Although most backyard wildlife enthusiasts realize that wildlife needs water, far too often I find that they forget to maintain a birdbath or other water source throughout the entire year. It is especially important to provide your backyard wildlife with water during the severe heat wave that is holding Georgia in its fiery grip this summer.
Birds and other wildlife need a dependable, fresh, and clean source of water. When it is not available, some birds will travel up to two miles in search of it. However, other creatures such as many mammals, frogs, salamanders and others cannot travel long distances to reach the much-needed liquid.
With this in mind, if you have not already done so, place a container that animals can use for drinking and bathing. It can be a pedestal birdbath, or something as simple as garbage can lid, clay or plastic dish, or pie pan.
MOCKINGBIRD DRINKING WATER; Photo credit: Terry W Johnson
These artificial ponds need to be no more than 1.5 to 2 inches deep at their deepest point. It is great if the container has a sloping, rough bottom. However, if it is deeper, place a gently sloping rock in the middle of the container or cover its bottom with gravel. This will enable birds of all sizes to use it.
Then, don’t forget it; keep it full of fresh, clean water at all times.
If you already have a birdbath but have not regularly maintained it, begin doing so.
For more information dealing with providing water to backyard wildlife, type in WATER in the Search feature on the right side of the first page of the blog and hit the return button on your computer. In the blink of an eye, you will be able to access no less than seven columns dealing with this important subject.
There are untold numbers of birdbaths in backyards throughout Georgia. I would venture to say most birdbaths are bought and placed in yards during the spring and summer. It is also safe to say homeowners maintain them during these two seasons than at any other time of the year. Have you ever wondered why this is the case? I know that I have.
It seems to me this is due, in large part, to two popular myths. Some folks harbor the mistaken belief that birds do not have as great a need for water in the winter as they do during the warmer months of the year. When you stop and think about it, if the reason for providing is birds with an easily accessible source of water is that water is scarce of nonexistent in a neighborhood; the changing of the seasons doesn’t alter the need for water.
Another myth goes so far as to say that birds should be prevented from bathing in cold weather. In fact, some bird fanciers that do maintain birdbaths in the winter actually cut a hole in piece of plywood and place it atop the birdbath. The hole is cut large enough to allow birds to drink but not bathe.
Well-meaning individuals that believe that, if birds are allowed to bathe when it is extremely cold, ice will form on a bird’s feathers; when this happens, a bird is unable to fly. The truth of the matter is when the temperature dips well before below freezing birds refrain from bathing. Why should we try to prevent them from bathing when nobody is preventing birds from bathing when they are away from our birdbaths?
CARDINAL TRYING TO DRINK WATER FROZEN IN BIRDBATH
Actually, birds need water every bit as much in the winter as they do at other time of the year. Birds require water for both drinking and grooming. Without it, they quickly become dehydrated. This hinders the movement blood throughout a bird’s body as well as the normal functioning of tissues and organs.
Bathing also allows birds to properly clean and groom their feathers. By so doing, the feathers are better able to insulate the birds from the cold.
Often the only water available to birds in many neighborhoods is provided by birdbaths. One biologist took the time to determine how far the birds living in his Long Island, New York backyard would have to travel to drink and bathe if he did not provide them with water in a birdbath. He discovered the nearest water was some two miles away.
When birdbaths are lacking, the numbers, and variety of birds using a backyard drops. In fact, the numbers of birds using a yard is often dictated more by the availability of water than food.
Another important point to keep in mind is when birds are forced to travel some distance to obtain water, they are more apt to be preyed upon by predators or killed while crossing a road.
I hope you will consider keeping a birdbath full of fresh, clean water this winter. The only inconvenience this should cause you is, on those increasingly rare days the temperature drops below freezing, you might have to break a thin skim of ice that formed overnight atop the cold water. Alternatively, if water in the birdbath completely freezes, you will have to brave the icy temperatures and pour warm water on top of the ice.
When you look out your frosty kitchen window on a cold winter day and see chickadees, waxwings, sparrows, cardinals and others flying into drink and bathe in your birdbath, I am sure you will feel the efforts you put into providing these winter residents with a dependable source of water have been handsomely rewarded.
With much of Georgia suffering from drought conditions, the need to provide our backyard bird neighbors with water grows each day. Consequently, in many neighborhoods, nearby water is difficult or impossible for birds to find. Here are some of the reasons why a lack of water can have negative impacts on birds.
