Like humans, wild animals need water. They use it for drinking and bathing, and some animals live in water or need it for reproduction. Water is precious, even to tiny insects, on hot, dry days. In arid habitats, it’s an oasis that may save a life. Just about any stand of water in your yard, from a teeny puddle to a pond, will be used by one kind of animal or another. How to make water available is limited only by your imagination. Provide a reliable source, and you’ll soon notice lots of activity around it.
The marketplace is filled with beautiful and unique fountains, cascading water features and elaborately designed pond kits, but wildlife will also be satisfied with something as simple as a large saucer of always-fresh water.
Birdbaths are common in summer, but few people think of providing one in winter. Yet, a heated birdbath kept filled through the freezing temps of winter may be the only ready source of liquid water in your entire neighborhood. Heated ones maintain a temperature just above freezing, so they cost only pennies a day to use. If you had to make a choice, the winter birdbath would probably do more good than a summer one. (Note: Never add anti-freeze, it’s poisonous.)
Birdbaths should slope and be no more than 2 to 3 inches (5.1 to 7.6 cm) deep in the center; any deeper and smaller birds won’t use it for bathing. You can raise the bottom by adding a stone for birds to stand on. A flat, rough surface is best—it helps birds keep their footing. After dark, you might see raccoons, opossums and other climbing animals use it.
- Place it where you can watch the activity.
- Place it near a “staging” area. Birds like to approach from the safety of a nearby shrub or tree.
- Watch for cats. If they’re catching birds while they drink or bathe, move the birdbath to a spot where cats can’t hide nearby.
- Place it where it can be easily accessed for cleaning and filling.
- Consider a second birdbath to use on the ground (no pedestal) so rabbits and other non-climbers can use it.
Consider a pond
A pond, even a tiny, simple one, can be an interesting addition to your yard. It may also become a lifeline for certain animals: Frogs, toads, dragonflies and, of course, fish are among those that flourish in a pond environment. But, nearly all other wildlife will make use of it, too.
A pond doesn’t necessarily require a water pump for circulation. Frogs, for example, prefer still water—so long as it’s kept fresh—and will thrive among water plants.
If digging a pond isn’t for you, consider a whiskey half-barrel with a liner or a sizable ceramic flowerpot. They can be beautiful water features. DIY whiskey barrel pond video
Other water sources
Saucer of water: Set out a saucer containing water and pebbles. Make sure the pebbles aren’t completely submerged. Place it on a pedestal or table near nectar plants. Insects will appreciate it.
Mud puddle: Butterflies like to sip from puddles. All it takes is a small area of dirt or sand kept wet near your butterfly garden. A slowly dripping garden hose may be all you need to keep the puddle a puddle.
*Birdbath with female Northern Cardinal. (ehpien / Flickr; cc by-nc-nd 2.0)