INSUFFICIENT WATER SOURCE WILL DETER WILDLIFE, by Larry Williams UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Fresh water is as essential to wildlife as it is for us. Wildlife needs water for drinking and bathing. Some species of wildlife such as toads and frogs require standing water during all or some parts of the year to complete their life cycle. A water source on one piece of property might be critical to all wildlife in the entire neighborhood.

Puddles, raindrops on leaves and dew on the grass provide much of the surface water used by wildlife. Foods that wildlife eats also are a source of water. Clean, fresh water might be scarcer than food. Insufficient water will force wildlife to avoid habitats that otherwise suit their needs.

Water must be in a form available to wildlife. Lakes, ponds or canals with steep sloping sides are useless to many animals. Small ponds and birdbaths are one of the best ways to provide water to wildlife. Not only are they of great value to wildlife but a pond or birdbath can also serve as a focal point in a landscape and provide hours of viewing enjoyment.

Birdbaths, or any watering station, should be placed so predators cannot sneak up on unsuspecting bathers. Placing the birdbath near bush cover provides protection as well as a perch for birds to preen themselves. However, beware. Low, dense shrubbery that is too close to a birdbath creates a perfect place for the neighborhood cat to ambush the birds.

As a rule of thumb, the lower the birdbath the more open space around it you need. Ground-level birdbaths should be at least 15 feet way from heavy cover while elevated birdbaths can be placed closer to cover.

Birds like birdbaths hat have textured surfaces. It provides better footing for them. If your birdbath has a smooth bottom, you can cover it with sand or pebbles. The depth of the water in the bath should be no deeper than 2 to 3 inches in the middle and the sides of the bath should have a  gentle slope.

Keep the bath clean. It may need to be cleaned about once a week because of algae that grows in the “bird-fertilized” water.

Butterflies require a special drinking station. They drink liquids through their proboscis, which is a long, hollow tube that is a sort of modified tongue. Butterflies cannot drink from freestanding water such as a birdbath. They gather at a damp, sunny spot, where they draw moisture from mud or sand, which is called “puddling.” It’s easy to make a watering station for butterflies. Fill a container with clean sand or soil, place it in the ground and fill it with water. Place a few rocks in the middle for landing pads.

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