Earlier this week I was down in Phoenix, and it was 112 degrees outside. Fortunately, I love the heat, and this kind of weather doesn’t bother me at all. While in Phoenix I was seeing and hearing a variety of birds such as grackle, verdin, flycatcher, quail, dove and gnatcatcher. It is a marvel to think that all of these wild birds can endure such intense heat in such an arid habitat.
It is interesting to contemplate how wild birds historically got water before human settlers began providing water sources for birds in the form of bird baths, fountains, ponds and other man-made water sources.
The whole southwest region is in the midst of an extended period of drought. No doubt this pattern has repeated itself on numerous occasions over thousands of years, so we may ask, “How did birds get water during extended periods of hot, dry weather?”
In the Prescott area, we can easily go 60 days without any measurable precipitation. Down in the valley, it is possible to experience a span of 90 days without any measurable precipitation.
However, birds are resourceful. They exploit water sources wherever they can be found and in whatever form the water can be found. For example, think about your experience of driving down the road when a bug hits your windshield, producing a big ‘SPLAT’ as it makes impact. This experience illustrates how much water is in insects. This is one example of where birds get water – by eating insects.
Another source of water for wild birds is plants. Many species of birds eat buds, leaves, flower petals and other plant parts, extracting water from the vegetation they eat. This is particularly true of Gambel’s quail. Many a gardener in the Prescott area has experienced the frustration of quail plucking and eating freshly sprouted plants from his garden.
In summer, most bird species that are considered seed-eaters during the winter months change their diet to insects. There are several reasons for this change in diet. One reason is the fact that when adult birds are rearing their young, they do not feed them seeds. The moisture content in most seeds found in nature is very low. Baby birds in the nest have no way of getting a drink, so they get their water from the food their parents are bringing them – which is primarily insects.
Another reason wild birds switch their diet from seeds to insects in the spring and summer months is because of the profusion of insects available. In fall, when we start to experience freezing temperatures, the insect population crashes resulting in most insect-eating varieties of birds to migrate. Those species that don’t migrate switch their diet from insects back to seeds to get
through the winter months.
Providing a clean source of water is any easy and inexpensive way to attract birds to your yard – especially this year. It seems reasonable that our lack of winter and spring rains has reduced the natural food sources available to birds. More than ever, this year, the wild birds in your yard could use a helping hand.
This Saturday, Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott we will be hosting a book signing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Author Al Lodwick recently published a book titled “Highlights of the Highlands Center and Lynx Lake Area of Arizona, A Naturalist’s View.” Al is generously donating all of the proceeds from the sale of his book to the Highlands Center to provide scholarships for kids to attend camp programs at the center. I invite you to come by Saturday and pick up a copy of Al’s new book.
Until next week, Happy Birding!