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Putting out more water for birds

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 18 May 2011 at 11:47 AM

Spending so much time outside in gardens, I’m naturally obsessed with the weather, even more obsessed than most people in a country known for constantly referring to what the sky is doing. The forecasts so far this year have shown very little rain – almost no April showers and very little since then and that follows a relatively dry winter. This means that there are fewer natural water resources for wildlife as there are no puddles, no shallow pools caught in curled foliage and ponds which have not been topped up by rain will be drying out.

It’s a worry. Not only birds, but small mammals and flying insects will be searching for water and may not find it. They all need to drink and birds need to bathe to keep their feathers in good condition. What to do? What I’ve done here is to increase the number of bird baths in the garden at home. They’re not fancy and don’t need to be; you don’t have to spend out on anything expensive, just find a suitable container to hold clean water. There's probably something in the shed or garage that would do the job.



 Goldfinch at the bird bath


Here, I’ve used two plastic plant pot saucers and two of those oblong plastic trays that hold trays of seedlings. Two are in the back garden and two are in the courtyard and each day I rinse them out and refill them. Once a week, or when they look like they need it, I give them a scrub to get rid of the muck that builds up. In the larger trays, I’ve put a piece of broken plant pot to act as a platform, so that smaller birds and insects can get to water that might otherwise be too deep for them.



 A freshly bathed bluetit, who has splashed nearly all the water out of the dish


Each time the dishes are refilled, a queue forms, with birds taking turns to drink and then splash in the water. Meeting their needs feels right and proper, but there is also entertainment value, for whilst watching from the windows, I see comical scenarios playing out. A male blackbird is trying to catch the attention of a female and has been following her around the courtyard, but she doesn’t seem interested. Still, he scuttles after her, keeping as close as he can. She reaches one of the bird baths, the one under the garden bench, and starts to drink. He goes to chase her again and then, seeing her drinking, stops and stands a short distance away until she has finished. Once she’s had her fill, he starts chasing her again.

Two weeks later and the female blackbird is tolerating the male, but the issue of water is still evident. One day, I see the male get into the water dish and just get started on his bath when the female arrives, noisily chases him out and gets in herself. It’s good to know that they’ve got a source of water, but also really interesting to see the ‘waterhole hierarchy’ playing out. I'll keep watching and see if it happens again. 

If you have space, you can put in a pond.

More about bird baths


pushkin said:

Is that a carduelis cardueli?  More flamboyant (and beautiful) than the ones who come to eat/bathe in my garden.  I have a solar fountain and the birds love it.

on 18 May 2011 at 12:57 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

You're right, pushkin, the goldfinch is Carduelis carduelis. They're very colorful for a UK bird, aren't they.

I bet the US goldfinches love your solar fountain! There is a page about them here:

on 18 May 2011 at 01:09 PM

Putting out more water for birds | Gardening News said:

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on 18 May 2011 at 03:28 PM

richardpeeej said:

I have a birdbath and a few other containers that fill up with rain water Miranda. I must admit though after reading your account above, you have shamed me into thinking I should wash them out a bit more often. This is what I will do from now on...thanks for sharing your observations....

on 18 May 2011 at 07:25 PM

David Benson said:

i shall get up tomorrow and run a bath for them! Thanks for the good advice xx

on 19 May 2011 at 12:08 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, Richard and David. I'm sure the birds will appreciate you putting out water for them! They'll visit you often if you do.

on 28 May 2011 at 10:30 AM