Human Influence and Intervention

Human Influence and Intervention

A common addition to many bird-friendly yards with regularly stocked feeders and nest boxes is the provision of a bird table, which householders keep filled with fresh water.

Thirsty birds will benefit from a safe drinking spot, but that’s not the only benefit – watch for long enough, and you’re bound to catch sight of your feathered visitors taking a quick dip and using the water to clean and style their plumage.

Read on to learn just how valuable our role is in ensuring birds are able to preen their feathers effectively.

Coexisting with our Avian Neighbors

As important as food, water is vital for the health and well-being of birds, not only for hydration purposes but for grooming and preening each day to ensure their feathers are free from dirt and dust.

We can play our part to help ensure that birds have access to safe, clean water, whether that be by filling a bird bath in our own backyards, creating ponds or shallow pools as part of their habitats, or keeping streams, rivers and oceans free from pollution and litter.

In the modern world, humans have made their presence known in both positive and negative ways. Natural water sources may have been removed or polluted through construction or development. Busy shipping channels may contain discharges of oil or other waste products, meaning that seabirds’ feathers may come into contact with hazardous substances.

Ongoing environmental action helps to tackle these issues or to assist with clean-up activities after ecological disasters at sea. However, one of the simplest ways we can do our bit to provide birds with opportunities to preen safely and regularly is to provide shallow containers of fresh water, topped up with clean water daily, and keep them frost-free in winter.

A Tufted Titmouse - We can play our part to help ensure that birds have access to safe, clean water, whether that be by filling a bird bath in our own backyards

A Tufted Titmouse - We can play our part to help ensure that birds have access to safe, clean water, whether that be by filling a bird bath in our own backyards

Impact of Human Environments

Urban sprawl has led to the development of so-called concrete jungles across much of the world, with natural nesting and foraging opportunities in decline.

In centuries past, ponds, pools, rivers, lakes and water-filled ditches would have provided enough water to meet the preening needs of all birds.

Read on to learn more about the challenges birds face in the modern world in regard to keeping their feathers in perfect working order.

Urban Jungles and Feathered Residents

Many traditional bathing spots, such as backyard ponds, wetlands, streams and roadside ditches, have been lost to development with the spiralling construction of residential and industrial properties.

Many bird species have adapted well to living alongside humans, incorporating necessary and often extensive changes into their diet and nesting locations.

But there is often less choice available when it comes to accessing water. Water needs to be clean, safe and pollution-free, and it is vital on a daily basis to ensure that feathers are kept clean and free from dust particles.

Where backyard space is available, the addition of a bird bath can be extremely valuable. In city centers, the installation of fountains or small artificial ponds in parks or flower beds can make a huge positive difference.

Hazards and Hindrances

Stagnant ponds or littered waterways may not offer the healthiest or safest drinking opportunities to birds, and there is always a risk of birds drowning in uncovered drains or deep water butts.

Chemical spills or pesticides in run-off ditches are also not suitable for the daily cleansing needs of birds. When desperate, birds may rely on rainwater puddles or water that collects on leaves for their preening needs, and these may not be readily available, leading to poor health or ineffective flight.

Northern Thrushes - In city centers, the installation of fountains or small artificial ponds in parks or flower beds can make a huge positive difference

Northern Thrushes - In city centers, the installation of fountains or small artificial ponds in parks or flower beds can make a huge positive difference

Human-Made Bird Baths

Evidence exists of bird baths being in use as far back as Roman times when archaeological finds and artwork all point to the use of water bathing opportunities being provided specifically for birds in ancient times.

Read on to learn more about the evolution of bird baths and their popularity today.

A Sanctuary in the Backyard

Based on archaeological evidence, it’s possible that early Mediterranean cultures were the first to incorporate purpose-built bird baths into their properties, usually comprising a shallow depression at ground level topped up with water.

It wasn’t until the 1840s that bird baths began to be produced commercially, designed by a landscape gardening firm in Britain. Offering a safe basin of water for birds to drink and bathe in is greatly welcomed throughout the year and can help to attract a wide variety of birds to your yard.

Design, Location, and Safety

Today, bird baths have evolved into sophisticated constructions with a range of different styles and features. At one end of the scale, a simple shallow basin is sufficient to meet the basic preening needs of most birds.

The basin should be gradually deepened to an ideal depth of no greater than 2 inches to avoid the risk of drowning. A perching area is recommended, either around the rim or alternatively as a raised platform in the middle of the water.

Rather than submerging themselves under the water, birds simply need to dip their wings in and use the surface water to help groom their feathers. Many bird tables are positioned on pedestals or hanging from trees, offering safety from predation, e.g. attacks by domestic cats. Bird baths should be positioned with a clear view from all angles. Concrete, marble, copper or natural rock are all suitable materials.

More elaborate designs are available, including bird baths with fountains or solar mechanisms, which bring the bonus feature of running water, which is particularly attractive to many bird species. Heated bird baths and those with built-in deicing mechanisms are also useful additions to gardens during cold winter months to ensure access to water all year round.