This year drought conditions surfaced during the spring when young birds are venturing out into the world for the very first time. As we all know, these inexperienced fledglings are vulnerable to a host of predators. When hapless youngsters are forced to travel greater distances to reach water, their chances of becoming a meal for predators are greater than they would be if water was available in or near our yards.
In the case of birds that are still nesting, when nesting birds are required to travel greater distances for water, they are forced to spend more time away from their young, increasing the odds their nests will be discovered by predators.
On the average, wild birds lose an average of 15 to 25 percent of their body weight each day. Larger birds generally lose less weight, in relation to their body mass, than smaller birds. Water plays a role a bird’s ability to maintain its physical health. The high temperatures that have recently plagued the state, has increased their need for water.
Water also allows birds to maintain their plumage. This allows cleaning their feathers as well as helping control parasites.
With that in mind, one of the most important things we can do for birds in our backyards to provide them with a dependable, safe source of water. Anything from a shallow pan to a birdbath will suffice. While you are at it, put at least one water source on the ground to benefit those animals that cannot reach a birdbath on a pedestal.
Although bird enthusiasts make providing a clean, dependable source of food their top priority, maintaining a place for birds to feed and drink is important too. This is especially true right now when many of the natural sources of water used by birds have dried up.
Currently, scores of species of songbirds are migrating northward. Many of these birds will pass over and even stop in our backyards. However, since many of these birds rarely visit feeders, they are often only seen by those among us that have time have learned their vocalizations and take the time to scan the bushes and treetops surrounding their homes looking for these magical birds. There is, however, another way that you can catch a glimpse of these often rarely seen birds; they can be attracted with moving water.
Although many of these birds will visit a birdbath, those birdbaths that are equipped with a mister or dripper are far more likely to attract these long-distance migrants. The reason for this is the sight and sound of moving water act as a magnet to both resident and migrant birds alike.
Some of the simplest ways to create moving water range from hanging a hose of a limb and allow the hose to slowly drip water into a birdbath or pan. You can also punch a small hole in the bottom of a bucket or soft drink container full of water and hang it above a birdbath.
I personally have had better success in attracting birds to my birdbath using misters and drippers. The best misters and drippers are engineered specifically for birds use. They vary widely in price and design. While they all work, the ones that I prefer permit me to adjust the flow of the water passing through them. I often use this feature to adjust the nozzles so that they emit both a mist and water droplets. This creates ripples when the droplets fall onto the surface of the water below. When it is windy the mist is often blown away from the birdbath. When this occurs, I simply adjust my mister nozzle so that it emits only droplets.
If you want to catch a glimpse at some of the warblers, tanagers, vireos and other songbirds that may be stopping in your yard, go ahead and install a mister. Even after the migration has passed, a mister will help attract backyard residents throughout the entire year.
These devices are readily available at stores that specialize in birding supplies.
Shortly after midnight on Friday (January 29), a light dusting of snow fell on my yard. The brief snow shower occurred on a very cold, windy night. The temperature dipped to 26⁰F and the wind chill hovered in the teens. When I walked down the path leading to my home office, I discovered that the water in the birdbath was frozen and covered with snow. When I got closer to the birdbath, I noticed that birds had left scratches in the snow as they vainly tried to reach water.
This was a stark reminder that wild birds need water during the winter just as much as they do during the spring, summer, and fall. However, it seems that during the winter we sometimes focus on just providing the avian visitors to our feeders with a supply of fresh food.
The truth of the matter is without a dependable source of water close by birds must travel some distance to find it. This enhances their chances of being killed by predators. In addition, it forces them to use energy that they need to avoid freezing to death on bone-chilling winter nights.
Many birds drink water at least a couple of times day. Other birds obtain water from the fruits, insects, and other invertebrates they eat. However, during the winter months their primary source of food is not always readily available. In spite of the fact their primary sources of water are often difficult to locate, they continually lose water through respiration and their droppings.
They also require water to bathe. Birds need to keep their feathers clean. It is much easier for a bird to preen feathers into place when they are clean instead of dirty. Consequently, clean feathers arranged in just the right positions can help a bird from losing too much body heat. This can make the difference as to whether or not it can survive a cold night.
With that in mind, it is essential that all of us make water available to our bird neighbors throughout the winter. In my case, it almost seemed some birds had left me with a cryptic message in the snow that I interpreted as meaning, “Where is the water?” I got their message loud, clear, and immediately poured fresh water in the birdbath.
