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Bird Baths

Summer tanager (Piranga rubra)
Summer tanager (Piranga rubra)

After a day of working in the field during the summer, nothing feels better than taking an ice-cold shower when you get home. I am sure birds feel the same way, which is why you might see them hanging out near water sources more frequently this time of year.


Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

With climate change and extractive industries negatively affecting our watersheds, resources become fewer and far between. Seasonal pools dry up faster, springs are disrupted, and significant rain events cause flash floods that erode channels and destabilize soil and the local habitat. At Borderlands Wildlife Preserve, two ponds and a series of wildlife drinkers provide necessary supplemental resources for all forms of wildlife to help mitigate the challenges caused by these large-scale changes to our landscapes. For birds, these water sources contribute to their health and well-being in a myriad of ways. 


Gray Hawk (Buteo plagiatus)
Gray Hawk (Buteo plagiatus)

Feathers are the defining characteristic of our flying friends, and many species spend hours caring for them each day to maintain their strength and structure. To keep their feathers in optimal condition, they preen and regularly bathe. Bathing helps them remove dust, dirt, and parasites that can accumulate on their feathers, which is crucial for maintaining the insulation and aerodynamics necessary for flying. They also provide a cooling effect. Wetting their feathers allows birds to regulate their body temperature more effectively, especially during these scorching summers.



Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) lands at a wildlife drinker.


Access to clean water is essential for birds to stay hydrated and healthy. While they can obtain some moisture from their food, having a reliable water source ensures they have enough to drink, especially in dry environments. This varies by species and diet. For example, birds that eat insects do not require as much pure water as those who strictly eat dry materials like seeds.


Two kissing common ravens (Corvus corax)
Two kissing common ravens (Corvus corax)

Access to resources is even more important during migration seasons when water features become crucial pit stops for birds traveling long distances. These features can significantly affect their ability to rest and refuel before continuing their journey. Because resources can be spatially sporadic, bird baths and drinkers often become social hubs where birds from different species gather. These interactions can include courtship displays, establishing dominance hierarchies, and simply socializing, which are all important behaviors for birds’ social development. 


Barn owl (Tyto alba)
Barn owl (Tyto alba)

By maintaining water sources and ensuring they are clean and filled and designed for species of all sizes, we contribute to bird conservation efforts. Like hummingbird feeders or native gardens, bird baths are a great way to support conservation right in your backyard. The National Wildlife Federation provides an in-depth article on what kind of water features to consider when making your space bird-friendly, which you can read here. Observing birds in our own spaces increases our awareness of their needs, challenges, and natural beauty, fostering a deeper connection with wildlife - all from the comfort of your porch.


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