Just like humans, wildlife need water. They use it for drinking and bathing, and some animals live in water or need it for reproduction. Water is precious to all wildlife, including 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 tiny puddle to a pond, will be used by one kind of animal or other. There are many ways to make water available, limited only by one’s 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 water in winter. A heated birdbath kept filled through the freezing cold of winter may be the only ready source of unfrozen water in your entire neighborhood. Heated birdbaths maintain a temperature just above freezing, so they only cost pennies a day to use. If you had to make a choice, the winter birdbath would probably do more good for wildlife than a summer one. (Never add anti-freeze to birdbath water, 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; too deep and smaller birds won’t enter the water. You can raise the bottom of a deep birdbath by placing a large flat-surfaced stone in it for birds to stand on. A rough surface is best; it helps birds keep their footing.
- 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 bathe, move the birdbath to a safer spot.
- Place it where you can easily access it for cleaning and filling.
- After dark, you might see raccoons, opossums and other climbing animals using it.
- Consider placing a second birdbath flat on the ground (no pedestal) so rabbits and other non-climbers can access 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 living among water plants.
If digging a pond isn’t for you, consider a whiskey half-barrel or a large ceramic flowerpot. They can become beautiful miniature ponds. 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. Butterflies and other insects will appreciate it.
Mud puddle — Butterflies 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)