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Birds, Water, and Summer Heat


By Shani Friedman

In our desert heat, we are stating the obvious - birds need clean reliable water sources all year round, but no more than when the temperature soars. As we write this, the projected heat for this afternoon is 113°F, and likely to remain in the triple digits for the rest of the week. As the drought deepens in southern Arizona, natural water sources continue to dry up. Our record setting fire season has taken its toll on the wildlife. Birds pant and hold their wings out from their bodies in an attempt to keep cool. Supplying a water source for the birds is of great assistance to them and the necessity of clean fresh water cannot be underestimated.

Standing 3" above ground on three legs, this bath is easily accessible to all birds that are accustomed to finding water on the ground. We like watching the newly hatched Gambel's Quail drinking from it. Green powder coated steel with a 14" plastic dish insert.

Of course, you want to do this in a way that does no harm - no drowning, no disease transmission, no increase in predation, no harm what-so-ever. Here's what you need to know about bird baths and other water features to help the birds, without harming them.

Most importantly, the water must be clean and fresh. A bird uses the same water for drinking and bathing so keeping the water clean and fresh is a requirement that cannot be ignored. Pick the materials of the bird bath carefully. Avoid concrete, mortar based products, and those that incorporate marble dust into the material because, while these materials seem hard, they are porous materials that offer hidden pockets where microbes that cause avian disease can set up housekeeping. Once algae takes root in any of these materials it becomes a daily problem keeping the water fresh and clean without the use of harmful chemicals. Offer water in a bath that is made of impervious metal, glazed ceramics, resin or polypropylene. Change the water daily. Frequent cleaning and daily rinsing is required. Soaking the bath in a weak bleach solution (ten parts water to one part bleach) is a sure way to defeat almost all harmful microorganisms. It will also help with algae that inevitably occurs in bird baths. Algae is not harmful to birds per se, but it is unsightly and can be difficult to get rid of once it is established. Do this in the evening once the birds have gone to roost for the evening, and be sure to thoroughly wash the bath with soap and water and rinse well when you are finished.

A mister or dripper can be added to most existing bird baths. Some baths, like our Rocky Mountain Dripping Spring come equipped with a dripper. Our drippers and misters run on very low water pressure supplied by your backyard hose bib. No electricity is needed. A supply of irrigation tubing comes with drippers and misters that allows you to place it virtually wherever you want. A constant slow drip or fine mist adds a small amount of water to a bath, which mimics a natural spring's constant provision of clean fresh water. Misters and drippers can reduce the frequency of cleaning needed in a still water bath. By situating the bath strategically, any overflow of water can be utilized by plantings around the base of the bath.

Water Wiggler

Misters, drippers and our clever Water Wigglers create activated, moving water which is good in two ways. Rippling moving water is more attractive, alluring and exciting for birds than still water, and mosquitoes do not lay their eggs in moving water. No mosquito larvae hatching in your back yard helps to reduce the spread of West Nile virus. Water wigglers do not provide fresh water. Instead an ingenious paddle turns, creating concentric ripples in the water of a bird bath. Water Wigglers come in two versions. The original Water Wiggler runs by the power of two "D" cell batteries.

A surefire way of providing clean fresh water is to use a dripper or mister with no bath at all. Fresh water is dispensed as long as you leave a small amount of water in the line. A small puddle with constant drips or a gentle mist on the leaves of a shrub or tree is irresistible to many birds and small animals. No cleaning and no scrubbing is needed. While some extra water is used, the impact on your water bill should be unnoticed.


Example of a rock in a Talavera bird bath

The second requirement for responsible bird bath aficionados is to make sure your water is not too deep. Our passerines are not ducks. They cannot swim and can drown in water that is more than 1-1/2 to 2 inches deep. This is especially true for baby birds and small birds, like goldfinches and young quail. Nature provides sloped banks of rivers and ponds that the birds can use safely. You can do the same by placing flat rocks in the middle of a bath that allow them to get in and out of the water safely.

The third danger of watering birds is that predators, especially cats and hawks, catch on to the fact that a wet bird has more difficulty flying and maneuvering than a dry one does. For this reason, place your bath well out in the open. Avoid planting dense foliage around it so that cats have no place to hide and stalk the birds. Consider placing it near a place where wet birds can perch above the bath. They need a safe place to perch and preen after bathing.

Not all birds use water for bathing. Instead, they dust bathe. Clear a small area of fine dirt in your yard. Birds, like Cactus Wrens, come and sit in the dirt. Then, they begin to act like birds that are water bathing. They spread and flutter their wings and toss dirt onto their backs as they turn round and round. This aligns the barbs of their feathers and reduces dandruff, oil and moisture in their plumage. The insulating properties of the plumage is improved because the contour feathers are dried and fluffed, which allows the down feathers to fill the space between the contour feathers and the skin. It is believed that dust bathing helps to kill bird lice, mites, and other parasites found on the feathers and skin.

 Feel free to visit our website pages for a complete listing, depiction and description of the products we recommend for providing water to the birds. And remember, here in Southern Arizona, providing water for birds may be even more important to their survival than food, especially in these hot and dry days of early summer.

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