Water is for the birds in the middle of a brutal summer

The photo this week is of an American robin and cedar waxwings by Billy Vaughn.
The photo this week is of an American robin and cedar waxwings by Billy Vaughn.

The heat this summer has been brutal and now things are getting dry too. I have had a few scattered downpours at my house but the area really needs some prolonged rainfall.

At times like this providing water for our local birds can give a big boost to their well-being. I have been watching my AC condensation line which exits my home through a pipe in my brick exterior. There is a constant drip from it and the birds found it weeks ago.

American goldfinches are in constant flight to and from the water. Families of Carolina wrens, Northern cardinals, and Eastern bluebirds all vie for access to grab a sip. I have even spied hummingbirds zipping by to grab a midair sip.

It is well known that birds are attracted to the sound of running or dripping water. Water sources that produce sound generate way more activity than stagnant pools. When things get dry birds may have to travel greater distances to obtain moisture, thus making themselves more vulnerable to predators. If they have recently fledged young or young in the nest, leaving them for greater periods of time while finding a drink imperils them too.

Consider providing water for your local birds if you haven’t already. One simple way to get the dripping effect is to take a milk jug. Stick a pin hole in the bottom, and fill it with water. Hang it above a bowl or tray and wait for the action to begin. If you can’t do that just setting out a pan or bowl is fine, Just make sure to change it out every day. Birds have an annoying habit of dropping fecal sacs in pools of water.

Another thing to look for in midsummer is the transformation of adult Northern cardinals from fine plumage to a grotesque, prehistoric-looking creature. Many cardinals lose their head feathers this time of year, often resulting in a completely bald bird. Apparently the condition leaves the birds none the worse, and it doesn’t take too long for the feathers to return. It might even benefit them by keeping them a little cooler.

I am really getting antsy for some cooler air masses to start coming through. That will get the smaller land birds moving and kickstart fall migration for them.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com