Bird baths in the drought

To: "Birding Aus" <>
Subject: Bird baths in the drought
From: "Bill Jolly" <>
Date: Sat, 1 Feb 2003 12:16:35 +1000
Keith Brandwood has been keeping records of which birds bathe and the method
they employ. When I sent him the list of birds we've had in our birdbaths
here, I became aware of how little I had been paying attention to which
birds were dipping, which immersing, or which only came down for a quick
drink. Now Keith has made me think about that, I'll watch more closely and
keep him up to date with what I find.

This is the fourth consecutive day that Plum-headed Finches have come to the
birdbath outside my office window. We've had a flock of sixty or so up and
down the creek and around the garden for the last week or so. They disperse
to feed in the creekbank vegetation or to or drink at the creek's edge,
spilling over into the 'garden' around the house, and just recently
discovering the birdbath. Every so often, they will unite in a loose but
compact flock to head to another part of the creek, or just to another part
of the garden - then they'll spread out again until the next communal
relocation. These small flocks in flight are very distinctively Plum-heads,
as is their chattering call which marks them out immediately from any of the
other finches hereabouts.

John Hadley dropped in for a yarn on Thursday morning, while one of these
Plumhead visitations was underway. We sat with a pot of coffee on the
verandah and didn't leave our chairs, except for the occasional look through
the scope. We fixed up the Middle East pretty well, and worked out how to
deal with quite a few social problems that are in need of attention, and in
the meantime saw 51 species of birds.

The bird bath was busy at intervals throughout, and we counted 20 species
that visited it during the morning. Pale-headed Rosellas made a half-hearted
attempt to get a drink, but they're always timid, and if so much as a Yellow
Thornbill turns to look at them they give up. When they do manage get to the
water, it's the culmination of a cautious progressive strategy. A quiet
approach to an empty bird bath, incremental moves from nearby branch, to
adjacent branch, to even more adjacent branch, all the while pausing for a
good look round before venturing on. When they do eventually get there, I
always feel like letting out a cheer, but I'm afraid of scaring them off.

At the other end of the scale, Lewin's Honeyeaters take over the bath
against all-comers, sharing it with only the most determined such as Brown
Honeyeaters and White-throated Honeyeaters (which usually arrive in

For the rest, the Double-barred, Zebra, and Red-browed Finches are all
regulars who bathe happily together, often along with Silvereyes, Yellow
Thornbills and Yellow-rumped Thornbills - and more recently Plum-heads.
Speckled Warblers are good mixers, usually arriving in twos, and Willie
Wagtails manage to occupy a lot of space for their size, with a
disproportionate amount of splashing compared with the others.

Bar-shouldered Doves, and Crested Pigeons are so much bigger than the
regular passerines that they usually take over completely when they come in.
Peaceful Doves come and go, daintily, but Spotted Turtle-doves (which we
don't see very often) have a tendency to camp in the bath, shutting
everything else out for as much as an hour at a time.

We've got four birdbaths around the garden, and I've run a poly hose to all
of them from a tap on the verandah. This makes topping-up a cinch, and I
think that's the secret. A dry birdbath is a forlorn sight, for me it's a
bit like that movie cliché of a screen-door on a run-down house flapping in
a hot dry wind. And it's so hard to top up whenever it's needed, even with
the very best of intentions, there are times when one just doesn't get round
to it, especially on cold mornings.

Bill Jolly

Lockyer Valley, Queensland.

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