This is now the longest continuous period of drought since 1976. The park’s paths are dusty, the grass is brown and crunchy underfoot, some of the trees are shedding leaves in an attempt to stop water-loss and the streams are shrinking.
Our birds will manage in the park; there is water in the pond and the streams and there are drinking troughs in neighbouring fields. In town, though, the garden birds will suffer if people don’t provide water for drinking and bathing.
If you have an ornamental bird bath in your garden, try to keep it full. Birds like to bathe and half a dozen starlings, splashing energetically, will use up a surprising amount of water. But a flowerpot saucer, balanced on top of the upturned flowerpot or a log, will do just as well; put a stone in the centre of the saucer to make a variety of perches, and if the saucer is plastic, put a layer of sand or gravel in the bottom for a secure footing.
Something as commonplace as an upturned dustbin lid, metal or plastic, propped level on bricks will also do. A couple of handfuls of washed gravel from the path, a largish stone from the garden and 7 – 8cm of water will make it just about perfect. Be inventive: try an old roasting tray or the lid of a discarded barbecue half full of gravel.
During weather like this birds will try to drink from water barrels or troughs and many drown. Cover such containers if you can but if you can’t, float a plank or a branch on the surface of the water: something to provide a safe landing place. Do the same for a steep sided pond or one in which the water level has fallen out of reach.
Birds will only use the water you put out if they feel safe. Make sure there is good visibility particularly as they bathe, with bushes or trees nearby where they can preen and tidy their feathers afterwards. Be aware that any noisy collection of small birds will eventually attract predators and take care not to provide cover for prowling cats.
Header picture: Mark Winterbourne (CC2.0)
Footer picture: Philip Halling (CC BY-SA 2.0)