European Robin - Rather than submerging themselves under the water, birds simply need to dip their wings in and use the surface water to help groom their feathers

European Robin - Rather than submerging themselves under the water, birds simply need to dip their wings in and use the surface water to help groom their feathers

Human Intervention in Preening

Occasionally, it is impossible for birds to clean or maintain their feathers without a little hands-on assistance from their human neighbors. We’ll be taking a look at when humans need to intervene directly to ensure that preening is effective, so please keep reading if you’d like to know more.

A Helping Hand

Birds caught up in environmental disaster zones, such as oil spills, are unable to clean their feathers well enough to rid of any polluting substances and return their plumage to a fit enough state to be able to fly.

Contaminated waters pose an enormous risk to the health of birds, with oils or chemicals coating their feathers and making their natural insulation and waterproofing abilities.

When feathers are soaked in oil, it adds additional weight to a bird’s body, impairing flight meaning that they may struggle to stay in the air. Similarly, birds may become entangled by litter or other debris in the water, meaning that they are unable to groom themselves or move freely to keep on top of their usual preening regimes. In such cases, human support is invaluable, and birds can die without swift intervention.

Volunteering and Activism

Wildlife rehabilitation centers offer a lifeline to birds that have been caught up in oil spills, with specially trained experts and volunteers helping to clean birds’ feathers and remove toxins from their skin. Quick action is vital, so if you see a bird in distress, covered in a potentially harmful substance, it should be reported to an environmental organization immediately.

Raising awareness of the dangers of pollution of waterways is another way to create awareness about preventing oil spills, the impact of human activities on the environment and responsible disposal of litter and other waste.

Birds rely on safe, clean water not only for drinking but as a crucial part of their daily survival, ensuring effective flight, avoiding predators and keeping themselves warm and dry.

Increased awareness of the dangers and encouraging more conservation-minded habits can help reduce oil pollution and its detrimental effects on the wildlife living nearby.

Wildlife rehabilitation centers offer a lifeline to birds that have been caught up in oil spills, with specially trained experts and volunteers helping to clean birds’ feathers and remove toxins from their skin

Wildlife rehabilitation centers offer a lifeline to birds that have been caught up in oil spills, with specially trained experts and volunteers helping to clean birds’ feathers and remove toxins from their skin

Encouraging Safe Bathing & Preening in Urban Areas

By taking an active role in providing safe bathing opportunities for birds, it’s possible to make a positive difference to the wildlife in your neighborhood. Read on to find out how.

Fostering a Harmonious Coexistence

Being mindful of the needs of our feathered neighbors is the key to a harmonious coexistence between humans and birds. Giving birds access to clean, safe drinking spots is a huge step in the right direction.

Birds that can enjoy the benefits of bathing regularly are able to keep their feathers coated with the necessary oils for smooth flight, insulation and waterproofing in wet weather.

Educating the Public

Promoting the importance of bird baths in backyards and access to natural pools, ponds, and lakes to birds in urban areas will go a long way towards raising public information about why birds need water as well as food.

Most people appreciate the benefits of providing well-stocked bird feeders in winter. Information campaigns that explain that water is vital not only for hydration purposes but for the wider survival and health of all birds could make a significant difference.

A Gadwall Duck stretching his wings in a tranquil lake

A Gadwall Duck stretching his wings in a tranquil lake

Future Implications

Increased urban development poses a risk of a worsening situation for birds in future decades. Having already lost vast stretches of natural habitats, including access to ponds, lakes and streams, their survival ultimately depends on our ability and willingness to supply fresh water to meet their bathing and hydration needs. Read on to find out how you can help.

Sustainable Practices and Their Impact

By increasing sustainable practices throughout communities, a ripple effect is created that will directly benefit birds and other wildlife species living there. Taking steps to actively make a neighborhood or your own backyard more bird-friendly is a direct action that will make a lasting difference.

Knowing more about the effects of pollutants, chemicals and plastics in our waterways and how these issues can affect birds in a wide variety of ways can help to eliminate unsafe behaviors and resolve challenges before they become too severe a risk. Understanding the impact of environmentally harmful practices can lead people to work towards creating safer, cleaner societies for all of us.

Future Research and Conservation Efforts

Despite birds’ innate abilities to survive and adapt to their surroundings, the availability of water is one issue that is non-negotiable. The provision of food and shelter are at the forefront of many conservationists’ minds, but water is also equally vital for hydration and health.

Preserving or restoring wetlands, keeping oceans and waterways free from oil spills and chemical pollution, and stopping the use of pesticides in watering crops that, in turn, may contaminate water sources are all important approaches to promoting the conservation of avian health.

A Black-tailed Godwit - The provision of food and shelter are at the forefront of many conservationists’ minds, but water is also equally vital for hydration and health

A Black-tailed Godwit - The provision of food and shelter are at the forefront of many conservationists’ minds, but water is also equally vital for hydration and health

Summary

It is certainly possible for birds to live alongside humans safely, with all of their nesting, feeding and preening needs met both naturally and with a helping hand from their human neighbors.

Highlighting the fact that the provision of clean water is just as crucial to survival as food and shelter may lead more households to add a shallow bird bath to their yard or garden, and to keep it regularly cleaned, topped up and free from ice. It’s a relatively simple action that can have a huge impact on the survival of urban birds.

Understanding the serious dangers of oil spills and the presence of other hazardous pollutants in the ocean or in rivers can also lead people to be more mindful of the challenges birds face in water that is unclean or contaminated.

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