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.
The spring bird migration is in full swing. During the past few days, I have heard orchard orioles singing from the trees surrounding my house, watched a male indigo bunting at a feeder stocked with white millet, and even spotted rose-breasted grosbeaks feeding on sunflower seeds. These are but a few of the birds winging their way back home from their exotic winter residences. Although some of these birds will visit your seed feeders, others such as warblers and vireos will remain hidden in the treetops foraging for insects. If you want to catch a glimpse of them, you will need a powerful incentive to entice them away from their leafy feeding areas. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to install a dripper in your birdbath.
For reasons we do not fully understand, birds are almost magically drawn to the sight and sound of moving water. When you equip a birdbath with a mister or dripper you greatly enhance the chance it will attract the attention of birds that otherwise be difficult to see. I know folks that have spotted six or more species of warblers sharing a birdbath equipped with mister.
I have personally witnessed the drawing power of moving water in my yard. Late one summer I installed a dripper on one of my birdbaths. Up until that time, I had seen birds such as northern cardinals, tufted titmice, eastern bluebirds, northern mockingbird, eastern towhees, and others make forays to the birdbath to bathe and drink. However, I was amazed how much the frequency of their visits increased when I began using the dripper. In addition, later in the year I spotted birds that I not seen previously at the birdbath became regular visitors.
There are several ways you can create the sight and sound of dripping water. I use a device made just for the purpose. It hangs on the edge of the birdbath. A small hose runs from the device to an outside spigot. Water is regulated with a tiny valve located near the birdbath. This allows you to adjust the water flow ranging from a fine mist to a steady drip.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER VISTING A BIRDBATH EQUIPPED WITH A MISTER
A dripper can also be made by simply hanging a hose over a branch above the birdbath. Adjust the water flow so that a very slow steady drip falls into the water below.
A dripper can also be fashioned from a plastic milk or soft drink bottle. Simply hang the bottle over the water. Poke a small hole in the bottom of the container. The size of the hole and the tightness of the bottle cap determine the rate of flow. The device works best if the bottle cap is loosened or removed.
If American crows frequent your backyard, chances are you have witnessed them dipping food into a birdbath. Whenever we witness such behavior, we cannot help but wonder why a bird would go to the trouble of soaking a piece of food in water before gulping it down.
The truth of the matter is we are not absolutely sure fully understand the reason behind this behavior or why they do not do it all of the time. The most widely held theory is it is done to soften their food. This theory explains why they might dunk a hard, dry chunk of dog food or stale bread in water. However, for the life of me, I cannot see how this explanation explains why American crows also place dead animals such as birds and mice, animal bones, snails and even bits and pieces of roadkill in birdbaths.
Others suggest nesting crows dip bakery products and pet food in water prior to subsequently feeding them to their nestlings for a couple of reasons. First of all, it makes the food more palatable for their young. It is also is an easy way for adult birds to provide their youngsters with water.
Regardless, it is always a good idea to clean a birdbath that has been used as a “dipping” station by crows. Invariably, whenever crows are dipping their food in our birdbaths, it is very likely they are leaving behind bacteria and fungi that were clinging to the food. These microorganisms could be harmful to the birds that will later use the water to bathe and drink.
If the truth were known, the orchard oriole is far more common around Georgia backyards than most people think.
I believe three of the reasons for this are that this colorful, small oriole rarely makes an appearance at bird feeders, most people are not familiar with its song, and finally, far too many folks do not maintain a birdbath.
My wife and I are fortunate that orchard orioles annually make their spring and summer home in our backyard. In fact, throughout the spring the song of the orchard oriole can be heard throughout the entire day. Consequently, when we hear the birds singing, we focus our attention on the trees or shrubs where the calls are coming from. Often we are rewarded with seeing one of the birds suddenly burst from the foliage and fly across the yard.
One of the best ways to learn the song is by listening to it on one of the many online sites that allow you to listen to recordings of the various birdcalls.
Once you becoming familiar with the call, you may discover that you are already hosting orchard orioles.
Some say that they are able to catch a glimpse of orchard orioles visiting their hummingbird feeders. We have never been that lucky. If you want to try it, here is a suggestion that may work. Hang up a hummingbird feeder that is equipped with large feeding portals.
