Alright! Enough of the sunshine and cloudless skies. This isn’t California; it’s New England where the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” Well it’s been several weeks now and we still need some rain. Established perennial plants and shrubs are beginning to wilt and not recover fully overnight. Tomatoes are starting to show signs of blossom end rot if not regularly watered. Containers need to be watered everyday (why do I have 30 of them?). And, like all living creatures, birds are looking for fresh, clean water.
Supplying water for birds to drink, bathe in and cool themselves is not a hard thing to do. It takes me about 5 minutes to empty and clean our two birdbaths. One I do in the morning and the other at night. They are divided up like the containers – one side of the yard am; the other pm.
During periods of drought as well as in winter, birds are looking for water. If you supply it, the water will attract a wealth of avian visitors. Many birds that feed on insects and fruit and that you would not find at your bird feeders are drawn to birdbaths, fountains and other water holes. Providing a water source makes your yard a more desirable destination for many avian visitors.
Birdbaths are not only essential for attracting birds but can be quite ornamental as well, providing that finishing touch, flair, or sense of connectivity to nature. There are many styles of birdbaths available ranging from homegrown to fancy, solar powered. One source lists bird baths for sale starting in 1840’s – same year our house was built! Select which one best fits into your lifestyle and design tastes.
There are two issues that I have with many birdbaths. The first is cleanliness. If you are going to set up a birdbath, you have to commit to maintaining it. Leaving water for days in a birdbath during the summer season in New England makes it a repository for bird diseases as well as mosquito larvae, some of which may harbor the debilitating West Nile virus that is not good for either birds or humans. In this weather, get out every day and empty the birdbaths, scrub them with a brush if algae growths are evident and refill with fresh water.
The second problem lies with where the birdbath is situated. It is essential that be placed where wet birds can escape from predators, mainly feral or domestic cats. It is incredulous that most people do not realize that cats are an invasive species. Our native wildlife did not evolve with cats as a predator. Because they were so recently thrown into the mix, cats are responsible for at least a billion wild bird deaths in the U.S. every year. Think about it. Your outdoor cat may be responsible for the extinction of an avian (or other) species or two or more. Sustainable cat owners should keep their cats inside. I have always had indoor cats. The cats lived to a long age not being preyed on by coyotes, foxes or fishers, getting contagious and sometimes deadly feline diseases, getting run over by cars, getting into injurious (and expensive) cat fights and other outdoor venues not really in their best interest. Our cats lead full lives and did not suffer by being kept indoors and neither will yours. Make their lives interesting.
Other items to think about are depth, roughness of the construction material and can you view it from the house. Birdbaths should only be a couple of inches deep. Ideally, they would slope towards the middle being shallow at the edges and also the material the birdbath is made from should feel rough to the touch. Slick, smooth birdbaths make birds feel insecure about their footing and less likely to use. Stick a flat rock or two into these birdbaths and see if it increases visitation.
If at all possible, select hanging bird baths or those with a pedestal. These can be placed in an ideal spot under a tree with lower branches. If tree branches are within 2 to 3 feet of the bird bath then wet birds can often flutter to safe spots if pursued by cats or other predators. Make sure that the bird bath is at least 5 to 10 feet away from shrubbery or other venues in which a cat can hide. Your goal is to provide an escape route and also to give birds a wide view of their surroundings. Many people do not realize that improper location of birdbaths (as well as feeders) is just luring our native songbirds to their death.
One also might want to think about how close the bird bath is to the house both for refilling and for viewing. I love the bird waterer on our back porch railing. We get an incredible variety of bird species and it makes for easy cleaning and refilling in summer and in winter.
Place bird baths at least 10 feet away from large glass doors or windows so if birds are spooked and take off towards them, they can veer away.
So keep your bird bath clean and filled and enjoy the antics of avian visitors while providing them with life-giving water.