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A nice dip in a shallow pool – it’s for the birds

An adult and juvenile Clay-colored Thrush investigate a new addition to the bird feeding station. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Published August 19, 2023 in the McAllen Monitor

Story and photos by Anita Westervelt

Situating a birdbath in your backyard may be the most important thing you can do for your neighborhood birds – it may even be a lifesaver for them.

Most birds deal with the heat by looking for shelter and water. During the hottest portion of the day, birds will perch in trees and dense leafy shrubs.

I noticed birds coming to my feeder seemed stressed, during the intense summer heat, and I realized the area water sources they were used to had dried up with the drought, wind and heat.

I moved my concrete insect-watering basin* from the courtyard around to the back of the house where I feed the birds, stabilized it and filled it with water. Birds quickly showed their appreciation while giving me yet another source of nature entertainment as they splashed around in the water.

A female Hooded Oriole knew exactly how to use the shallow pool of water. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Morning and evening are the best times to witness these delightful bird shows.

Most birding websites recommend using birdbaths all year, not just during hot weather, and they offer ideas for optimal success.

The most practical advice is to put the birdbath close to where the garden hose can reach because the water should be changed daily. Shallow bowls are recommended. Birds -- other than ducks -- don’t swim. Ideally, the water should be no deeper than one-half to one inch at the edges, sloping to about two inches deep in the middle of the bath. If deeper, place a flat rock in the water where the birds can land.

A male Hooded Oriole dispersed the water as best he could. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Several sources indicated that birds seem to prefer baths that are set at ground level, where they typically find water in nature, like in shallow puddles with a slight slope so they can wade into the water; different depths let birds of various sizes enjoy a cooling splash. Traditional pedestal style birdbaths also get noticed by the birds. Popular materials used in creating birdbaths are cast stone or concrete, ceramic and plastic, although plastic may be harder to scrub away algae.

Place the birdbath in shade near a tree, if possible, which will provide branches for birds to perch and preen. Changing the water and hosing out any debris daily will help curtail the spread of disease. Scrub out algae buildup with a stiff brush. Shallow bowls may need to be topped up a couple times a day with a lot of bird activity.

The Backyard Naturalist website suggested, “if there’s a traffic jam, add another birdbath.” I added two small urns and put a chunk of rock in each.

"If there's a traffic jam . . . ." A Groove-billed Ani makes a joyful splash as two of its mates await their turn. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Birds also drink water to rehydrate, as do bees. Don’t be surprised to find a dozen or more honeybees lined up at the water edge. They scatter when a bird lands; some birds are more annoyed at the hovering bees than others and will flap their wings at them.

A Golden-fronted Woodpecker lifts its head to complete the drink of water. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

A Green Jay draws a sip of water into its beak. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

I aimed a field camera toward the makeshift watering holes to see what visited at night. I wasn’t surprised to find night critters coming for a drink. One night an adult raccoon drank from one bath while all three smaller raccoons climbed into the larger bowl.

In the heat of the night, raccoons find the small pools of water. (Photo from a pre-set field camera)

*In case you're curious about the insect-watering basin phrase, a couple of years ago I attended a conference presentation about insects and wrote about insect hotels and water stations in a blog post, which can be accessed at this link:

- 30 –,,,,, and were researched for this article.

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