Monday, August 6, 2012

Watering Holes Cool Local Critters

When public pools were first built during the WPA years, I am sure naysayers complained about  wasting water and effort.  However, in heat waves such as we have experienced this year, 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 our bird residents.

As heat built, wicking away available moisture, we put pans of water in shady places for our chickens.  I expected local birds to visit, but the crowds approach Disney visitor proportions.  These pools are a haven for adult birds parenting just fledged adolescents, which leads to funny scenes at the local “pool.”

Young robins with mottled coloring and spindly bodies remind me of 6th and 7th graders who have reached adult height but haven’t filled out. Their parents come to drink and groom circumspectly.  The young come for a drink and end up splashing half the water out of the container. 

Orioles behave more cautiously regardless of their age.  Mature birds and 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, focusing on the drink and skipping frivolity.

A flicker youngster and its mother refreshed themselves yesterday and discovered tasty insects in a nearby elm.  Watching mom teach her baby to search bark and pick out insects consumed at least 15 minutes of my morning. 

Mom successfully pecked gourmet delights out of the rough bark. However, her offspring hunted without victory until the mother regurgitated insect chunks into its wide open beak.  I imagine she will be glad when that full-size child finds its own dinner.

Raucous blue jays are a rowdy bunch at the water.  They never come one or two at a time.  A gang follows soon after the first jay lands on the dish’s edge.  It’s the equivalent of  neighborhood kids agreeing to meet at the pool at the same time.  Once the troublemakers arrive, even the chickens back off. 

These pretty but noisy birds are the equivalent of bullies who push and dunk everyone else.  By the time they finish splashing around, I have to rinse feathers out of the remaining water.

Ironically, one little visitor challenges the blue jays to the water.  We have a juvenile squirrel who sunbathes by the water pans.  He doesn’t mind 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 and jays splash, that little squirrel lays outside the dish, preening like he’s in the shower.  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 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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