Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Automatic Birdbath

In my retirement, I enjoy gardening and birdwatching, among other interests.

To make the gardening less work, I have installed two automatic watering systems. One, using 'soaker' hoses, waters all of the garden areas in the front yard and on the left side of the house. Another, a 'drip' system, waters the potted herb garden on the right side of the house and nearby potted flowers, and the flower boxes on the railings of the rear deck. These two systems use separate timers because they work so differently. For more info, see my Gardening Page (link in sidebar).

To make the birdwatching less work, I use bird feeders that hold a lot of seed, so they don't need refilling so often. And after a couple of years, I finally figured out how to fend off the squirrels and pigeons.

I also provide a birdbath, which the birds use for drinking and bathing -- and some species also use it to wash certain food items. The birdbath tends to collect drowned worms, loose feathers, bird poop, and stuff that falls from the trees. And the water level goes down, not so much from evaporation (it's in the shade), but from the birds splashing when they bathe. So the birdbath has needed cleaning and refilling every day -- that is, until I invented the Automatic Birdbath.

It started with an attempt to add a dripper to the birdbath. You can hang a container of water over the birdbath that drips, making a sound that attracts the birds. It also refills the birdbath when birds splash the water out. But it's another thing to refill, can get clogged, and doesn't usually drip all day.

I tried refilling the dripper by an extension from my herb garden drip system, but it just didn't work well. Then, following a suggestion from a fellow member of the GardenWeb Birdwatching Forum, I ran an independant drip line from an outside faucet to the birdbath.

Then, I thought, why not run another line (garden hose) off a timer to flush the birdbath automatically once a day? I previously used the garden hose to clean and refill the birdbath, and I found that a fan-shaped stream of water at just the right angle would sweep the birdbath clean, even emptying it. By setting the timer to 10 pm, I avoid scaring a bird to death by suddenly sweeping it off the birdbath! And leaving the birdbath nearly empty isn't a problem, because the dripper refills the birdbath by the next morning. For more details, click here.

The most frequent bird bather is the catbird. (Actually I have a pair, but I can't tell the male and female apart.) When I was makiing adjustments to the flush hose, the catbird watched eagerly nearby, scolding me for taking so long. As soon as I was done, the catbird hopped in, took a bath, then hopped down to the ground, and looked back up at the birdbath. I figured he was thinking "Wow! That felt good!" Sure enough, he flew back up and took another bath!

The catbirds think the birdbath is theirs, I'm sure. I estimate that they take at least half-a-dozen baths a day. One day, a blue jay took a bath and left. Then a robin takes his turn and leaves. Shortly afterward, Mama Cardinal shows up, but having a timid personality, she perches above the birdbath on the shepherd's crook, contemplating the situation first. Then both catbirds come at the same time, landing on opposite sides of the birdbath, ignoring the cardinal. They dance tentatively around -- "You first, dear." "No, you go first" "No, ladies first".. The cardinal gets nervous and leaves. One of the catbirds settles the issue by flying down to the ground. The other catbird starts bathing on the right side of the birdbath. Just then a house sparrow lands on the left edge and drinks a few sips, not flustered by the splashing on the right side. Then the catbird moves over to the left side and splashes water right in the sparrow's face! Needless to say, the sparrow didn't stay around for any more abuse. After that catbird left, the robin came back for another bath. But the catbird on the ground flew up and hovered a moment at the side of the birdbath, startling the robin, which flew away.


Anonymous said...

Hello, we went thru the same problem on a similar path, please chk see the small pix top left of home page. i would like very much to here from you.
thanks, mike

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jim.. 12 years on and your article is helping me help some Australian birds.