Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Water Dish Swimming Hole

When public pools were first built during the WPA years, I am sure some naysayers complained about a waste of water and effort.  However, in heat waves such as we have experienced this year, sparkling, cool town pools draw young and old like a magnet draws iron filings.   On our hilltop, we’ve created the equivalent of the public pool for all our bird residents.

As the heat built, wicking away any moisture around, we put pans of water in shady places around the yard for our chickens.  I expected some local birds to visit and sip, but the crowds approach Disney proportions.  I suppose this has to do with the fact our section of Big Creek is nothing but dust, so these convenient pools are a haven for adult birds parenting just fledged adolescents.  This leads to some funny scenes at the local pool.

I recognize the young robins by their mottled colors and spindly bodies.  They remind me of 6th and 7th graders who have reached adult height but haven’t filled out yet. The parents, in general, come to the water pans to drink and groom circumspectly.  The young come for a drink and end up splashing half the water out of the container.  It’s like watching a water fight on steroids as they frolic.

Orioles react more cautiously regardless of their age.  Both the mature birds and the adolescents come to the water alert and prepared to flee at the least disturbance.  When young robins join them, the bright orioles leave immediately.

House finches and sparrows also tend to be businesslike in their drinking habits.  They focus on the drink and skip the frivolities.

A flicker youngster and its mother came in to refresh themselves yesterday and discovered tasty insects in the elm next to the water dish.  Watching the mom teach her baby to search the bark and pick out the insect consumed at least 15 minutes of my morning. 

The mom successfully pecked gourmet delights out of the rough bark. However, her offspring hunted without victory until the mother gave in and regurgitated insect chunks into its wide open beak.  I imagine she will be glad when that full size child can find its own dinner, and she gets to savor all her efforts.

Raucous blue jays are another rowdy bunch at the water.  They never seem to come in one or two at a time.  It seems like a gang arrives soon after the first jays lands on the edge of the dish.  I guess it’s the equivalent of a neighborhood of kids agreeing to meet at the pool at the same time.  Once the trouble makers arrive, even the chickens back off. 

These pretty but noisy birds are the equivalent of neighborhood bullies who push, and dunk everyone else.  By the time they finish their drinks and splashing around, I have to rinse their feathers out of the what water is left in the dish and refill it.

Ironically, one little visitor dares to challenge the blue jays to the water.  It isn’t a bird either.  We have juvenile squirrel who likes to sunbathe by the water pans.  He doesn’t seem to mind any of the other creatures who come in to drink as long as the family dog is inside the house.

No matter how wild and crazy the robins or the jays get in the water, that little squirrel lays outside the dish, preening under the splashes like he’s sitting under a sprinkler.  In between bird visits, he pulls himself up on the pan’s lip  to slurp a good drink.

While the water dishes aren’t permanent like a WPA pool, they serve much the same purpose in providing refreshment to the neighborhood.  The lady watching from inside an air-conditioned house gets plenty of entertainment as well.

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