Water for the Birds

By Sandra Tuszynska

The ideal situation for any creature, is to live in a safe home, protected from predators, the wind, the sun and the rain, and to have an abundant supply of water and food near their home. Water is a necessary for life and birds like most other creatures rely on a daily supply of water for survival. All animals require water and food near their home. Just like we like to have a water source in our homes, so do animals need a source of water near their homes.

Water is a scarce resource in many parts of Australia and without water animals are forced to relocate their homes in search for this essential resource. Often when they do find water, there is no housing to be found. As much as 20% of our wildlife requires tree hollows to nest in, and since most of our old growth trees with hollows have been cut down for agriculture, they have no homes to live and breed in. So our bird and other wild life is definitely facing a survival crisis.

Red-backed Fairy Wren and White-throated Honey-eater

Red-backed Fairy Wren and White-throated Honey-eater

Challenging Climate

I live in a very dry environment of south-west Queensland in a region called the South Burnett, located north-west of Brisbane. It is called the “peanut country” but there are lots of cattle farms here too. There is very little tree cover and this means a dry climate. It has become drier and drier over the years. Sometimes it does not rain at all for over six months. However, when it does, it often comes down all in one go, creating serious flood damage. Many farmers commit suicide as a result of crop failure due to droughts and floods in the South Burnett region of Australia.

Our Bird Life

Surprisingly, there is still an abundant variety of birds here and I love to watch them and photograph them. The songs of the Butcher Birds and Magpies are like no other, the Cockatoos, Currawongs and Kookaburras are often my wake up call. The Double-barred Finches cry like baby kittens. The Pardalotes are as friendly as can be and the White-throated Honey eaters are just a delight to look at and listen to. I’ve had a family of King Parrots visit as well for quite some time and they are friendly and come up very close, these beauties are not shy at all. The male decided to sit on my computer once, hoping to get some food, once he emptied the bird feeder.

Red-backed Fairy-wrens

Red-backed Fairy-wrens

The sounds of the birds are so soul enriching for me and seeing them close, brings me joy and hope for a better tomorrow. Watching birds fly shows me the potential for my own freedom. I wonder how other people relate to birds?

The Bird Bath

I had bought hanging bird baths that seem to spill out a lot of the water that I add to them, so I have decided to experiment. I had this old flower pot saucer or a drip plate, that I once got at a market, a simple, round piece of plastic. I drilled some holes in it and threaded some wire through it, hanging it on a tree. It is not ideal in terms of access for birds to the water in it, as it does not have a gentle slope which is said to be kinder for the birds. However, it has a rim, which the birds can stand on and then bend downwards to drink from the shallow saucer. The depth of this plate is about 7 cm, so birds can simply stand in and splash without the possibility of drowning.

Double-barred Finch and White-faced Honey-eater

Double-barred Finch and White-throated Honey-eater

The way that the saucer is hung causes it to tilt to one side especially with the weight of the water or due to strong winds. So I do have to adjust the wire once in a while to keep it even so the water does not spill out of it constantly. It is obviously a very imperfect construction, which requires a little bit of maintenance, once in a while. Its also not very beautiful to say the least, however the birds do not seem to mind.

The Reward

I had no expectations as to whether the saucer will attract birds, I certainly had some hope though. It took a while for the birds to discover it, but once they did, they started to come regularly to have a drink and a bath in it. A family of White-throated Honey-eaters were the first to discover this new source of water.

White-faced Honey-eaters

White-throated Honey-eaters

First they stood on the edge and tilted themselves to the water. It took a while for them to trust that they are safe, but eventually they started to plunge themselves in and quickly go back to the edge. Eventually they took more risks and splashed a bit and even stood in the plate. These beautiful Honey-eaters are one of the most common users of the bird bath. A whole family of Double-barred Finches began to use the bird bath regularly as well.

Double-barred finches

Double-barred finches. A family gettogether

More often than not I have witnessed the Honey-eaters and the Finches drinking communally, they are not afraid of each other. So I have captured some photos of these two species coexisting and sharing the same water source.

Honey-eater and Finch

Honey-eater and Finch, splashing together

In the first week of January, there had been some extremely hot days. It was above 45°C and during one of these hot days, I recorded quite a few bird species visiting the bird bath. A Friar Bird, a Pied Currawong, Double-barred Finches, Red-backed Fairy-wrens, White-throated Honey-eaters, a Striped Honey-eater and possibly an Olive-backed Oriole. All of these birds came to cool off in the bird bath. All the birds had their beaks open, panting, trying to regulate their body temperature.

I have noticed that once the White-throated Honey-eaters or the Double-barred Finches arrive at the bath, other birds often follow. I was lucky enough to photograph these two species along with the Red-backed Fairy-wrens.

Finches, Honey-eater and Fairy Wrens

Finches, Honey-eater and Fairy Wrens taking a splash

It is as if they are watching one another and learning from each other. They are very happy to share with one another. It is really heart opening to see two or three different species of birds coexist, side by side, drinking and splashing together in as little as about a 30 cm puddle of water.

Cleaning the Bird Bath

It seems that the birds are not very fastidious when it comes to the cleanliness of their water. They just seem grateful that it is there, if in fact it is there. When I went away to the Woodford Folk Festival for a week, I felt very sad upon my return, knowing that the water must have dried out quite early in the week due to the extreme heat we’ve had.

I clean the bird bath almost as often as I replenish it, but I do it only when I really feel to do it. The frequency depends largely on the weather and the amount of water in the bath. Stagnant water in hot weather does develop algal growth. I simply clean it with my hands and swish fresh water through it. It is not at all difficult or time consuming to clean or replenish the bird bath. It brings me much joy to give my little friends some of this precious resource that water is, especially in this dry, water deprived environment. These little creatures bring me so much joy, it is the least I can do for them.

The Moral of the Story

For me, the pleasure of having birds around is indescribable and I find that new species continue to arrive to the land I live on. Recently a new visitor has arrived, the Satin Flycatcher.

Satin Flycatcher, a new and rare vsitor

Satin Flycatcher, a new and rare visitor

Some are transient visitors, while others, have made this land their home. The first thing that any living creature requires to survive is water. I have discovered that providing my flying friends a bit of water, I get to see them close up and take photographs of them which is a great reward for me.

Future Plans

My plan is to also provide housing for my little friends. I am lucky, I have friends that create bird and other wildlife homes and I have had the pleasure to get involved in the creative process. Many birds, especially parrots, and animals such as sugar gliders and possums, need tree hollows to nest and breed in. Most of old, hollowed trees have been cut down for agriculture, which means that many animal species have no homes to live in , the same can be said for their food supply, they are thus threatened with extinction.

King Parrots require deep tree hollows to nest in, which are rare in our environment

King Parrots require deep tree hollows to nest in, which are rare in our environment

I love having animals around me and to know that they are out there, they fascinate me. For these reasons I hope to create more habitat for them on the land I live on, this means installing nesting boxes and planting species of plants that insects and animals can benefit from. It is easy and enjoyable to create habitats for animals and there are numerous resources available today to help our animal friends live comfortable lives. The rewards are priceless.

About Mt Gravatt Environment Group

Mt Gravatt Environment Group is restoring a unique piece of Australain native bushland only ten minutes from Brisbane CBD.
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One Response to Water for the Birds

  1. Jacqui says:

    Inspiring and ingenious!

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