Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to attract birds to a birdbath

To attract a bird, all you have to do is think like a bird.  Attracting birds to a birdbath is very easy if you follow a few simple rules.
What chance does this birdbath have of attracting birds?  It's a tiny isolated element in a sea of brick and rock and it's right up against a tract home window to boot - why would that be even remotely appealing to birds?  Isn't it just for decoration?
No - the primary function of the birdbath shown above is not for decoration, although it certainly does enhance our new stacked stone garden by providing a focal point.   But here are the reasons why some of our local birds have come to prefer it and depend on it:
  1. It's the only water source for quite some distance, which is particularly consequential now that we're into the full heat of the Texas summer when all animals need to drink frequently.  You have to remember that, when modern subdivisions are engineered, drainage is a priority, so there's little or no standing water anywhere near our house.  Birds who did not get their morning and evening drinking water from this bath would need to fly some distance away to find another source, and they don't like that idea. 
  2. I'm very careful to re-fill it daily, flushing out the old water each time.  Therefore it has the added appeal of freshness to the birds.  They may have to come right up against a scary suburban window to get it, but the cost-benefit analysis works for them regardless.  And it's easy for me to remember to re-fill it because this is my home office window so the birdbath is frequently in my peripheral view. 
  3. I keep the surroundings consistent.  Birds are acutely attentive to changes in their environment, as I will illustrate further down in this post.
  4. Birds in our area (perhaps all areas) prefer to nest within eyeshot of water.  If they can see a water source and there's a suitable spot available, they will nest, which further strengthens the patterns of birdbath-visiting.  Other birds observe both the nesting and the visiting, and will also be drawn in. 
A brand new nester in one of our front yard live oaks.  She's been there about a week now after discovering her near-ideal new water source just fifteen feet away. 

You might wonder how I know that it's the same much older dove nesting in our back yard, which I described most recently in this post.  Easy - she's tame.  By this time, she has raised so many successive broods on our back patio that she does not flush when we are in proximity.  We can literally stand two feet from her and she doesn't move.  That's not "normal" dove behavior - that's learned behavior.  Which means that it's almost certainly the same dove each time. 

In contrast, this new lady is still steeped in bird neuroticism and fear.  She flushes if anyone even steps into the front yard.  Getting this photo was really difficult and required a long lens, whereas our back-yard dove will simply stand there and allow herself to be photographed.   
Unfortunately, I'm stuck with undesirable builder-grade windows which have fake mullions embedded between the double panes of glass.  This makes birdbath photography a bit challenging.
Nice action shot as she examines the interior of my office for potential predators, but those danged plastic window mullions sure wreak havoc with the artistic potential. 
Now a word about consistency of the environment.  I noticed that some of the smaller birds were having trouble with the slippery ceramic edge of this birdbath, so yesterday evening, I placed a few "grippy" rocks in the center as an alternate perch.
A leg to stand on, and a more secure base for the legs. 
But look at what happened when this little girl came to visit this morning:
Do you see the way her head is cocked such that her eyeball is pointing straight at the center rocks?  The center rocks represent a change in the environment, and birds are highly suspicious of such things.  It will take all of them a few days before they habituate to this new element such that they can fully accept its presence and start to make use of it.  Meanwhile, visits to the birdbath will be reduced and the birds who do come won't be as comfortable. 
In sum, it's pretty easy - the general rules for a successful birdbath are fresh water always present (never let it run dry or the birds will "un-learn" that it is a reliable source) and strict consistency in the immediate environment. 

Happy birding.
This was a curious sparrow social faux pas, because for some reason she had a tiny flower stuck to her tail feathers.  It didn't seem to fall off as she was flitting around, and she didn't seem to care about it.  Odd. 

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