Protecting Fauna and Habitat

Water in birds’ lives

As most of you know by now, six major avenues to making your yard (or other space) more bird friendly are to provide food, water, shelter, plus protection from toxins, from predators, and from window strikes. Water is perhaps the most important and beneficial of these needs, and one of the least costly, but one often overlooked here in the northwest; we always seem to have an abundance of water, so many bird lovers believe we don’t need to set out water for our local birds. That’s an unfortunate misconception, for our birds do need reliable water sources, especially during the summer and early fall. In addition, having a water source is probably the single best way to increase the variety of species frequenting your space, including species that feeders generally don’t attract—birds that don’t like seeds or are primarily insectivorous.

Birds, like most other terrestrial animals, need to drink to maintain adequate fluid levels in their bodies. Hatchlings, especially, need a lot of water, and frequently don’t get enough from their food, so parents must carry water to them, making numerous trips daily from water sources to the nest. To increase the water content of food, some birds, such as crows and ravens, commonly soak or “wash” food before feeding it to their young or eating it themselves. (Another reason that water attracts them.)

While everyone understands the need to consume water, we mammals may never have thought about the differences between avian and mammalian drinking. Since birds don’t sweat, they generally need to drink less water than mammals. But they do lose water when breathing, especially when panting to lose heat, and metabolic processes also use up water supplies. The mechanics of ingesting water also differ: with their soft, mobile lips and cheeks, mammals can suck up water and swallow it, but except for pigeons (who can suck up water), birds use one of two techniques. Most fill their beaks with water and then tilt their heads up so the water runs passively down their throats; those that frequently fly over water, such as swallows, scoop it up on the wing during a low pass.

Birds also need water for bathing; they bathe year-round, and during the summer may do so several times a day. Bathing seems to make preening more effective. Preening refers to the movements birds make when cleaning their feathers to remove dirt and parasites, distribute oils, and align the feathers and their barbs. Preening behaviors are common, and most birds preen several times a day. Most birds have a special gland, the preening or uropygial gland, that produces an oily, waxy substance that they spread as they preen; a few birds such as pigeons, owls, and raptors lack this gland and instead have special feathers that crumble into a powder that serves many of the functions of preening oil. Such preening powder doesn’t convey the same waterproofing benefits as oil, so birds that produce it are less likely to bathe in water than other birds. Research by Brilot and colleagues has shown that preening is more effective when preceded by bathing: birds who bathe before they preen are more agile when flying through an obstacle course than those who don’t bathe, and birds seem to be aware of this clumsiness: non-bathing birds are more reluctant to approach food in the presence of predator noises than cleaner birds, presumably because at some level they have less faith in their ability to escape danger.

Water bathing also helps birds keep cool. When they bathe, they lift their feathers so the water contacts their skin, and adding ice cubes to a bath makes the water a better cooling agent. Birds such as woodpeckers and nuthatches will fluff their feathers in the rain to expose their skin to the drizzle. In dry seasons, you can provide “rain” by setting up a mister, which may be attached to a water bath or be free-floating.

Bird baths aren’t all created equal. The best are shallow and have a ramp, or contain stones or pebbles so that birds can choose the depth at which to stand. Wet plastic, ceramic or metal can be slippery, so scuffing the surface or putting sand on it helps the birds have sure footing. Water baths must be cleaned and sanitized weekly with a 1:10 solution of bleach and water. If predators are a problem in your yard, make sure the baths are raised on a pedestal and are placed where there is little concealment for cats and other hunters.

Bathing is important enough to birds that some even take dust baths, some because they lack standing water puddles or preening oil, but many others— such as California quail, pheasants, thrushes, larks and wrens—prefer dust baths even when water is available. In fact, wrens and House Sparrows will follow up a water bath by immediately taking a dust bath. To attract birds and watch dust-bathing, provide a patch of bare, clean, very dry, fine-grained soil, preferably in a sunny spot, surrounded by brick or stones to help keep the loose soil in place. And as with water baths, raise the dust-bath off the ground and don’t place it too near shrubs that might conceal a predator.

