Flying Colors is a sponsored column on the hobby of backyard bird feeding written by Michael Zuiker, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. Visit the store at 2437 N. Harrison Street or call 703-241-3988.
Come on, jump in! The water is fine. And just in time with the first really hot weather of the summer. So, for humans, we have many options to stay cool. But what about the wild birds in our backyards? Going to the movies is not an option.
During the hot, dry conditions of summer, wild birds will continuously look for reliable sources of water.
Water is crucial to birds, sometimes more so than food. Water is vitally important when it’s extremely hot, because birds do not sweat and must remove excess body heat through their respiratory system. So when temperatures rise, birds’ respiration rate increases, sometimes to the point where they can pant like a dog. This activity dehydrates birds.
A reliable source of water also allows birds to bathe regularly, a critical part of feather maintenance and staying in top-flight condition. However, offering water does not have to be difficult or expensive.
There are many ways to set up a water station to offer birds a safe and clean place to bathe and drink. From a simple plant dish to a 400-pound granite sculpture bath, any and all water features will be accepted. But they must be safe and they must be secure.
Attract more birds by offering water in a bird bath. These water sources are normally elevated to protect birds from natural predators. Bird baths with sloped sides permit visitors to move from shallow to deeper water, and they accommodate different sized birds that need to drink or bathe. The bird baths should be shallow so there is no accidental drowning; two-inch depths are the norm. Dark colored baths retain the heat in the winter whereas light colored dishes stay a little cooler in the summer.
Some people use misters and drippers to provide birds with water. These devices are connected to the hose bib on the side of the house with a Y connection. This allows for a separate hose to be attached for yard work and filling up the bath.
In my front yard, I have a six-foot slope with three baths in line. A water dripper is attached to the top bath and the excess water drips into the second and third baths. The excess water then drips onto my fern garden.
The baths are constantly receiving fresh water for the birds. The moving water prevents the mosquitoes’ larva, that may be deposited in the water, from hatching. When located near foliage, misters give birds the opportunity to “leaf bathe.” Birds exhibiting this behavior will flutter against wet plants or leaves to release droplets onto their feathers.
Open sources of water, such as bird baths, can cause a potential mosquito problem. For this reason, many people use a Water Wiggler, an agitator that creates ripples in water (mosquitoes cannot/do not lay eggs in moving water). Also, water in motion is far more attractive to birds than a stagnant pond.
Water is essential to wild birds’ survival and many people see that necessity as an opportunity to be entertained by the birds. Make sure your birds pool is open and filled with good clean water before they jump in. Then grab a “slushy” and enjoy. No lifeguard needed.