! 
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