Planting Edmonds is a monthly column written by members of Edmonds Floretum Garden Club.
“Puddles to Ponds” is all about how to support wildlife by getting water into your yard. This article applies to you if you are a bird watcher, interested in backyard wildlife, concerned about species diversity, or simply like to listen to splashing water.
All outdoor creatures need water for sustenance, grooming, a place to cool down and drink (especially important for beneficial insects), and the cleaning of tasty morsels (think raccoons). When we encourage birds, we also help eliminate unwanted insects (think mosquitos). In search of the “why” of grooming I found that science hasn’t yet discerned how grooming in water improves the feathers of a bird. There is evidence that ungroomed birds fly more slowly, are less agile in flight, and are less willing to ignore predators when seeking water.
There are 2 basic types of water vessels: above-ground and at ground level. Above-ground vessels can hang on branches or railings or can sit on a stand and are commonly used by the birds on our feeders, such as finches and chickadees. Also consider adding dripping water. Many birds find the sight and sound of moving water irresistible. Ground-level vessels are best for creatures such as squirrels and quail; they are especially attracted to streams and ponds.
— Ease of keeping it filled
— Where to place the vessel(s)
— Size: from an inverted garbage can or pot saucer to a pond
— Stability: on a level site and heavy enough to be wind resistant
— Visibility: birds easily need two weeks to find a “bath.” Birds do not like being too exposed and do need perches to scan the horizon before approaching the bath, and predators need to be visible to the birds, but the creatures are fun to watch, so the water source needs to be visible to people.
— Cleanliness: a once-a-week cleaning is essential; daily is even better. Avoid siting the water under trees that shed, or under bird feeders where it can collect feces. With Nile Virus on the rise this becomes even more important.
— Material: don’t use slick, steep, or deep vessels. If using a slick material such as glass, place a few rocks in the bottom. Concrete is better and a shallow pitch is critical.
— Windows: Avoiding collisions is important and even the best decals or stencils have limited use. Site baths away from windows but either close enough for viewing or add a wildlife camera triggered by motion.
— Electric source: to heat a birdbath in winter when birds find water scarce
This brings us to the different designs of bird baths; please skip the garbage lid and saucer. These photos show a sampling of commercial small containers and circulating fountains.
If this has not convinced you that water is crucial to birds, the following photos show how adaptable the birds can be and how simple the water source.
Finally there is the large water feature — a pond and perhaps a waterfall.
Ponds can accommodate amphibians and fish, plus less-welcome mammals including raccoons. The raccoons can be rowdy thugs around water, eating fish, throwing around potted plants, taking a bite out of water hyacinths and tossing the rest, and generally reorganizing the structure. For prevention, make a part of the pond at least 3-4 feet deep, because they cannot swim, and steepen part of a side. But don’t make all the sides steep. A friend’s duck drowned when it could not take off or climb out. True story. Motion detectors coupled with a water-spraying system may help.
When considering building a pond, my best advice is to hire someone. After three years, including the use of a backhoe, the delivery of four tons of rock, innumerable wheelbarrow loads, scavenging for old carpet to line the liner and learning that a one-man rock does not apply to all men or women – all I can suggest is “hire someone.” The cleaning is another aspect that can take hours/days/weeks depending on sediment load, tree debris, and SIZE. Think small.
The types of plants, whether to include a bog along the pond margin, the hydraulic head, and the decision whether to include fish (native or exotic?) will consume your time but will also provide the means to a beautiful water feature, not to mention tantalizing sounds, especially during times when you can’t travel.
There are professional installers and cleaners and books beyond count if you want to know and do more. For encouraging amphibians, consider where they lay their eggs, under what conditions and where they spend their non-submersible stages of life.
Again – read , read, and read. And remember the first time you fell in love with the possibilities of water and land.
— By Mary Monfort
Mary Monfort is a well-known Edmonds gardener, certified native plant steward, and backyard wildlife specialist. She is an active member of multiple Northwest gardening organizations, helped establish the native plant demonstration garden, and has opened her own garden for the Edmonds in Bloom Garden Tour twice. In an earlier life she was a seismologist and helped build water trails. As an avid arts advocate, Mary has served on the Edmonds Art Commission and is currently on the board of the Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation. She manages the small EAFF gallery in the Frances Anderson center.
Love this. I have a Birdbath and every bird and creature plays there. I find that all of the birds use it. The Blue Jays of course being them haha really get into it! They usually deplete the water so I go with my hose and fill it again. I also find the racoons will get in the whole body and take a dip. I have a couple smaller ones on stakes and there the bees and wasps like to dip and take it drink it seems. They are cleaned and filled daily. The Bird Bath is cleaned twice a week but I do fill it almost every day to the top. Maybe depending on how man bathers I will top it off 3 times. I have the hose near so its simple. I love to watch them. The Hummingbirds really love it when I water on mist or light shower they fly thru it with glee! I have so much fun in my yard and so do all of the creatures. The Bunnies don’t seem to interested in water or maybe its the height. So I think I will recess a couple old bowls or something for them too. The sure have their fill of flowers .HA. They are sooooo cute. I haven’t seen any possums lately. I usually have at least three that come in at night every years. I don’t know where they went. Possums may not be so cute and fuzzy or feathered but they eat ticks, undesirable things and the seldom carry rabies and hurt no one. Very non aggressive. I think Possums get a bad rap.
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