Provide water for wildlife

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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. Provide water for wildlife and you’ll soon notice lots of activity around it. How to make water available is limited only by your imagination. Here are some tips.

Birdbaths for drinking and bathing

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.

Old metal pan used as a birdbath, with nine Starlings standing around the rim.

Any “ole thang” can be a birdbath, and this one’s even heated! Birds aren’t particular, as long as it holds fresh water. (Jon K. / Flickr; cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

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 one, is a worthwhile and visually appealing addition to a backyard wildlife habitat. Frogs, toads, dragonflies and, of course, fish are among those that flourish in a pond environment. Nearly all other wildlife will make use of it, too. A water pump isn’t necessary, but a gentle movement of the water will infuse oxygen into it while encouraging frogs, which prefer very little water movement, to tolerate it, too.

(© Olga Rutko / Shutterstock)



If digging a pond isn’t for you, consider a whiskey half-barrel with a liner or a sizable ceramic flowerpot with the holes plugged. DIY whiskey barrel pond video

Think small

Numerous butterflies, some colored yellow and others are brown, gathered at a mud puddle.

Butterflies drinking from a mudpuddle. (© Phrairan Jonglekha / Shutterstock)

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.

Saucer of water: Set out a saucer containing water and partially submerged pebbles. Place it on a pedestal or table near nectar plants. Insects will perch on the pebbles while they drink.

*Birdbath with female Northern Cardinal. (ehpien / Flickr; cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

More reading:

Moving water delights wildlife   
Why you should create a backyard wildlife habitat   

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