Turds in the tub, and I'm talking about adults. Animals, that is.
It started when a large, ceramic Mexican bowl of mine didn't sell at Fine Consign. Instead of storing it for the summer and putting it back on sale this fall, I decided to turn it into a bird bath. Eugene's summer last year was a dry one, three solid months of no rain. Without a stream running through or near my property, I thought that setting out water would be a kindness for the animals (it is) and it might also draw more birds. Little did I know. However it's been a journey.
When I lived in Denver, the previous owners of that house had installed a great, heavy concrete birdbath in my backyard. It was all one piece, as immovable as a cemetery statue. It regularly filled with green slime, and I was forever scrubbing it out. Bird turds.
I guess they didn't get the message that you don't shit where you eat. Or sleep, a fact that gorillas didn't get either. At least gorilla poop makes them easier to track. Bird turds? Just makes their water harder to keep clean.
Back in 2013, the year I climbed Kilimanjaro, my outfitter had sent me down to the Selous to explore those remarkable lands. Untold acres of wild territory, full of every kind of animal, predator and herd. Guests stayed in Out of Africa-styled tents, with a private shower and toilet attached in the back. There was no roof.
On one hand, it's hard to express how incredible it feels to be taking a hot shower under the African sky, looking up at the Southern Cross, the sound of mating lions roaring in the near distance.
It's another to wake up every single day to fresh monkey poop in your shower, toilet, on the floor of your bathroom, in the sink. Water is scarce in these parts. I guess the monkeys are so excited they shit themselves.
I'd shit myself, too, if a lioness poked her head in my shower while I was busy shampooing.
But I digress.
Where was I? Oh. Bird turds. .
Still, the water in my Colorado lawn was used by the local deer, a hawk family, the owls and just about everything with wings and fur. As with much of the West, Colorado's extended droughts have meant that providing a trusted water source has been lifesaving for many kinds of animals whose natural sources have dried up. That experience convinced me to give it a try again, since the trails that criss-cross my home here in the southwest hills are animal highways.
Just up the rise from my house towards my wood pile was a flat piece of rock. There I settled the Mexican bowl, full of fresh water. And waited, expectantly. Chickadees gathered on the edge. The turkeys, always in search of what the birds had dropped and the squirrels upended from above, made use of it. But no bathing.
And it was getting a lot warmer.
As someone new to the birdbath experience, I had no idea that there were plenty of serious considerations. For example, the debris that regularly fell into the birdbath in Denver could have been harmful. Given the slime that formed, probably was harmful. This article explains how birdbath placement can be key:
Most birders assume that any bird bath is helpful, but in the wrong place, a bird bath can actually hurt birds. Positioned under a feeder or near a tree or bush that regularly sheds its leaves, a birdbath will soon fill with dirt and debris that can foster mold or bacteria growth that can cause disease. Bird baths too close to windows could lead to collisions and injuries, and a bird bath that is accessible to predators puts birds in harm's way whenever they drink or bathe.
Frankly, I had considered none of those things, but now they're obvious. So, I headed over to Wild Birds Unlimited on Willamette; that's a chain. I used them in Denver as well. The good news is that their offerings are both broad and deep. What I love about this store is that the owners are very well informed and take a lot of time to explain their products.
Like everything else, there is so very much to know, and way too many things to buy.
Two weeks ago I found a small, cast iron bird bath with the capacity of a large salad bowl. It has two metal birds positioned across from each other and is on a small stand, heavy enough so that it won't tip over. As the Mexican bowl wasn't working, this one I tried on the corner of my deck where the sun and dappled shade would dance on the surface.
Little did I know I just installed the Public Bathhouse for the neighborhood birds.
Within a day or so, there was a constant flow of birds to this tiny water source. Steller's Jays, what we used to call Canadian jays in Denver, would push out the chickadees, and all around the hillside other birds would wait their turns.
This past March I had filled in underneath my deck where sprinklers had washed part of the hillside away. Now so the local black cat, which loves to hunt in my yard, can't hide nearby and decimate the bird population. But I wasn't done.
