The Value of Water as a Bird Attractant

Our Florida location is on a barrier island (Manasota Key) only a short distance from the mainland, but a very dry location in terms of freshwater for critters to drink. The "soil" is basically sand with a maximum elevation of about 11 feet, and there are no natural ponds, except of course for sea water in the mangroves and beach areas. Since no typical terrestrial birds can drink sea water (it is about three times the salt concentration of their blood), non-sea birds must find their drinking water elsewhere, and thus be limited in their occurrence here, or get it from their food (seeds are very dry, but animal prey or fruit contain more water- a help but not generally enough). There is brackish water below the soil surface of the island- depending on recent rainfall, available to trees but not to most animals. Thus we have found that putting out fresh water in bird baths is very attractive to a wide variety of birds, including some that you might not expect to visit. For example yesterday I looked out the back window and saw a Cooper's hawk in one of our three bird baths (see photo)! This was a huge treat since these hawks are not generally that easy to study up close and personal.

So put out a water bath, preferably with a drip but OK if not, as long as you refill and clean it periodically, and watch for interesting visitors. Try putting out several baths in locations that differ in the amount of cover, and distance from your house.

Bill Dunson
Englewood, FL & Galax, VA