Birdbaths Attract Birds to Your Yard

Just like people, birds need clean, safe, reliable sources of water for drinking and bathing.

Putting a birdbath in your yard is an easy, affordable, and fun way for you to help birds and connect with nature.

While doing some reading for this post, I came across an Audubon article entitled Why Do Birds Matter? The first thought that popped into my head was “Well, birds matter because they are birds.”

The article consisted of a series of quotes from a wide range of bird enthusiasts and they covered the gamut on why birds are important. One of my favorites is this quote.

“Birds are the Fed Exes of the natural world. They bring nature to people, wherever we are, sitting on a front porch, hiking a backcountry trail, in a wheelchair sitting by a window. Birds are with us nearly always and as such, so is nature.”

—Jacqui Bonomo, Executive director, and vice president, Audubon Maryland-DC

Birds are beautiful, melodic, and inspiring. They give us a sense of place. Birds are fun to observe especially splashing around in a birdbath and chatting with their neighbors while perching on the rim or a nearby bush.

We, humans, are lucky beneficiaries of the critical and free services that birds perform like controlling insect pests, dispersing seeds, pollinating plants, organic fertilizing, and clearing up carcasses.

Birds deserve our help for no other reason than that they are fellow living creatures sharing a planet with us.

One of the things you can do to benefit birds is to put a birdbath in your yard and keep it clean and filled.

How does a Birdbath Benefit Birds?

Just like people, birds need clean, safe, reliable sources of water for drinking and bathing.

English House Sparrows Perched on Birdbath Rim
These two birds seem to think this simple birdbath is just fine. – Photo Credit iStock/win247

The puddles and other shallow water that birds use for drinking and bathing often dry up during the year so if birds find a consistently filled birdbath in your yard they will keep coming back. In dry and drought-stricken areas, a birdbath can be a life-saving oasis for a bird. When you see a bird splashing around in your birdbath, it may be having fun but it is also doing important feather and wing maintenance.

Although it is easy to keep a birdbath clean and filled with water, it does require a daily commitment.

A Word about Pesticides

The word pesticide is a general term covering a wide variety of poisons designed to kill insects, weeds, rodents, and funguses. These substances can harm and even kill people, animals, and plants.

Inviting birds into your yard with a birdbath means they will be hanging out in your trees and bushes, walking across your lawn (if you have one), and eating seeds and bugs they find while exploring or waiting for their turn at the birdbath. All these activities can expose birds to toxins if they are present in your yard.

Keeping your yard pesticide-free is good for everyone’s health including your kids, pets, and feathered visitors.

Tips for Setting up a Birdbath in Your Yard

When selecting and placing a birdbath, it is important to think like a bird.

American Goldfinch Perched on Birdbath Rim
“Really? This is way too deep. How am I supposed to get a drink or take a bath?” – Photo Credit iStock/Warren Price
Selection

Here are some things to keep in mind while shopping for a birdbath or perusing do-it-yourself ideas.

  • Material – a slightly rough surface helps birds with their footing. Make sure the material is suitable for your climate.
  • Shape – a flat wide basin with a graduated slope and a rim will serve birds of various sizes. Smaller birds can stick to the shallower section near the edge and larger birds can wade further into the middle. A rim gives the birds a place to perch while they are getting a drink or drying off.
  • Pedestal – if an outdoor cat lives at your house or wild animals visit regularly, raising the birdbath basin on a pedestal, stand, or table is important for the birds’ safety.
  • Accessories – automatic refilling pumps, deicers, and ripple creating devices are just a few of the items you can purchase to enhance your birdbath. Keep it simple.
Placement

Like in real estate, placing a birdbath is all about location, location.

  • Out in the Open – place your birdbath in an open area with a 360° view so birds can spot predators and easily escape if necessary.
  • Nearby Cover – select a location with shrubs, trees, or a fence nearby to provide birds with an easy and close place to fly to escape danger or dry off.
  • A Room with a View – for your own enjoyment situate your birdbath so you can see it from a window or sliding glass door. This will also help you remember to refill and clean it.
Maintenance

Maintaining a birdbath takes only a few minutes a day.