I found myself looking for a larger bath for the jays so that the smaller birds could have their turns. Here in Eugene I found multiple sources. My landscaper, Rising Sun, sent me over to Roger's Garden in Springfield. This sprawling outfit was full of lawn decorations and water features as well as every kind of ornamental plant. While I didn't find the bird bath I was hoping for, I did locate a lot more trees I wanted in my yard, and had to skedaddle before I purchased an entire forest.
Mike, the landscaper, needs to do that kind of buying for me as he knows the sun patterns around my house and is a much better person to determine what will thrive and where and why. Still, Roger's has a dizzying array of offerings, nestled as it is on a cul-de-sac and away from heavy traffic. It's a fun exploration, but you might want to hold off on taking your credit card if you're an impulse buyer like I am.
Lane Forest Products, which is where I get my firewood, also has lawn and garden features. Their fountains tend to be on the high end. Their website features great tall columns of running water which the folks at Wild Birds told me would bring the birds in droves. I can't spring $700-800 for a bird bath, but I can manage about a quarter of that. So I kept looking. Meanwhile, the cast iron bath was being used like a Turkish bathhouse. Every morning I padded into my kitchen, turned on the light and saw that the bath had already been used multiple times before the sun had come up.
Why not get another? Alas, that was the last one. The Wild Bird folks had only one, and I owned it. So I kept searching. I had a spot in mind, where my deck adjoins a gazebo. There was a protected outlet inside the gazebo where I could plug in some kind of water feature, if I could just find one, and a corner of the deck which would provide a stable surface. Bird poop wouldn't be a problem as there's no garden there.
This past week I finally found the right mix. My local TJ Maxx Home Goods had a concrete column in one part of the store, which I recognized as a bird bath base. Thinking I'd probably find its match, I hefted it into my cart and kept walking. The bird bath itself, the bowl, was elsewhere, clearly having been misunderstood by whomever was taking care of the unpacking of the shipment. The two together were a strong, solid addition to the yard, was well as shallow enough not to swallow a swallow whole.Wild Birds had a small granite-looking bubbler fountain for fifty dollars which fit perfectly into the bowl. I wove the electrical line into my lattice work, and voila! I had a water feature.
That all the birds, but for the Steller's Jays, completely ignore. So far.
They prefer splashing around in the salad-bowl-sized bird bath, Goldilocks-style. It's the perfect size for a private bath, the birds can see if anything is coming their way, and they have the whole bowl to themselves, at least until a Steller's chases them off. I have noticed that a few Steller's have discovered the big bird bath, however, which the article above speaks to:
Use multiple bird baths in different locations to meet birds' different needs for bathing and drinking and attract even more species.
The Mexican bowl remains, as it's handy for the turkeys. That makes three water sources, which I have to keep replenished.
One final note: here in Eugene as with many other places, the summers are hotter. Any bird bath or water source that isn't shaded is likely to get hot. So while the article advises you not to place your water sources under trees, you still have to ensure that they are out of direct sunlight, or at least the water is moving through regularly so it can't get overheated. So, it's a bit of both.
My three water sources need regular replenishing, and they do collect debris. That's a small price to pay for the ongoing show that is a riot of colorful feathers, birds taking enthusiastic baths in protected spaces. As a newcomer to this part of the world, part of the untrammeled joy of settling in is finding ways to attract the local wildlife. Each week some new species shows up, like a sapsucker woodpecker to eat the suet, or an American goldfinch to take advantage of a cool dip.
As I settle into my home here in Eugene, one of the greatest gifts is to provide a safe place for birds to eat and bathe, while also decorating my yard. I have cleared out the blackberries, which, while an annoyance to me, provided safe nesting for them. In lieu of that, I have installed birdhouses. Not inhabited yet, but pretty.
It might take a while for those to be discovered, too, but for now, they sway gently in the breezes, and are occasionally inspected by curious squirrels in the market for a free lunch. Decorative.Not as decorative as the robins merrily spraying water onto my deck. Either way, for this new Oregonian, the journey to find the Just the Right Sized-Bath for picky birds has been a fun one.
Even if I do have to shovel a little shit out of the bathtub every so often.