Water is an extremely important element for birds. Like all other living things they need to drink water to survive. Also, in order to stay alive, the birds need to keep their feathers clean so they make daily visits to safe, clean and consistent water sources for the important task of preening. Many birds come to water that do not come to seed feeders or other bird attracting devices. The addition of a bird bath or water feature will attract more birds to your backyard.
To provide water for your birds, all you really need is a shallow 1 to 2 inch deep dish with a non-slippery bottom. Well designed commercial bird baths are specifically made for this purpose and are available in a wide variety of price ranges. A slightly more elaborate method for providing water for wild birds is a small backyard bird pond. These are also available in a variety of price ranges.
While bird baths and small ponds are simple ways to attract birds with water, one thing is very clear, birds love movingwater. Many more birds will be attracted by a drip or waterfall situation. The sound of moving water will attract every bird within hearing. Moving water gets the birds’ attention and in nature moving water is more natural and healthier than stagnant standing water.
The addition of a dripper to a simple bird bath or pond can be one of the most effective means of attracting birds to your yard. Drippers do what their name implies and simply drip water into the bird bath giving the sound of moving water. When used in a bird bath or simple pond, drippers create appealing ripples in the the water surface which can be seen by the birds from a long distance away. Many times birds will perch on the tube of the dripper to inspect the bird bath or pond and drink the fresh water as it drips out of the tube. Drippers come in two basic forms, recycling (recycles the water already in the bird bath or pond) or non-recycling (These are hooked up to an outside water sources such as a hose bib.). If you use the recycling dripper you must make sure that the water level is maintained in the bird bath because if it does evaporate down you may burn out the motor in the dripper. These drippers are best used in mild weather conditions, shady or protected areas where evaporation is not a serious problem. Non-recycling drippers are the bet bet when hot weather or wind is a factor in evaporation. The dripper will help to maintain the water level in your bird bath because it is constantly dripping water into it. Most commercial drippers can be set to give a certain number of drips per minute. When adjusted down to one drop per second these drippers supply approximately one pint of water per hour or about three gallons every 24 hours. Drippers, in addition to giving the sound of moving water, also add fresh water to the water feature to replace water lost by bathing or evaporation. This water replacement function insures that clean water is constantly being added to freshen the bath water.
If landscaping is in your blood then a backyard bird pond may provide you with the opportunity to utilize your landscaping skills and attract the wild birds to your backyard. Many of these ponds come in easy to set up kits and many of these kits include waterfalls or various tiers which flow into one another. All of this, again, provides for the sound of moving water effect . These waterfall kits often come with pumps to recycle the water over the falls to produce the desired effect. They can even be utilized with a dripper to continuously add fresh water to the set up.
Water can also be provided in the back yard in the form of a mister. These set ups simply let off a short burst of mist at set intervals. I have seen these set up on low tree or shrub branches or on the ground in or near a bird bath or pond. My favorite location in our yard is under a Salvia plant near our backyard bird pond. The mist makes the lower leaves of the Salvia wet and the birds love it. Hummingbirds love flying through the mist and many small birds including hummingbirds, gnatcatcher, warblers, vireos and Verdins love to bathe by rubbing up against the wet foliage. This activity often precedes a visit to the bird pond to drink.
Any combination of the above will attract birds to your yard. You can make your water feature more comfortable for the birds by providing nearby bushes and trees for preening and evading predators. Give the birds perches so that they can safely look for cats or other predators before coming in to bathe. We recommend you place your water feature 5-6 feet away from a shrub or brush pile. This distance keeps most cats from being able to pounce directly onto bathing birds. The shrub or brush pile is also close enough for the birds to fly into if the attack comes from a hawk diving for them. Remember to keep the shrubs trimmed so that no branches hang directly over your water feature.
When you provide water for wild birds cleanliness is very important. A number of diseases can be spread from dirty water in a bird bath. To prevent these diseases your bird bath should be cleaned every few days with a 10% bleach solution. When nighttime temperatures fall below 55 degrees, the bleach is not necessary but the cleaning is still a must. A simple rule of thumb regarding cleanliness is to ask yourself, “Would I drink from this bird bath if I were a bird?”
Always remember to keep fresh water in your water feature. A bird bath with no water will attract no birds.
Water will attract both the birds that will come to feeders and birds which do not eat seeds, so, by providing a water feature in your yard you will have many new birds visiting you. In addition to providing life giving water to the birds, water provides easy viewing of many hard to see species such as the tree top dwelling warblers, tanagers and vireos, as well as the shy birds such as the thrushes.
Always remember the three basic elements of providing water for birds and wildlife – cleanliness, comfort and consistency. All three are important in maintaining a backyard bird or wildlife habitat.
After 35 years as a professional ornithologist and bird bander Thomas Hays now assists others in developing bird and wildlife friendly habitats in their own back yards. Visit me at http://tomsbirdfeeders.com/ to see how I can help you formulate a backyard habitat for the birds in your area. Visit our website for more helpful hints on attracting birds and wildlife to your property.