As the weather warms and days lengthen, it’s time to ensure your bird bath in an inviting spot for your local birdlife. Life and Environmental Sciences Researcher Grainne Cleary takes a dip into bird bath ethics.
Bird baths are a familiar sight in Kiwi gardens, but surprisingly little is known about the precise role they play in the lives of birds.
In a recent Bird Baths Study, it was revealed that bird baths are much more than just ornamental splash pools for feathered visitors. They’re also a site where animals socialise and intense rivalries play out.
Human choices – such as the design of the bird bath, where it is located and how often it is cleaned – can have a big impact on birds.
Bird Bath Design
Baths should be situated near plants so smaller birds can have refuge if they are disturbed. Stones or rocks in the centre of the bath can give smaller birds a place to perch while bathing.
Birds need to groom their feathers daily, so don’t assume they’re only visiting bird baths on hot summer days. Birds need baths in winter too.
The Bathing Bird Study also found that certain birds can act as bullies at baths and prevent other birds from using it by standing guard. This type of behaviour can be directed toward smaller and/or less aggressive birds so having a range of bath types (such as a pot or saucer on the ground, hanging bath or multiple elevated baths) in your garden will give all birds a place to drink and bathe.
Keep It Clean
Like all bathrooms, the garden bird bath needs regular cleaning. A dirty bath can spread disease and birds can be susceptible to infection where many species and individuals are congregated at communal watering stations. For example, infected birds can spread beak and feather disease to other parrots when they bathe and drink together.
Another risk is that birds will, in time, grow too dependent on bird baths or feeding stations. How might they cope if the food and water is withdrawn during certain periods or not adjusted to reflect the prevailing need of birds?
Can I Feed the Birds?
Many people enjoy providing food for birds as well as water. At this stage, we do not know whether this has a positive or negative effect on birds. Feeding of wild birds is an important activity for large numbers of people. For many, it is a significant way of connecting with nature.
This article was first published in The Conversation and is republished with permission.