Thursday, 23 July 2009

Water for Wildlife

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Spring here was cooler and rainy-er than usual. But now it's July, and summer has finally arrived, with a vengeance. It's hot! And that means making doubly-sure that the outside creatures have enough water.

The chickens' water dishes stay cleaner and cooler under a shade structure, blocked in to ensure they can't tip them over by standing on the rim (thrifted stainless steel pans are easy to clean, and can stand up to pounding against frozen ground to dislodge ice in the wintertime).

But there are lots more creatures out there that also need water - from birds, to bees, and even bunnies. If the only water available is in the garden or chicken pen, that's where they'll go (and if there is no water, they'll eat your tomatoes as a source of moisture). But by providing water elsewhere, I can keep them out of the chicken feed and away from my vegetables (that's the plan, anyway).

I have a couple of large, shallow, concrete birdbath-like dishes out in the open on my property. They're heavy enough to be stable, and tough enough to withstand freezing weather. One is situated for easy viewing from kitchen and living room windows, under a pine tree and close to the lilacs to provide safe cover for wild birds. The other one is farther away from the house, out by the fruit trees. Set on the ground, they're accessible to all manner of wild creatures. The rough and gently-sloping sides provide bees the opportunity to drink safely (if you have a birdbath with slippery enameled or steep sides, put an irregularly-shaped rock inside to allow bees a way to climb out if they fall in - butterflies prefer seeping moisture, so here they drink from the soaker hoses).

My concrete dishes are heavy, but easily tipped to empty and rinse out each day. I like watching the wild birds splashing about, but don't want to take any chances with their feces transmitting avian flu to my own flock (another reason to keep them out of the chickens' water dishes). While the chance of migrating birds bringing the flu here is quite low, West Nile virus is much more common. Dumping the water out daily means disease-carrying mosquitoes never get the chance to breed.

Ready to make your own? With a bag of Quik-crete and a bucket, some sand, and a bit of water, it's easy to sand-cast your own concrete bird bath/water dish. Mine are rough and heavy-duty, built around a wire reinforced center. Or maybe you'd rather get creative and make something more decorative - perhaps add some pottery pieces to make a mosaic; or make one in the shape of a leaf, like this one from Garden Gate magazine (instructions here). Whatever you put out there, the wildlife will thank you.