Bath time for the birds: You can help them stay cool and clean
When people are hot and thirsty, they know that some water and cool shade will help them feel better. The same is true for birds, but because they can't just go in the house and get a glass of water, we need to help them a bit.
While we may think that a birdbath on a pedestal is the only way to go, that isn't true. The best reason to use a pedestal is if there are outdoor cats roaming about. The most natural source of water is on or near the ground, and that's what birds prefer, but without a running stream, how do we do that?
Use a shallow container — even a plastic saucer like kids use to slide on the snow — or the cover from a plastic garbage can will do. Birds do not like to bathe in deep water, so it should hold only a couple inches of water. Set the container on the ground or up on a cinder block if your dog thinks it's a new drinking dish for him.
Put a large rock in the container plus some gravel so that the bottom is not slippery. Birds don't like slippery bathtubs any more than you do. The rock provides a landing place and helps to keep the birdbath in place. A good-sized stick or two leaning against the container also gives your feathered friends a place to land and supplies a place to dry off and preen their feathers.
Situate your birdbath with two things in mind. Place it where you can see it from your patio or a window — part of the reason we like birds in our yard is so we can watch them — and put it in the shade, which will keep the water cooler and slow evaporation.
Also, put the bath where birds can have some protective cover nearby. This gives them a place to fly if they feel they are in danger and gives them a place from which to survey the situation and determine whether it's safe to approach the area.
Ideally, we would provide running water for the songbirds. Moving water sparkles in the light and attracts them. It also prevents mosquitoes from using the birdbath as a place to lay eggs. You could use a mister or dripper fastened to your hose (keep it turned on low). If you really get into this, you may want to use a recirculating pump built into a larger basin.
Leaves, feathers, twigs and other litter, plus bird droppings, will accumulate in the bath, so clean it with a brush or a strong stream of water every few days. This is especially important if you don't have moving water, as you don't want the mosquitoes using it for a hatchery. Besides, birds like to bathe in clean water.
If you become interested enough in this project that you want to make it usable all winter, check with bird supply stores about special heaters, solar-powered birdbaths and other options.
Coming up: Water conservation specialist Julie Smitherman will teach a class on sustainable irrigation practices from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 11. She'll cover the influence of soil types, drought-tolerant plants and more. The class, which costs $10, will be held at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Call 541-776-7371 to sign up.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.