Birds – Drinking And Bathing Fountains

Need of Water. — Water in large quantities is a necessity for bird life. Especially during hot weather do the birds require a large and constant supply, at a time when frequently the small pools or other common sources of supply may be entirely dry. In winter, snow may serve as a substitute; and in summer, dew and juicy food may furnish some of the necessary water; but these at best only partially provide the needed supply, which can be adequately furnished only by pools or streams, and more especially when the birds use the water for bathing as well as drinking.

During the dry part of the summer birds must often find it difficult to secure sufficient water, and this must be particularly true of young birds just learning to fly and unable to go on long journeys in search of water. To just what extent this is a factor in the mortality of birds, it is impossible to say, but that at times it may be a contributing factor there can be no doubt. The unusual places to which the birds have been observed to come for water indicate the straits to which they are at times driven.

In case one has a brook or pond near, there will not exist the need of furnishing drinking-fountains to save the birds from thirst ; but these natural drinking-places are often surrounded with shrubs or tall grasses which furnish a lurking-place for cats, so that a fountain may be so arranged as to be better protected from the birds’ enemies, and this will furnish opportunity for watching more closely the birds that come to it.

Essentials of Fountains. — The two essentials to be considered in providing fountains are the depth of water and the location of the fountain. The water should be very shallow. In most ornamental fountains the water is deep, and the sides so slippery that the birds are afraid to enter. The proper depth is about two inches in the deepest part, in the centre ; and from there it should gradually slope to about a half-inch at the edge. Care should also be taken that the edge of the fountain is of roughened material so that the birds will not slip.

Location.—In deciding upon the location, the important matter to consider is protection from cats. When the birds’ feathers are wet they fly with difficulty, and are easily caught. The fountain may be constructed in the ground, but if so, there should be no bushes near, from which skulking cats can jump out at the birds while they are bathing.

Fountains on Lawn. — In the illustration is shown the drinking-fountain on the lawn of Mr. C. D. Brown, of Rutherford, N. J. Mr. Brown writes of it : “All of the vegetation is contained in a portable wooden box six inches deep, and consists of hardy marsh perennials secured from the Hackensack Meadows. In spring the robins sometimes steal the mud for their nests so fast that the roots of the cat-tail, marsh-mallows, iris, foxtails, etc., are often exposed.” Of a similar one on his own place, Mr. Chapman says, in ” Bird-Lore,” that it met with the approval of most of the birds in the vicinity of his house and was patronized even by screech-owls. ” It is made of bricks and cement, and in crosssection resembles the appended diagram.

“Boards may be used to form partitions, which should be filled with earth. The plants introduced were sagittaria, iris, yellow pond-lily, wild rice, duckweed, and water-hyacinth. The pond is filled with a hose and is replenished as evaporation requires.”

A bird-bath on the grounds of Mrs. W. M. R. French, of Beverly Hills, Illinois, is described as follows by Mr. Robert W. Hegner in “Bird-Lore”: “A shallow hole was dug, two feet wide, three feet long, and eight inches deep. This was lined with small cobblestones laid in cement. The end away from the water-tap was made lower than the upper end, and the superfluous water ran down a slight incline to the roots of a large oak tree. Every day throughout the summer a swift stream of water was turned on from the garden hose, which effectually cleaned the tub and left a clear, cool supply for thirsty birds. Blue jays, catbirds, blue-birds, robins, and wrens at once took possession, and not only were visitors but built their nests in the trees and bushes about the yard.”

A large garden urn which stood on Mrs. French’s lawn also served as a bathing- and feeding-place for birds.

The following description of a bird-bath is furnished by Orpheus M. Schantz of Illinois :

” I dug a circular hole 20 inches deep by 33 inches in diameter in a corner of the lawn. I filled the hole to within about 8 inches of the top with cinders ; next I put in a couple of inches of coarse sand and cement, and on top of that another layer of fine sand and cement, which, in the absence of a trowel, I smoothed out with my hands. The finished bath is about 33 inches across, with a rim about 2 inches wide and about one inch below the level of the surrounding sod.

