As development continues to consume natural and undeveloped areas of Charleston, it may be ever more important to provide food and habitat for birds and other wildlife in yards and other private open spaces.
And while many put up and fill bird feeders, install bird houses, and plant native bushes and trees for other food and shelter, some forget another crucial necessity for life: clean, fresh water.
“I’d say it’s one of the last things people think of,” says Danielle Motley, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Mount Pleasant. “And in times of drought, it (providing water) can be a matter of survival for birds.”
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that while birds can extract some moisture from food, most birds drink water every day and also rely on it for bathing, for cleaning, and preening feathers and removing parasites. Therefore, a dependable supply of fresh, clean water is attractive to most birds and will draw some which don’t eat seeds from feeders.
Further underscoring the importance of water for wildlife, both the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitats and Clemson Extension’s Certified Carolina Yard programs require a water source for wildlife.
Laurie Seese of Daniel Island can attest to how birds and other wildlife appreciate fresh water. She has more than a dozen basins scattered around her yard that draw dozens of species of birds, including an occasional hawk.
“Every one of them (the bird baths) are used,” says Seese, whose passion for birds was fostered by her mother and second-grade teacher, both avid birders.
Seese, who is 60 and retired, cleans and adds fresh water to the shallow basins on a daily basis.
She adds that the basins are used even more during extended dry periods, such as the two stretches that have taken place already this spring and summer.
Bird baths range from fancy fountains to flower pot basins and repurposed items that will hold about 2 inches of water.
Wendy Kelly works at Abide-A-While Garden Nursery in Mount Pleasant, which doesn’t sell fountains, but she has a special interest in birds and approaches bird baths with a creative bent, often finding old or decorative items to create one-of-kind basins.
“I don’t have a fountain. I don’t want something plugged in all the time and don’t want to run the water all the time, either. So I rigged up this drip thing with a bucket and a nail at the bottom of it. Water drips (down into a shallow basin) all the time. And the bucket also catches rain off the roof,” says Kelly, who lives on Isle of Palms.
Her most prized bird bath, however, is one that her daughter’s fourth-grade class made at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School in 2004 that Kelly bought at a school auction. All the students in the class put their fingerprints and their first names in small tiles, which run along the rim of the bird bath. Her daughter, Rigby Kelly, is now 19 and an art student in Boston.
Kelly adds that bird baths don’t have to be creative or complicated, just as long as they hold water no deeper than about 2 inches.
Hyams Garden and Accent Store on James Island sells a lot of bird baths and fountains, according to owner George Hyams.
Bird baths range from about $80 to $200, while bird-appropriate fountains range from $200 to $500.
“There are a lot of bird lovers out there, thank God,” says Hyams.
He adds, though, that birds “don’t like a lot of splashing” from fountains but are drawn by sounds of dripping or trickling. So those who want to draw birds simply need to turn down water output in fountains.
Hyams is a firm believer in getting sturdier, typically heavier, bird baths because other thirsty wildlife need to drink too and can tip over some baths.
Kim McManus of Hanahan has a two-tier fountain in her front garden that draws birds.
“We put in the fountain because I love the sound of gurgling water and we wanted to add a little bit of visual interest to our front yard, but I also liked the idea of providing a water source for the birds that frequent my feeders,” says McManus.
“The birds drink out of it, bathe in it and soak the peanuts from the feeder in it. I love watching them splash about in the deeper bottom tier. Mockingbirds and crows especially like to drink directly from the burbling top of the fountain.”
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.