BIRD WATCH: Water provides the action for bird activity

I HOPE EVERYONE reading this has a birdbath in their yard or in another spot where it can be observed on a regular basis. That’s where the action is right now.

This warm, dry summer has dried up many water sources wildlife would normally use. They are looking for other places where they can get a drink or, in the case of the birds, take a bath.

From the most expensive to the least expensive, birdbaths are popular right now.

To enjoy regular action, there are a few simple rules to follow. A shallow, sloping basin will be used by the most birds. Its variation in depth makes it possible for birds ranging in size from hummingbirds to robins feel comfortable about using it.

Many birdbaths on the market have nearly straight sides and a depth from 3 to 4 inches. That’s too deep for the smaller birds. It’s also more attractive to crows who like to dunk their food in water.

A place to preen after bathing should be near the bath so the birds don’t have to fly far to reach it. Navigating through the air with wet feathers is a little tricky.

It’s the time of year when surprises are to be expected in the bird population. Juvenile birds are learning where food sources are. Early migrants are wandering about enjoying these food sources, too. You never know who might drop in or who might get a quick drink or take a bath.

Earlier this week, that’s what took place in my yard and in the birdbath. A scruffy-looking black-throated gray warbler put in an appearance while I was deadheading spent flowers on a clematis.

We stared at each other for a moment, and then it was gone. The tattered plumage was an example of late summer molt. The birds are getting new plumage, and many look pretty rough due to feather loss.

Song sparrows have no tails, jays and robins are going bald, and everyone looks like they need some care.

While all this is going on, there is an urge among the birds to bathe. Both dust baths and water baths are popular right now. Some are even combined. A dip in the water after some vigorous dusting is popular.

A second black-throated gray warbler showed up in the birdbath. This adult was still in great-looking plumage, but it was feeding a strange-looking juvenile.

The small warbler had been the victim of cowbird parasitism. Its “child” was a cowbird baby and several times the size of the “parent.”

While the cowbird was in the bath, a Wilson’s warbler was waiting for a turn. Half a dozen juvenile house finches didn’t wait but just shouldered the cowbird to one side. A red-breasted nuthatch was also perched nearby waiting to bathe but not wanting to get in the middle of the action.

A Bewick’s wren joined the nuthatch, but it wasn’t having anything to do with the bath — not until the ruffians moved on. They soon departed, but another gang took over and they didn’t intimidate the wren.

A flock of tiny bushtits always makes watching the birdbath entertaining. They huddle together to shimmy and shake even before getting wet. Some must work up their courage to enter the water, but when they do, their enthusiasm knows no bounds.

All of this action took place within 15 or 20 minutes. Water is precious right now, and that is why I hope you have a source of it ready for some surprising visitors.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected].

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