Record temperatures, drought, smoky air and habitat loss are making it difficult for feathered and other winged creatures in urban and suburban areas to find the water they need.
But there is a simple way that people can help them: install a bird bath.
“A source of clean, fresh water can be one of the hardest things for birds to find,” said Kim Eiermanenvironmental horticulturist and the founder of Eco-friendly, an ecological landscape design firm that teaches at the New York Botanical Garden and Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Putting in birdbaths is something that is easy for homeowners and even residents and tenants of commercial spaces, she said. “You’re increasing the health of the birds by providing a resource that’s really hard to find,” said Ms. Eierman, who offers nature-friendly tips in her book “The Pollinator Victory Garden.” “In the summer months, it’s much more important than putting down bird seed.”
There is also the added joy of attracting birds and watching them splash.
Having a successful bird bath involves several basic but important steps.
Think concretely: Concrete birdbaths have the advantage of durability and providing textured surfaces that give birds a foothold (glazed ceramic can be too slippery, plastic might leach toxins, and metal heats up too easily).
Pull is good: Having a graded birdbath can help accommodate smaller birds. They should be no more than two to three inches deep.
Add stones: Ms. Eierman suggests putting in rocks or larger rocks to give smaller birds a place to rest and drink safely. The baths must be located in sufficiently shaded places near trees or bushes, and away from the full sun, which causes the water to spoil more quickly. This also gives birds a place to retreat from predators.
Change water at least daily: Basically, birdbath water should be changed at least once a day. New water will compensate for a bird’s unfortunate habit of defecating where it bathes and drinks (while birds love moving water, fountains without good filtration risk recirculating dirty water) and prevent mosquitoes from breeding, an often-cited fear when it comes to birdbaths.
Don’t be afraid of mosquitoes: “The simple act of changing the water once a day will prevent mosquitoes from forming, end of story,” said Ms. Eierman, who does not use pesticides, and instead chooses native plants that attract what she calls garden allies: Mountain Mint designs . predatory wasps, and Golden Alexanders attract ladybirds, both of which prey on unwanted pests. “It’s always amazing how people are always looking for things to fear instead of figuring out how we can co-exist with these creatures.”
A strong jet blast from a garden hose can do double duty to clean and refill the bath. The bath must also be regularly scrubbed and washed; if there is algae, it needs cleaning. Mrs. Eierman has a brush that she uses only for her bird baths, and the Audubon Society recommends using one part vinegar to nine parts water – synthetic soaps and cleaners can strip oil from birds’ feathers.
And consider the bugs: Ms. Eierman also encourages her students and clients to put out what she calls “hydration stations” for insects that can also suffer during hot weather. While pollinators such as bees, wasps, butterflies and beetles can get plenty of hydration through nectar, during very hot, dry periods, a defense mechanism in flowers can reduce nectar flow. So Ms. Eierman suggests setting out a ceramic plate covered with natural stones and covered with water, and placing it on the ground, separate and away from the birdbath.
“It gives insects a safe place to drink without the possibility of drowning,” Ms. Eierman said.
Ms. Eierman’s own garden at her home in Westchester County sits on less than a fifth of an acre and has four birdbaths — they’re frost-proof, and some have plug-in heaters for cold months.
“Keeping a heated bird bath in the winter is extremely beneficial for birds,” said Ms. Eierman, who also runs an insect hydration station.
Her baths are placed at different heights to accommodate not only different sizes and species of birds and insects, but also squirrels and the like. She recalled once watering a customer’s dried rhododendrons only to have a striper race up to drink from the puddle that had formed a few feet from where she was standing.
“That’s how desperate it was,” Mrs. Eierman said. “I’m always thinking about making it accessible to all those creatures.”
“It’s not just about us,” she added. “We think that nature provides, but in urban or suburban environments, what is natural anymore? The more we can do to support wildlife across habitat, the better.”
Do you have photos of birds enjoying a dip in your bird bath? Share them along with this story link on Twitter or Facebook. And check the Times Birding Projectwhere you can get more involved with the birding community.