  • Clear Out – remove leaves and debris that fall into your birdbath. Sometimes birds bring and leave behind things like peanut shells or twigs. Bird poop is inevitable. An old broom works well for sweeping out water and debris.
  • Refill – keep your birdbath filled with fresh water each day to prevent mosquitoes from using it as a nursery and to keep birds coming back.
  • Clean – scrub your birdbath if it accumulates algae, moss, or a layer of slippery gunk.

Bird Social Media

Making your birdbath a premier destination in your neighborhood will ensure the birds who visit it will give you good reviews via the bird equivalent of social media.

Empty Birdbath Filled with Debris
This empty debris-filled birdbath will get poor reviews from visiting birds. – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Valerie Keyser

This excerpt from Erica Cirino’s Audubon article Why You Should Keep Your Birdbath Clean had me laughing out loud.

Birds don’t have their own version of Airbnb, but if they did, you can imagine the comments they might leave behind.

“The yard was lovely, with lots of seed and a relaxing vibe . . . until the Sharp-shinned Hawk arrived.” Or maybe: “Post advertised a beautiful, glistening birdbath, but when we got there, we found a mosquito-infested swamp bowl instead.”

A birdbath need not be expensive or complicated. The ideal birdbath is the one that consistently attracts birds and that you can easily keep refilled and clean.

Summer is a good time to set up a birdbath because it is hot and/or dry in many areas meaning that birds are looking for consistent water sources. Put a birdbath in your yard this weekend, fill it with water, and soon you will have birds splashing and singing right outside your window.

Featured Image at Top: Eastern Bluebirds Standing in a Birdbath – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Bonnie Taylor Barry

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Can Eating Ugly Fruits and Vegetables End Hunger and Food Waste?

Beauty is only skin deep is true for food, too.

Stopping food waste at the farm is a positive step towards ending hunger in the United States. Eating ugly fruits and vegetables is one way you can help.

Thinking about issues as far-reaching and multifaceted as hunger and food waste can be overwhelming. You may feel like you cannot do much about them. The thing is that even if a problem is huge and complex you can learn about a small aspect of it and then take action.

For this post, I chose eating ugly fruits and vegetables because I believe that our perception of what constitutes edible food influences our decisions all along the food chain.

This post provides a 30,000-foot look at hunger, food waste, and the environment so you can get a grip on the big picture. It also includes a section on food aesthetics and ideas about how you can participate in the ugly food movement.

For readers wanting more information, you can find links to reports, articles, and videos at the end of the post.

A 30,000-Foot Look at Hunger, Food Waste, and the Environment

I have a love hate relationship with data and statistics. Information is necessary for identifying problems, figuring out what is causing them, and measuring solutions to find out whether they are working or not. What worries me is that the people counted in statistics can too easily become just numbers in a database instead of living breathing people with lives and loved ones. Please keep this in mind as you review the information below.

Hunger

Over 42 million people in the United States live in a food-insecure household, which is government-speak for these people do not have enough food to eat on a regular basis. It is hard to get your arms around 42 million people (13% of our population), but chances are you know one or more of these 42 million people, even though you might not know they go hungry sometimes (one of these people could even be you).1

There are many reasons that people go hungry in the United States mostly having to do with not having enough money to buy healthy food or not having access to it or both. One part of the problem is that affordable fresh fruits and vegetables are not available and affordable for everyone.

Food Waste

The United States spends over $218 billion (yes, billion) growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten.Reducing food waste even 15% would be enough food to feed 25 million Americans.4

Farmers do not even harvest over 10 million tons of food a year.2 These fruits, vegetables, and other crops are left to rot in fields and orchards, fed to livestock animals, or sent to landfills. One in five fruits and vegetables do not get eaten, at least not by a human.3

Environment

Putting food on American tables eats up 10% of our total energy budget, uses 50% of our land, and gulps 80% of our freshwater, yet 40% of the food in the United States goes uneaten.4

Farmers apply tons of synthetic chemicals and toxins to food crops during all stages of growth including fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and a host of other substances intended to either promote growth or kill something. Land, air, and water pollution cause life and death problems like cancer in people, ocean dead zones, and bee colony collapse. 5, 6, 7

As you can see, these are serious and huge issues.

Next, let’s bite off a manageable chunk (pun intended) of the food waste problem that we can do something about.

