Use Water in Your Backyard to Attract More Species of Birds

By Ann Hingas

While there was plenty of water in our backyards earlier this year, the dog days of summer are officially with us now, and you can both help your neighborhood birds and attract species that do not come to your feeder by placing one or more water sources in back yard.

Water can be a bird magnet, especially in hot, dry weather. While birds do not drink tremendous amounts of water, they do drink some and need good sources this time of year as well as in winter when so much available water is locked up in ice. In addition, readily available water sources provide a place for birds to perform important grooming functions as well as find relief during periods of molting.

And there is one more thing about birds and water. After watching many species cavort in a shallow bird bath, one can only conclude that many birds appear to frequent water simply because they enjoy it.

Many people, including me, have traditional bird baths in their back yards. This is good. They do attract birds. However, most bird baths I have seen arenít really placed there with the birds in mind. They are there mostly as yard art, and thatís a shame, because with just a little extra work, they can serve both bird and birder. Here are some tips about water sources from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology:

+You can also purchase a birdbath or simply use dishes or shallow pans. Birds seem to prefer baths that are at ground level, but if you are concerned about cats, raise the bath two or three feed above the ground.

+Put some sand in the bottom of the bath to give the birds sure footing, and change the water every couple of days to keep it fresh. If the bath is on the ground, try arranging a few branches or stones in the water so that birds can stand on them and drink without getting wet (this is particularly important in winter.) Such "islands" also will allow waterlogged bugs, especially bees, a surface to climb onto and dry out so they can fly away.

+One of the best ways to make the water you provide more attractive is to include dripping water. You can buy a dripper or mister, or you can recycle an old bucket or plastic container by punching a tiny hole in the bottom, filling it with water, and hanging it above the birdbath or pond so the water drips out.

+In freezing climate, a bird bath heater will keep ice from forming. Never add anti-freeze -- it is poisonous to all animals.

Note that your bird water source should not be deeper than 2.5 inches. That seems to be about the ideal depth for most birds, although I have found that smaller birds like water no more than one inch deep. Sand is a good bottom covering, but I like clean pea gravel as it is easier to keep clean, and that is very important.

No matter what type of birdbath you use it is very important to keep it clean. Clean the bath using a scrub brush and rinse the bath well before refilling it.

For a more thorough cleaning pour a mild bleach solution into the bath and let if soak for 15 minutes. Be sure to cover it so the birds can't drink or bathe in the solution. Rinse the bath thoroughly before refilling it with fresh water. Daily cleaning works best and takes only a few minutes to accomplish and will keep your birds happy and healthy.

Birds are attracted to the sound of water. That is what makes drippers and misters so popular these days. A friend even managed to turn the nuisance of a dripping outdoor faucet into a boon for birds by running a hose from the dripping faucet to a plastic pipe contraption that directs the drip into a wide, flat clay flower pot saucer which is strewn with small white stones. The birds love it and spend as much time in it as they do at the feeders this time of year.

You can find some easy and inexpensive plans for drippers on the internet at http://birding.about.com/cs/bathsponds/index.htm?terms=Bird+Fountains

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