Beyond Your Backyard: Water for Wildlife

  House Finch taking a drink. (Photo by K. Epp)

House Finch taking a drink. (Photo by K. Epp)

Kimberly J. Epp.
We have entered a heat-wave here in Saskatchewan, but we aren't the only ones affected by it. Most creatures need water to survive, and it's even more important to have fresh water available during these hot summer days - as this water can mean the difference between life and death for many species. No matter where you live, you can help out even in a small way - from placing a simple dog bowl on the ground to putting out a bird bath or even a pond in the backyard. There's nothing better than watching the creatures take advantage of your hospitality. We really do have a wide array of urban wildlife here in Moose Jaw.

  Black-Capped Chickadee stopping for a drink. The "watering hole" is a busy spot! (Photo by K. Epp.)

Black-Capped Chickadee stopping for a drink. The "watering hole" is a busy spot! (Photo by K. Epp.)

Placing a dog dish in a shaded area on the ground will help lost or stray pets, and other animals (like rabbits) that cannot climb. I put a heavy double-sided ceramic dish out and fill half with rocks, giving bees and other insects (that can otherwise easily drown) a place to perch on. It is placed at the base of the tree, also giving the squirrels that live there easy access to the water. I also have a bird bath in proximity to the tree, near the bird feeders. It has rough stones on one end as well, for insects and small birds (like hummingbirds) to perch on. It's in the shade, and the placement near the tree is important, giving the birds a quick place to fly to.

Active bathing does attract other species, so the birds will not use a bath if they feel unsafe in it. They need a clear view of the surrounding area, and bushes or trees in near proximity. Next to food, nothing is more attractive to birds than a good, safe and shallow supply of water. Water is required in every season, but in summer birds need it even more. They drink it, bathe in it, and some even dunk their food in it. Last week, I watched a robin dunk her food in the bath before flying with it back to her nest. Within the period of an hour, I watched a Black-Capped Chickadee, House Finch, American Robin, Northern Flicker and Red-Breasted Nuthatch visit the bath.

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Whatever you choose to use for a bath, ensure your bird bath is not slippery or too deep. A shallow bath is preferred by birds for bathing. Concrete, stone or ceramic baths are the ideal ones, although they are more expensive. You can even buy a bird bath with a heater so that you can provide water in the winter then as well, and thus use it year-round. Ensure the water in your bird bath is replaced daily. Clean out any algae daily as well. Algae can make the bath, especially if it is a plastic one, slippery for the birds. You can also buy baths with fountains which are run from the power of the sun. Lastly, ensure the bath is in an area where you too can enjoy watching its visitors.

  Red Squirrel taking a sip of cool water in the heat. (Photo by Leslie Randall.)    Note that the water dish is placed in the shade and near the squirrel's tree - both important factors for a small mammal like this. Additional bowls can be put on the ground for other creatures like rabbits, amphibians or lost and stray pets

Red Squirrel taking a sip of cool water in the heat. (Photo by Leslie Randall.)

Note that the water dish is placed in the shade and near the squirrel's tree - both important factors for a small mammal like this. Additional bowls can be put on the ground for other creatures like rabbits, amphibians or lost and stray pets

I would love to see your photos as well. Post your "Water for Wildlife" photos along with any tips you would like to share with other readers below. It's going to be above 30 for several days yet, so please help out our furry, feathered, scaled and insect friends. No creature should ever have to go without water. We are, after all, in this thing called life together.
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Epp is an Environmental Educator and Writer and lives in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. She is also the President of the Moose Jaw Nature Society. She can be reached at kepp@shaw.ca.

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