Food Aesthetics – Picky, Picky

Your food selection criteria are highly influenced by the federal government and food distributors and retailers.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture issues voluntary food grade standards and most food distributors and retailers adhere to these standards even though they are not required to (in most cases).

These standards cover a wide variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products, and grains, both fresh and processed. The standards determine what are acceptable sizes, shapes, colors, and other attributes depending on what kind of food it is. The general idea is that standardizing food quality and appearance makes it easier to market food and provide customers with what they want.

Standards probably do make buying and selling food easier for everyone in the food system, except perhaps for farmers. Unfortunately, it also creates picky food shoppers and leads to mountains of edible food decomposing in fields and landfills across the country.

In all likelihood, you grew up eating these calibrated fruits and vegetables. I did. Today as you and I push our shopping carts around the produce section in our local grocery stores our learned preferences and biases influence our selections.

Faced with a scarred nectarine or a three-legged carrot we may frown and not actually view it as an edible piece of food. It is not our fault; after all, we received training from a powerful industry with a massive advertising budget.

Beauty is Only Skin Deep is True for People and Food

It is not easy to overcome automatically avoiding foods that do not match your preconceived notion of acceptable food appearance. Like changing any habit, it requires making a different choice repeatedly until it becomes routine.

Take a potato for instance. Once you peel, cook, and mash a potato it looks like mashed potatoes regardless of what the whole potato looked like at the store. If you consistently buy potatoes with odd-looking bumps, at some point they may just register as potatoes in your mind instead of imperfect potatoes.

Below are photos of some ugly carrots I bought. I sliced two for a snack and cut up a few to use in a stir-fry vegetable dish. Can you tell which of the ugly carrots I used?

Wider acceptance of so-called ugly fruits and vegetables could lead to several positive outcomes.

  • Farmers – harvesting ugly crops and selling them at discounted prices increases revenue and reduces food waste in the field.
  • Cooks and Chefs – buying and incorporating ugly food into recipes and menus reduces costs, builds market demand, and helps spread the word.
  • Food Shoppers – requesting and buying ugly produce builds market demand at the retail level making fresh fruits and vegetables more widely available and affordable.
  • Food Retailers – expanding offerings to include ugly food brings in additional revenue, creates goodwill, and reduces food waste.
  • Food Non-Profits – keeping more food in the system at a lower cost enables organizations to provide healthy and nutritious food for a larger number of hungry people.

Okay, sounds good, now what?

What Can You Do?

You have an opportunity to join the fledging ugly food movement in the United States and take part in reducing food waste and building market demand for ugly and affordable fruits and vegetables. Here are a few ideas to help you get you started.

  • Buy ugly produce when you can find it at the store or farmers market. Do not worry if you cannot bring yourself to buy a really weird looking fruit or vegetable, start with something easy like a curvy cucumber.
  • Ask the produce manager or store manager at your local grocery market if they have imperfect looking produce for sale and if not ask them to try stocking it.
  • Sign up for an ugly food box service that delivers to your home or workplace or that you can swing by and pick up. Keep it local.
  • Make a tasty dish using ugly produce and share your recipe and before and after pictures with your friends and family and on social media.
  • Volunteer to pick ugly crops donated by a farmer, pack boxes with ugly fruits and vegetables at a food bank, or help make meals with ugly produce at a shelter.

Your willingness to buy and eat ugly fruits and vegetables may not end hunger and food waste in the United States, but you can be part of the ripple that can turn into a wave of change.

You never know, you might begin to look at a bruised apple or a container of leftovers in a whole new light.

Featured Image at Top: Pile of Raw Ugly Carrots – Photo Credit Shutterstock/farbled

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References

  1. Food Security Status of U.S. Households in 2015, USDA Economic Research Service, 2016
  2. A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent, ReFed, 2016
  3. How Californians Are Fighting Food Waste on the Farm, at the Store and at Home, by Danny Jensen, KCET, 04/05/17
  4. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, by Dana Gunders, NRDC, 08/2012
  5. As Trump’s EPA Takes Shape, Here’s Your Pesticide Cheat Sheet, by Elizabeth Grossman, Civil Eats, 02/02/17
  6. “Dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is biggest ever, by Ian Hendy, The Conversation, 08/11/17
  7. Is America’s most common pesticide responsible for killing our bees?, Alison Moodie, The Guardian, 02/05/17

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