I hope my experience will prompt you to keep a fresh, clean supply of water in your backyard. If you do, I know the birds will definitely benefit from your actions.
The majority of the birdbaths placed in Georgia backyards are intended to be used by birds. However, the truth of the matter is many other animals visit them. I think it would be safe to say the “other” animal most often seen at our feeders is the gray squirrel. With that in mind, have you ever wondered how much water a gray squirrel consumes in a day?
It seems that, a gray squirrel needs two to three tablespoons of water per day, however, a number of factors affect the amount of water a squirrel drinks. For example, female gray squirrels nursing young require more water than squirrels not producing milk for their young.
It is interesting to note that, on the average, a gray squirrel drinks twice per day.
My wife and I maintain three birdbaths for the benefit our backyard bird neighbors. As you might expect, many factors such as season and weather influence when and how often birds use these manmade structures.
Although birds bathe in the winter, they often limit their bathing during frigid weather. On the other side of the coin, many species seem to increase their visits to birdbaths during hot weather.
A number of years ago, I happened across several wood thrushes bathing in a puddle that had formed in a country road during a sudden summer thunderstorm. To this day, I still wonder why these beautiful songsters chose to bathe immediately after the passing of the storm.
In addition, birds also seem to be influenced by the presence or absence of other birds. My personal observations suggest that some species seem to prefer to bathe alone, while others do not mind sharing a bath with other species. For example, when a mockingbird or blue jay flies in to take a bath, other species that are already bathing immediately scatter. It is obvious that they do not wish to bathe at the same as these larger, more intimidating birds. More often than not bathing chipping sparrows will leave when eastern bluebirds arrive. However, I have seen chipping sparrows bathe alongside house finches.
By the same token, birds of the same species often have no problem bathing with others. Northern cardinals often bathe together as do eastern bluebirds.
Birds can be seen bathing throughout the entire day. Some birds seemingly bathe immediately after leaving their nighttime roosts. By the same token, others appear to bathe just before flying up to roost for the night. In between, most birds are not hesitant to take a bath any time during day.
For some reason, I long harbored the notion birds bathed but once a day. I have no idea why I felt that way. However, studies involving color-marked birds have revealed that some species such as the tufted titmouse sometimes bathes as many as five times a day.
As you can see, we have much to learn about bird bathing. In an effort to quench my personal interest in this behavior, I have begun recording information regarding incidences of birds bathing in my yard. I guess that is the biologist coming out in me.
Remarkable as it may sound birds bathe in the winter to keep warm. In fact, bathing during this our coldest season of the year is actually more important to birds than it is in summer. This may seem hard to fathom at first. However, when you stop and think about it, bathing at this time of the year makes a lot of sense.
A bird’s feathers help insulate it from the cold. These feathers provide the most insulation when they are clean and properly groomed. If you were to look at the feather of a bird through a microscope, you would find that each feather is equipped with a myriad of tiny barbs or hooks. The barbs on adjacent feathers interlock with one another forming barrier that helps to hold body heat in and cold air out.
As a bird goes about feeding and flying, these barbs become “unzipped.” When this occurs, the feathers’ ability to insulate a bird from frigid weather diminishes.
After a bird takes a bird in your birdbath, it will spend considerable time preening its feathers. During this process, the bird uses its bill interlock the feathers once more. Once this task is accomplished, the bird is better able to deal with winter’s blustery weather.
When October arrives, many of the songbirds such as the orchard orioles that entertained us with their beauty and songs during much of the spring and summer have long since passed on south. Fortunately, permanent residents such as mockingbirds, cardinals, towhees, Carolina wrens and others still offer us great backyard wildlife viewing opportunities. However, over the past week or so a couple of our fellow bloggers have taken the time to report their sightings of migrating songbirds that at still passing through the Peach State.
Ron Lee has been hosting rose-breasted grosbeaks at his feeder during the past several days.
At the same time, Walter Brown was lucky enough to see a female American redstart and several yellow-throated vireos.
If you would like to increase your chances of spotting a southbound migrant or two just outside your backdoor, there are a couple of things you can do. For example, keep your feeders stocked with seed (rose-breasted grosbeaks are particularly fond on sunflower seeds).
However, more different species of birds can be drawn to your backyard with water than seeds. With that in mind, keep birdbaths full of clean water. Better yet, install a mister or dripper over your birdbath. Moving water acts like a bird magnet.
If you are successful in attracting migrants to your personal wildlife haven during the next few weeks, please let me know. I am sure many other bloggers will also love to hear of your success.