Water Gardening for the Birds

I live about eight blocks from the ocean, just close enough to get a surprise visit from a shorebird now and then. And like many coastal California gardeners, I live with nonstop rain in winter and a drought in summer. That drought is accompanied by the chilly fog that rolls in off the Pacific, which makes the garden feel damp even when it hasn’t rained in months. Because of this, it’s always been hard for me to think about adding more water to my backyard. But it can be done.
One of my favorite tips comes from a gardener who also happens to be a frog expert. Her focus is on building amphibian habitat in her backyard, but what’s good for the frogs is good for the birds, too.
Find a container for your water—she uses recycled oak half-barrels, but a galvanized metal tub or a decorative stone basin would work as well—and situate it under a tree or near a fencepost. Fill it with water, and submerge a large stone to create an ‘island’ in the middle of your miniature pond. This allows an easy access point for a bird that just wants to take a sip. If you’re inclined to add a plant, check with a native plant nursery and find a marsh plant local to your community—maybe a native reed—that you can simply submerge in the water, pot and all.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But here’s the best part: to keep the water moving so that mosquitoes won’t be attracted, suspend a water bottle above the container and punch a tiny hole in the bottom. The drops falling into the pond will be just enough to keep the surface moving, and it’s easy to refill. I’ve also seen her suspend a wind chime above her miniature ponds so that the tail drags in the water. It takes only a slight breeze to move the wind chime and keep the water moving. It’s a small, simple solution, but you’ll be surprised at the response from wildlife.