” When the bath is filled, the water in the centre is about three inches deep and slopes gradually to the rim.”

Pans for Fountains. —If one has the use of running water, there will be little trouble in providing a constant fresh supply. But simple and effective bird-baths may be made of almost any shallow receptacle, such as large flower-pot saucers, pans of various kinds, wash-boiler covers, etc. Sand and gravel should be placed in these, so as to give a range of depth of water from about a half-inch at the edge to about two in the centre. Or shelving rocks may be placed in the basin ; these would render easier the change of water, which should be renewed each day, and would furnish a standing place for the birds which is better than the smooth edge of the pan. These pans may be fastened in the crotch of a tree, or placed on a post or window-sill, high enough to be out of the reach of cats. It is preferable to place it where it will be somewhat shaded to prevent the water from getting too warm.

Dr. Hodge’s Fountain. — Dr. Hodge contributes the following description of his very successful and artistic fountain at Worcester. The fountain in the school-yard shown in the illustration is of the same type.

” The bird-fountain is the one great and perennial source of pleasure to ourselves and the birds. It draws all the birds within a radius of several blocks to our garden. Sometimes there will be 30 or 40 of several different species about the fountain, bathing or drinking or awaiting their turns. I have photographs which caught 8 within range of the focus at the same snap. If there was room for but one thing in my yard, it would have to be a bird-fountain. My fountain is constructed of the roughest rocks obtainable, laid up in Port-land cement so as to give deep chinks and holes wherever possible for the mosses, lichens, liver-worts, sundews, ferns, and all manner of wild flowers on and planted around it; that is, a columnar heap of weathered rocks, held firmly by cement, which either does not show, or is blackened by mixing with lampblack so as to be inconspicuous. It has a bowl, about six inches in diameter and an inch deep, into which the water leaps in a purling stream. This is about four feet from the ground. From this the water falls about a foot into the main bathing-bowl, about eighteen inches in diameter, built up with thin flat stones around the edge of a large flat stone. It is shallow at the edges all around and six inches deep in the centre, but is filled with sand and fine gravel, crushed stone, etc., so as not to be more than four inches deep in the centre. The water falls from this into a still larger pool which partially encircles the base of the fountain, and which is a foot deep in the middle and shallow at the edges. It can contain water-lilies, pitcher-plant, cat-tails, and arrow-wort, and is overhung by gentians and cardinal flower, ferns and iris, jack-in-the-pulpit and blood-root. It can all be arranged to have the music of running water with a very small stream.

” The idea as it has taken shape in my mind is to have a pile of natural rocks which hold pools of musical water, the whole set in a bosky dell of natural wild flowers to make the birds feel at home. A woodland spring is the type, in rocky ledges. True to nature throughout. Nothing produces the complete harmony birds, wild flowers, mosses, ferns, rocks, trees like the bosky-dell, woodland-spring idea. It is restful and beautiful enough to be the reason of its own being in and of itself, even if the birds do not add their charms.”

Floating Bath. — The author has seen the suggestion that floating basins may be placed in ponds where the conditions around the edge are such that the birds do not frequent them. This basin should be shallow and may be kept afloat by a wide wooden rim. No record has been found of the trial of a basin of this kind, so the author does not know how effective this would be.

As food kept out in the spring may be a means of inducing birds to nest in the neighborhood, so, too, drinking-fountains may help in bringing about the same results.

Visitors at Fountains.—The number of birds that visit a fountain during a season is very large. The number which will occupy bird-houses is comparatively small, limited by the natural nesting-habits of the birds; the number that may be attracted by winter feeding is larger, but still limited to those birds which have the ability to withstand our cold weather ; the number that may be attracted by fountains is still larger, there being the possibility of enticing birds from the three great groups of migrants, summer residents, and permanent residents. One observer reports that 69 different species of birds, many rare warblers and migrants among them, came in one season to drink from a basin on a suburban lawn.