For the Birds

We live in times that should be making us think about our water use. Climate issues are very complex and can leave us feeling overwhelmed. It is very hard for a gardener who wants what is best for the plants to also have to conserve and be water-wise. A simple way for a gardener to help is to learn about the native plants in your region and include them in your home garden. Once established, native plants need less irrigation and do more to support the wildlife in your area. It’s like killing two birds with one stone…or wait, no…

Bird’s-Eye View

I always wear a sun hat when I’m gardening. It’s great for keeping the sun out of my eyes, but it also cuts down on my field of vision. This could be the root cause of why I’ve never liked (gasp!) bird feeders. It’s embarrassing to admit how often I forget they’re there while I’m working and hit my head on them or have to work crouched over so that I don’t keep bumping into them. There have always been birds that visit my garden so, I assumed that it was enough to have the plants themselves provide the birds with some food and shelter. I thought there was nothing more for me to do, after all, I’m a gardener not a backyard birder, right?

A New Perspective

This last spring I started a new job where one of my weekly chores is to clean and refill the birdbaths. My client (and neighborhood friend!), Carol Anne, told me that it was more important to provide birds with water than food. Having always secretly disliked bird feeders, this new bit of information made me rethink what I could be doing to help our feathered friends. I’ve collected a few birdbaths over the years, but have never given them much attention. I was always worried that the water might attract raccoons or that it would become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The only times they held water was either from the rain or a sprinkler. I knew so little about what birds needed that I didn’t realized how important it was to provide them with a constant and clean source of water.

Providing the water was simple, a saucer or birdbath will do, but there is actually much more you need to consider to keep the birds healthy and safe. The first thing is to keep the water clean. Birds bathe to rid their feathers of dust and parasites and standing water can quickly become an unhealthy breeding ground that could sicken every bird that visits. A water feature with a circulating pump is the easiest way to keep the water clean but, since I’m getting my start with the still-water birdbaths, I’ve had to make their maintenance a part of my morning ritual. It’s turned out to be a nice way to start the day as well as a way for me to connect with my garden before heading off to work.

Keeping it Clean

Reflections in the Eye

Birds require water everyday.  They need it for drinking and for bathing. As they fly they scan the ground for signs of water. They will eventually find a still pool of water, like a birdbath, but moving water is easier for them to locate. They listen for the sounds of water and the sparkling reflection that it creates. These birdbaths were showing me that it was important to not only make water available but, also visible.

Mirrors of the Sky

I understand that it’s important to conserve water but, I miss the element of water on an energetic level; it was something that “happened” in the garden. Nowadays, between drip irrigation and soaker hoses, watering has become a hidden, almost secretive gardening activity. This may be a smarter way to water plants but, we should also consider the animals and insects that need access to water too.

Creepy Crawlies

There are many birds that will not show up to bird feeders because their main diet is insects, not seed. Making your garden a more welcoming place for bugs will automatically create an environment that is more bird-friendly. This includes making water available, but also letting (at least) some parts go wild. So, think about what kind of environment insects need: let some grasses and flowers stand and be dry, don’t clean up all of the leaves (bugs love the cover) and never EVER use insecticides or pesticides.

Bird is the Word

It has helped me to learn about birdbaths. If you’re interested you’ll want to know more than what I’ve written about here. There are things like where to place a bird bath: not necessarily in the sun or directly under a tree. Birds bathe to cool down, so, a sunny spot can really heat the water up on a hot day. They also need a perch that is easy for them to get to after bathing because they are more vulnerable to predators when wet. Once on a perch, they spend a lot of time preening their feathers but, they will also poop there, so, if it’s over their bath….uh, you get the picture.

I can’t even begin to explain the enjoyment I’ve had this summer watching all of the bird activity in my yard. This has been one of the harder posts for me to finish because I haven’t had much luck photographing the birds; they don’t sit still like the plants do! I did wonder if anyone would notice that there were no actual pictures of birds. Well, I did finally manage to capture some on film before they saw me and flew away. Sorry for the shaky camera work. I was using the zoom feature while trying to stay hidden!

Birds of a Feather Bathing Together

A Stag Head Perch

Happy birding and keep gardening!

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