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#07-228 August 20, 2007

Help birds by providing much-needed source of water during summer heat

Birds need a fresh water source as much as humans during the heat of the summer, according to a wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Natural food sources such as seeds and insects may not provide all of the fluid birds need due to theAmerican Goldfinch at birdbath number of high heat days experienced in South Carolina recently, according to Laurel Barnhill, bird conservation coordinator with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"Most of the time birds get most of the water they need from food sources," Barnhill said. "But when it is SO hot they need more fluid than from food alone; and natural sources tend to be limiting and dried up this time of year. Water is a life requirement for birds, along with food and cover, and not just for drinking but for bathing also."

Barnhill said birds bathe primarily in two ways: in water or dust. The objective with either method is to clean themselves of ectoparasites, such as mites, lice and ticks. Sources can be as simple as a large shallow pan of water or as elaborate as a cascading water feature in your yard.

Traditional concrete birdbaths sold in garden shops make nice lawn ornaments, according to Barnhill, but they aren’t the best type for birds—they’re often too deep and are hard to clean. Also, they may crack during winter freezes. The best birdbaths mimic rain puddles, which are nature’s birdbaths, by being shallow basins with a slight slope so that birds can wade into the water. Look for one that is made of tough plastic that won’t break and is easily cleaned. You can make your own birdbath using a trashcan lid, saucer-type snow sled, shallow pan or old frying pan.

When deciding on location to place the birdbath, place it where you can observe from a distance and it is protected from wind, but in shade to limit evaporation and near escape cover. If cats are an issue in your neighborhood, be creative to make sure birds are not being lured into a trap, by suspending or placing water sources high off the ground.
Some Web sites to visit for more information on birdbaths are here (PDF file), here and here.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.

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