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Sonoma County Gazette
Bullocks Oriole

Wild Birds Need Water in Summer

May 21, 2017
by Lisa Hug


Throughout the summer months of Northern California , we can watch our hillsides lose their spring green vibrancy, as the green melts into amber, the amber  fades into brown, and in severe drought years, the brown can dull into an ashy gray. This is because natural sources of water dry up in our Mediterranean-climate dry summers.  This makes it difficult for birds to find reliable fresh water sources. The availability of fresh water is essential for birds to stay healthy. Therefore, providing a water feature in your garden can be a sure way to attract birds in summer.

California TowheeBirds not only drink water, but they also bathe in it. Bathing helps birds maintain their feathers by keeping them clean and parasite-free. After bathing, the bird find a safe place in the sun to puff its’ feathers to dry.  It will then meticulously preen each feather to straighten out all the intermeshing barbs.  It will also squeeze a little oil from a special gland near its rump and thoroughly oil each feather to insure that each one is completely waterproof.  It is pure relaxing joy to watch a bird bathe and preen.

The ideal bird-attracting water feature is shallow and low to the ground (unless cats are present – then it should be raised a few feet). The water only needs to be between 1 and 3 inches deep.  The sides should have a gentle slope so the birds do not have to jump in to 3 inches of water suddenly,  but can ”wade”  in from the sides and remain at their desired water-depth.  An upside-down Frisbee or garbage can lid can serve this function very well.  If you want a more traditional and aesthetically pleasing birdbath, make sure that the sides are sloped, the dish is not too deep and that the construction material is easy to clean.  Concrete is very porous and therefore difficult to clean thoroughly.

Be sure to place the water feature in the shade. This will keep the water cool and attract more birds.  The best water features for birds provide perching areas. It is a good idea to place sticks over the water to imitate natural watering sites. And, of course, make sure the feature is easy for you to see.  You want your soul to benefit from the joy of watching the birds use your creation.

The most important aspect of supplying water to birds is keeping the bath clean – especially in hot weather.  Be sure to clean the birdbath every few days. Empty the old, stale water out of the bath. Scrub the bath with a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water.  Let the bath dry and then rinse it out and refill with fresh water. Proper maintenance will prevent diseases from being spread through the bird population and will also prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs in the water.

A few birds that may use your well-designed bird bath are California Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Western Bluebird, American Robin, Mourning Dove,  and many more.  It can be fun to keep a list of all the birds that come in to the bath either to drink or bathe.



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