The first day of summer – the longest day of the year – is just a week away. It is during the month of June that we long for rain, day after day, for weeks on end, with no hope or sign of rain. But we also know that our monsoon season is not far away. Hopefully the monsoon rains will be on schedule, and will bring an abundance of moisture to our area.
Plants and animals (birds included) have developed unique adaptations over eons of time to live in an arid and sometimes harsh environment where there are frequently extended periods of time with no measurable rainfall.
If my memory serves me right, the last time the Prescott area received precipitation was on Thursday, April 26. If we are lucky, the monsoons could start by Thursday, July 5, three weeks from today. That is 70 days between rainfalls!
How do wild birds survive during long periods of time when there is no measurable precipitation? In an urban environment, certainly they are benefited by sprinkler systems, birdbaths, fountains and ponds. But what about birds living in a truly wild, native habitat?
Most birds get the water they need for survival through the various food sources that they find in nature. Interestingly, most seed-eating bird species switch their diet from seeds to insects during the dry summer months. A diet high in insects contains enough water to sustain wild birds when there are no natural water sources available to them.
Another food source high in water content is plants. Many of the native birds living in our area eat leaves, flowers, buds and other parts of plants that contain a lot of water. And there are birds, such as hummingbirds and orioles, which drink nectar from flowering plants. This strategy provides them not only with the caloric benefit, but also the water they need.
Another question to ponder is how do baby birds get the water they need when they are sitting in the nest for several weeks? This time of year, it is not uncommon for daytime temperatures to get up into the 90s day after day. You know how much you need to drink if you spend a lot of time outside when the temperatures are in the 90s.
Think about baby wild birds enduring these temperatures, sitting in a nest unable to go and get water on their own. The way baby birds get water is through the foods that their parents bring them. This is one of the reasons why seed-eating birds switch their diet to insects during breeding season. Adult birds are not feeding their young dry seeds. Instead they are feeding them a diet rich in insects.
Every year I hear stories (this year I even received a poem from a customer) about ravens bringing food to birdbaths. Ravens take the food they have gathered to feed their babies, and put it in a birdbath to soak before retrieving the food and taking it to the nest! It is amazing how smart they are – they know their babies need water and they have a means of providing it.
This is a critical time of year to maintain water on a consistent basis, hopefully daily. If you don’t have a birdbath or some water source for wild birds, you might consider doing something to provide water for birds during the hot, dry summer months.