Birding: The importance of water in winter

Birds enjoying a bird bath. (Courtesy)

Birds enjoying a bird bath. (Courtesy)

As the weeks pass by, and our weather continues to be unseasonably warm and dry, I can’t help but think how much we need precipitation in any form—rain or snow.

On a walk in Watson Woods earlier this week, everything looked so dry. Granite Creek looks more like a dry wash than a creek. When we have prolonged periods of drought conditions, I can’t help but think how hard it must be for all of the different forms of wildlife to find sufficient water to sustain themselves each day.

This past weekend, a customer who lives in Prescott Lakes sent me a picture of the bird activity at his bird bath—all of the birds look like they are really enjoying access to abundant, clean, open water!

I am having the same experience in my yard at our pond and waterfall. It almost seems like there is more activity around the water feature than there is in the bird feeding area.

Certainly birds get a lot of their water through the food they eat—especially insect eaters. However, this time of year we don’t have a lot of insect eaters compared to the number of seed-eating varieties of birds. Obviously, seeds have a very low moisture content, insufficient to meet the water needs of the birds.

Providing a source of water can be very simple, yet it can yield tremendous results in attracting a variety of birds to your yard, over and over again. In the attached picture, you will notice there are house finches, lesser goldfinches, and western bluebirds enjoying the same bird bath.

As dry as it has been, for as long as it has been, you are sure to attract a variety of water-loving birds to your yard with something as simple as a plastic tray that goes under a potted house plant. When it comes to water, most birds aren’t too picky.

General guidelines for putting out water include making sure the water is not too deep so bathing birds can touch the bottom of the bird bath. Also, consider using a bird bath heater to keep the water open and accessible to the birds in winter.

Speaking of water and birds—on Tuesday of this week, I stopped at Fain Park in Prescott Valley to see if I could see an America dipper. For the past week or two there have been daily rare-bird alert postings for this rare bird. In the twenty six years I have lived in Prescott, I have never seen one here.

The Sibley Guide to Birds states, “Uncommon along clear, fast-flowing mountain streams with lots of exposed rocks and logs alongside. Perches on rocks along streams and dives underwater for aquatic insect larvae.” The small ‘lake’ at Fain Park is certainly not the typical habitat for a dipper.

When I arrived it was before eight in the morning, and the bird was very easy to find. It was sitting on a small rock that breached the surface of the water, and I actually got to see it disappear down into the water only to reappear with an insect in its beak. I also got to hear it vocalize.

If you want to see the dipper, walk from the parking lot to the shoreline of the lake, take a right and head west over the long bridge. Then continue on the sidewalk to the western end of the lake where the water is shallow and there are rocks poking up out of the water. Good luck!

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.