Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Birds, Butterflies, and Water

by janem on September 4, 2017

by Liz Magnanti

Blue jay. Photo courtesy Flickr: C Watts

Blue jay. Photo courtesy Flickr: C Watts

One of the easiest ways you can attract birds to your yard is with a resource we have at hand throughout the year—water! When you add water, or a water feature, to your landscape, it attracts birds and wildlife that may not come to feeders or birdhouses. This is particularly true in the hot summer months when shallow

bodies of water are quick to evaporate, and winter, when water easily freezes over. Birds need water to bathe in and drink all year. Some birds, like goldfinches, do not eat berries or insects, which are great sources of water for most animals. Instead they rely on a source of water to flush their digestive system.

Fresh water is also important to birds throughout the year because without it they wouldn’t be able to keep their feathers clean. Clean feathers prevent feather mites and allow for birds to fly unobstructed. In the winter, clean feathers insulate better than dirty ones. Birds will fluff up their feathers to trap in warm air, which heats their body. This is why in the winter it is common to see birds sitting on a branch all fluffed up.

An easy way to add water to your yard is with a birdbath. Most birds only want one to two inches of water, so be careful not to get a birdbath that is too deep. If you get a deep birdbath you will get birds, but it may only be the larger species, such as blue jays and robins, who will sit in the bath and bathe. If you have a deep birdbath, don’t fret. Adding stones or rocks to it will create a shallow reservoir and will give birds something to perch on. Rocks can be added to the entire birdbath, or just a section, giving it multiple layers for different sizes of birds. Adding many layers of rocks, or even sand, to a birdbath is an attractant to butterflies. Layering your birdbath full of sand or rocks and filling it with just enough water to keep them wet creates a butterfly puddler (see our last issue for instructions on making your own). Butterflies will land on the wet sand or rocks and siphon off nutrients such as salts and amino acids.

Moving water is especially attractive to birds. The sound and sight of it draw them in. Solar fountain kits, plug-in fountain pumps, and water wigglers are all great ways to get your water moving. Misters and drippers can be attached to a hose to keep a small steady supply of water running for birds. Hummingbirds especially love misters. They will fly through the mist to clean their feathers. Drippers are little spouts that allow a drop of water to come out one at a time. Goldfinches and chickadees love drinking from drippers! Water wigglers are small plastic domes that sit in a birdbath. They have a little propeller that dips into the water and makes it ripple. Moving water is not only a great way to attract wildlife, but it also makes it impossible for mosquitoes to lay their eggs on it.

In the winter there are several options for providing water to wildlife. Heated birdbaths plug in and operate on a thermostat. They keep the water unfrozen, but don’t make the water hot. The same goes for birdbath heaters. These plug-in thermostatically operated heaters go into an existing birdbath and keep the water from freezing. If you keep a water feature out in the cold make sure it can withstand our winters. When water freezes and thaws, as it does throughout the winter, it can cause birdbaths to crack. Do not keep cement or pottery birdbaths out for this reason. Metal, granite, plastic and new fiber clay birdbaths can be left out all year and are safe to put a heater in.

Keeping a water feature clean is also very important. Non-toxic natural enzymes called “birdbath protectors” or “fountain protectors” will break down some of the stains, sludge and mineral deposits that may occur in a birdbath. Giving a birdbath or fountain a good scrubbing is also important. Use a stiff bristled brush and some elbow grease to get the grime off a few times a year, at least.

My favorite part about putting out water features is I never know what will come to it! Scarlet tanagers and warblers flock in the spring, butterflies and hummingbirds in the summer, and cardinals and blue jays all winter! Keeping wildlife hydrated has never been so much fun.

Liz Magnanti is the manager of the Bird House in Brighton.

 

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