Yard plantings are a very effective way to attract birds since they provide cover and food; birdseed can also be useful in moderation. For example our prized painted bunting is fond of white millet presented in a “jail bird” feeder where the seeds are surrounded by a wire mesh big enough for small birds to pass, but too small for large birds to enter. This keeps seed hogs such as grackles away from the feeder.
But providing a source of fresh water, especially a dripping water bath, is often the best way to attract birds to your backyard. In Florida we live on an island (Manasota Key) which has no surface fresh water other than occasional rain and morning dew; thus most yard birds need fresh drinking water. Since we installed two dripping water baths we regularly see birds coming to drink and also to bathe. The provision of fresh water is important because most typical passerine or perching birds do not have a salt gland (as do marine birds) or their kidneys are not able to concentrate their urine enough to derive free water from drinking sea water.
The dripping feeder allows birds two options. First many choose to drink directly from the drip. They may also decide to drink or take a bath in the bowl below. On a recent day we had a male painted bunting drinking at the drip, followed by a trio of beautiful warblers, the yellow-rumped, yellow-throated, and pine warbler all taking a bath. The pine warbler enjoyed a thorough soaking. Other birds came also, a male cardinal, a female red bellied woodpecker, and some common grackles. There were also a flock of goldfinches, palm warblers, a blue gray gnatcatcher, a blue headed vireo and a catbird.
You can purchase the equipment to set up a dripping water bath on line or at a birding outlet. Properly regulated the drip uses very little water and will provide a huge amount of pleasure in watching birds drinking and bathing at close range.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL, and Galax, VA