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Flyways and Byways
Add a steady water source to attract birds to your backyard

A Common Grackle stops by the birdbath in Jerry Uhlman's North Side backyard. Photo by Jerry Uhlman

May 20, 2017

One of the best ways to attract birds to your yard is to provide a steady water source. Birds appreciate water to slake thirst, but also to bathe and cool themselves on hot summer days.

A birdbath that you fill daily is a good, basic source. However, the sound and sight of trickling or dripping water is a powerful attraction to birds, and many backyard birders opt to add a device that drips or sprays water into their birdbath.

At its simplest, you can use a household container, like a half-gallon plastic milk or juice container, as an apparatus to hang over and drip into a birdbath. The refillable container should have a very small hole in the bottom and a handle for you to suspend it over your birdbath from a tree branch or shepherd’s crook.

Moving up the scale of efficiency and convenience, consider a drip device placed in your birdbath to maintain a constant and uninterrupted dripping motion that will certainly catch your birds’ attention. With this type of drip, a small curved pipette is placed in the birdbath and is connected by a long, thin rubber tube to an outside faucet. A valve controls the flow and interval of the water drip.

These drips are available as a kit that requires only a little assembly on your part, and can last for many years trouble-free. They are readily available at Richmond-area bird specialty stores.

Bob Schamerhorn, a local birder and professional photographer, has designed a water source, dubbed “The Bird Spa,” that blends natural beauty with mechanical ingenuity. His creation is made with backyard pond devices readily available at local hardware stores. You can place the spa wherever you want but it will require an electrical outlet to power a small pump. The size, shape and natural environment can be customized to complement your backyard.

Schamerhorn has attracted nearly 80 species to his own bird spa, which includes unusual ones such as Magnolia and Golden-winged warblers, flocks of Cedar Waxwings and a Brown Creeper.

One enthusiastic spa owner, Bon Air resident Naseem Reza who is an avid birder and photographer, raved about the fountain drip: “You can place it anywhere you want”, he said. “And I’ve had many more birds attracted to the dripping water, especially more warbler species.” This has given him many more opportunities to photograph songbirds up close as they drank and bathed.

The Bird Spa is a manageable do-it-yourself or handyman project with promise of attracting a greater variety of species to your backyard. Schamerhorn has written a booklet giving detailed instructions on how to build your own. It’s available at www.iphotobirds.com/TheBirdSpa/. His website presents beautiful photography of his many avian visitors.

No matter which technique you choose for your backyard, you’ll be amazed at the uptick of birdlife attracted by providing a steady and reliable water source.

Whether you’re already a purple martin enthusiast or, as a beginner, want to learn how to attract and care for a colony, an upcoming event should be on your calendar. The 23rd Annual Purple Martin Field Day will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., June 24, in Louisa County. Always entertaining and educational, the event features martin expert Lance Wood and his robust colony of nearly 140 nesting pairs. You can find details and directions at http://purplemartin fieldday.org/

Backyard birds to watch for during summer: Your resident backyard birds will be joined by noisy house wrens and Gray Catbirds as well as swallows and swifts overhead. Watch for a variety of songbirds that will stop here briefly before continuing north.

Foods to feed them: While backyard birds enjoy a high-energy seed mix, during breeding season those with hatchlings will also appreciate suet, peanut butter and fruit pieces.

Look for Jerry's "Flyways and Byways" articles listed at: www.richmond.com/life/home-garden/

Contact Jerry Uhlman at flyways@verizon.net

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