Some may think I am being frivolous in attributing human characteristics (aka anthropomorphism) to birds by suggesting that when splashing about, dunking and dipping, birds at our bird baths are enjoying themselves and having fun. Perhaps I need to be reminded that for birds (and everyone else), drinking and regulating body temperature are essential to survival, and it goes without saying that surviving is not about fun. And also, keeping feathers well-groomed improves a bird’s ability to fly, also essential to bird survival.
But hang on a bit. Even scientists have used the term “songs” to refer to the joined-up series of sounds that many birds make, rather than using the more neutral and scientific-sounding term,“vocalisations”. Could the term “birdsong” also be problematically anthropomorphic? After all, what sounds to us like singing could be more akin to birds f-bombing the neighbourhood and telling any potential rivals to “%&#*” out of their territory. Some birds even learn to copy other birdsongs and also copy sounds such as like car alarms and dogs barking, perhaps extending their defensive arsenal. (For more on so-called mimicry see vocal copying from Stanford Birds website at Stanford University.) So singing it probably ain’t, but that didn’t stop even scientists and birders (most charmingly) calling it birdsong
Birdsong is not just defensive. Song is used (usually by male birds) to attract potential mates. And, more than that, some breeding pairs even do call-and-response type duets. Make of that what you will!
But to return to the bird baths in a garden. In addition to birds avidly using them for meeting bodily needs, it is possible that in the process there are times when birds just wanna have fun.
To assist in this process, bird baths need to be shallow enough to be safe even for smaller birds (think in terms of providing an artificial puddle) and it can be helpful to place a small stone or pebble in the bath to assist birds, as well as insects, that get into trouble in the water. A bird bath should be in a place that is not too bushy so birds can spot any lurking danger, that is not too busy, and in a place where birds can approach safely. It is also nice to have nearby perching places so birds can check out their surroundings before taking the plunge. It’s best to have bird baths elevated to make it more difficult for predators to sneak up on birds that are preoccupied with bathing and drinking.
In our garden there are several bird baths. An old grindstone on the ground we filled with water to encourage frogs, but there are some birds that use it too, but most prefer the bird baths on pedestals.
This Olive thrush is particularly fond of drinking from the grindstone.
Providing safe watering places is an important part of creating a wildlife garden. And even if it can be argued that the birds aren’t really having fun, watching them at the bird baths is hugely enjoyable for us. But do have a birdbath in a quiet corner for those birds that prefer seclusion. I was delighted to see that one bird left a floating calling card. Or at least evidence of an efficient feather-restoring splash and dip. ★
Posted by Carol at letting nature back in