The reason I mention this is last winter a Baltimore oriole fed at a hummingbird feeder that has large feeding portals. When I replaced it with a feeder with normal-sized feeding portals, the bird would not use it; obliviously they were too small. Perhaps this approach will work with orchard orioles too.
By far, we get our best views of orchard orioles at our birdbaths. Orchard orioles visit these watering holes daily. With that in mind, keep your birdbaths full of fresh, clean water.
If orioles are not regularly using your birdbaths, it may be because they are too deep. Orchard orioles are not large birds. As such, they will not wade out into water a couple of inches deep. Ideally, a birdbath should have a gently sloping bottom that provides birds of all sizes with ideal bathing conditions.
If you are successful in catching a glimpse of an orchard oriole or two using one of these tips, please let me know.
Although the birds in my yard visit my birdbaths on a regular basis throughout the entire year, activity around these artificial ponds has definitely increased as of late. For example, in a little over an hour one afternoon this week I watched, a northern mockingbird, common grackles, American robins, brown thrashers, and orchard orioles visited the birdbath outside my home office.
While a couple of the birds that showed up drank, most were intent solely on bathing. If you have never seen wild birds bathe, you have missed a real treat.
Each bird would hop into the deepest water (only about two inches deep) and began rapidly flapping its wings. I suspect they also shook their bodies, but I cannot say for sure that was the case. What I do know is that while bathing, each bird had water flying everywhere. They would then suddenly stop, look around and repeat the process several times. Finally, when they finished they laboriously flew to nearby trees and shrubs on water-soaked wings to shake off the water and preen.
Interestingly, all but one of the visitors bathed alone. However, at other times I have seen more than one bird bathe at the same time.
When the last bather left, the birdbath was almost empty and the ground within a three to four foot circle around the bath was soaking wet.
Their departure left me with the task of refilling the birdbath, and fond memories of what I had witnessed.
Most of Georgia is suffering through drought conditions. For example, in my neck of the woods, not a drop of rain has fallen on my yard during the past 42 days. When it is this dry, our backyard birds and other wildlife need water to bathe and drink more than ever before.
With this in mind, if you want to do something that will be a tremendous benefit your bird neighbors, and provide you with excellent bird watching opportunities, keep that birdbath that has been bone dry most of the summer full of fresh, clean water.
If you do not have a birdbath, buy one. The best birdbaths are shallow (one to one and half-inches deep).
If you don’t want to go to the expense of buying a birdbath, common items such as trashcan lids, pie and cookie pans, and plant saucers, can be used as substitutes.
It is always a good idea to place a birdbath fifteen or more feet from a shrub or other cover, as this will reduce the chances that hungry predators will capture the birds drawn to your backyard oasis.
It is important to keep a birdbaths clean. Often birds foul the water by leaving behind feathers and droppings. In addition, algae often grow in a birdbath when the water is not regularly changed. This poses a health risk to the birds. With that in mind, periodically clean your birdbath with a stiff brush and weak bleach and water solution (one part bleach to ten parts water). After cleaning the birdbath, thoroughly rinse it out before refilling.
With weather conditions this arid, once you fill up a birdbath, it should not take long before the first of what will prove to be a steady stream of birds will begin arriving. These visitors will include cardinals, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, brown thrashers, chipping sparrows, eastern towhees, eastern bluebirds, northern flickers, brown-headed nuthatches, and many others.
During the past few weeks, my wife and I have been amazed how many and often birds have used our four birdbaths. I have seen up to six species of birds bathing and drinking at the same time.
Right now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, creating a backyard oasis is arguably the single most important thing that you can do for your bird neighbors.
Although pedestal birdbaths are great devices to provide birds with water, they can be dangerous to cats, dogs and humans alike. All to often when a cat or dog tries to drink from one, or a curious child grabs the edge of the heavy cement basin, it comes toppling down.
When our two family cats knocked the basin off its pedestal several times in a single month, I began searching for a solution to this problem. I decided that I could either sit the basin directly on the ground or mount it atop something more stable than a heavy, slender column.
I decided to place the cement birdbath atop an old planter. The wide top and base of the planter proved to be far more stable than the pedestal.
Since I have discarded the cement pedestal in favor of a planter, our cats have not knocked it off the perch a single time, in spite of the fact that they seem to drink water from the birdbath on a daily basis.
If you currently use a pedestal birdbath in your backyard and want to reduce the chance of injury to your pets, children or grandchildren, give it a try.