Let me know how well your new bird baths work and what new species you attract! I can be reached at kgdolgin@nullowu.edu.

Maytown Conservation Fund

Oregon Spotted Frog – USFWS

BHAS is the Fund Manager (Capitol Land Trust is the Fund Administrator) for the Maytown Conservation Fund to monitor water quality and quantity and flora and fauna of interest (including Oregon Spotted Frog) on West Rocky Prairie, an 810-acre parcel in south Thurston County, adjacent to a gravel mining area. Using this Fund, which was provided in a settlement agreement, BHAS is working with WDFW, Northwest Land & Water, Center for Natural Lands Management, and Capitol Land Trust, on monitoring and restoration efforts. WDFW is currently seeking to acquire adjacent lands now owned by the Port of Tacoma.

Port of Olympia

BHAS is monitoring how incrementing expansion of the Olympia Airport by the Port of Olympia would impact the surrounding parks and conservation areas in the vicinity of the Airport. Millersylvania State Park, West Rocky Prairie, the Black River National Wildlife Refuge are all within five miles of the Airport, where flight patterns will persist; Glacier Heritage and Mima Mounds are within ten miles. Such impacts and possible effects on Thurston County farmlands near the airport should be addresseed in any Environmental Impact Statement. (Port of Olympia photo)

Marine Birds/Pacific Flyway/Forage Fish/Hydraulic Code:

Support increased study and better management of forage fish to benefit marine birds throughout the Pacific Flyway (Alaska to Mexico). Projects support conservation priorities of National Audubon and Audubon Washington. Monitor updating and implementation of the Hydraulic Code (WDFW), which regulates construction and other work in or near state waters to protect fish life, and track Pacific Marine Fisheries Council decisions.

Using Native Plants to Fight Climate Change

Click on pic to link to Audubon site.

As most of you know, the National Audubon Society considers climate change to be the number-one threat to birds; its scientists predict that global warming could result in the extinction or dramatic range-restriction of nearly half of North American birds by 2080. As birds in Western Washington face this danger, we are at risk of losing more than 40 species, such as Gadwalls, Hooded Mergansers, Northern Harriers, Varied Thrushes, and Brown Creepers. Most of the birds will decline due to loss of suitable summer habitat, although Red Crossbills and Black-headed Grosbeaks will primarily lose winter habitat.READ MORE

The Lake Lawrence Cell Tower Proposal: Onward to the Bird Surveys

On March 15, 2016, Black Hills Audubon Society (BHAS) supported an appeal of the proposed Lake Lawrence cell-phone tower at a hearing before the Thurston County Hearings Examiner. Due to the tower’s location next to waterfowl concentration areas and high potential for bird collisions with the tower, the Hearing Examiner remanded the proposal back to the County for further review. Verizon Wireless has now hired a contractor to study bird movements near the site; so instead of abandoning the proposed tower site and moving their tower to a less impactful location, Verizon insists that they can prove their tower will have no effects on local wildlife. Concerned about potential bias by Verizon’s contractor, the neighborhood group who appealed the tower has asked for Audubon’s assistance with bird surveys to have data in hand in the event of another appeal hearing.READ MORE

“FOR THE BIRDS” CLIMATE CHANGE INITIATIVE

20074377463_6ffebe7ddc_kBlack Hills Audubon has received a grant from National Audubon to implement a personal climate-and-sustainability challenge, named “For the Birds.” It’s an opportunity for all of us to participate by making changes in the way we live.

Participants are offered an extensive list of possible personal actions what would help address climate change and/or promote environmental sustainability. Brochures, bumper stickers, and other materials are available. To participate, click here.

Why does BHAS Care About Marbled Murrelets?

The Marbled Murrelet’s sensitivity to changes in both the forest and marine environments make it an “indicator” species for the health of these ecosystems. The dramatic declines in murrelet populations indicate other species of animals and plants are also threatened and in decline.

The Black Hills Audubon Society is also interested in the Marbled Murrelet because this bird nests in our “neighborhood.”

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