Zero to Hero: Providing Fresh Water to Backyard Wild Birds

The second installment of our Zero to Hero series is almost too simple. So simple, in fact, that most of us never think about it. It’s water. Providing fresh water to our wild bird friends is essential to their health, not to mention their survival.  Not all birds in the wild eat the seeds, fruit, or suet you provide.  But, ALL birds need water.  Water helps hydrate birds obviously, but water also keeps them clean and keeps the oils in their feathers evenly distributed for flight and warmth.  If attracting the greatest diversity of birds is your goal, adding water is perhaps the single best addition to your backyard.  So, let’s discuss water in a bit more detail.

First, WHAT type of water would you like to provide? I am not talking about muddy vs clean water. I am talking about what device holds the water. We can dig a hole in the ground and line it with concrete we mixed from a bag and line it with rocks we found on the side of the highway. This method is virtually free, and if you’re creative, it can look fabulous, too. Don’t scoff until you’ve done it. If you are a photographer and want natural looking perches and backgrounds for your photos, this is an outstanding way to accomplish a natural image.  We can also spend a couple dozen US dollars and pick up a standard concrete bird bath at any local hardware store in the outdoors section.  If we really like, we can buy a fancy water fountain for several hundred dollars.  Or, if we have really deep pockets, we can landscape our yards with huge boulders, small water pools, waterfalls and shallow streams running between for well into the thousands of dollars.  How you provide water to your bird buddies is only limited by your wallet and imagination.

The second thing to tell you is, if possible, supply some motion to the water source.  Birds seem to find moving water better than a small dish in your yard.  Either they see it better, or can hear it moving, or both.  But, adding motion to your water has been documented to help attract birds much better than static water.  Moving water also stays cleaner longer reducing the chances of your bird bath gathering moss….or mosquitos.  That said, water in motion may be cleaner, but it is still up to you to keep the water fresh.  Changing the water, if in an ordinary bird bath, is almost a daily requirement.  Cleaning the bowl is also a regular chore that should be lightly scrubbed with a very mild bleach solution once a week at a minimum.  If you have a complex fountain or water feature built into your landscape, I am sure the cleanliness is somewhat built in.  It would obviously be a bit difficult to change and clean a 50 foot stream with several riffles and pools along the way.

I have planned several projects involving water for the upcoming season.  I also plan to document them with photography as I complete them.  Actually, I have a lot of projects planned for spring because I need to replace my square foot garden I lost when we moved this summer and never got a full season from it…:(

I plan to install a mister for hummingbirds.  Misters are what they sound like.  They are an attachment to the water hose that creates a mist.  Hummers don’t usually bathe in a typical birdbath.  However, they will sit in the mist from what I’ve seen.

I also plan to install a drip system above another of my baths.  That dripping water really draws the birds in.  Last season I hung a gallon milk jug above the bath from a shepherd’s hook, and it worked quite well.  However, it was difficult to make a small enough hole that I didn’t have to refill the gallon twice a day.  And, honestly, filling twice a day is just too much effort for me.  I don’t suppose anyone would want that kind of committment to their backyard birds.  However, the drippers work like running water in the sense that the water surface is in constant motion.  This makes it more difficult for the mosquitoes.

But, I have always wanted a true water feature.  I would like to run some form of small stream through an area of my yard with a pump and return system.  As a landscaper, I always like to experiment with these types of things to see if I can gain the confidence in offering the service to other people.  Square foot gardening, I found, is easy enough to install.  I would think a small stream or pond is simple enough, too.  The trick is going to be making it look natural to the surroundings and set it up well for photography simultaneously.  I have lots of daydreaming to do, so I’ll get to it…..keep chuggin’.

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