Birding Column: Backyard Bathing Beauties

Mathew Tekulsky
The Birdman of BelAir
for National Geographic News
November 23, 2004

All birds need water to survive. They use water not only to drink but to bathe. Clean feathers allow birds to use their power of flight to forage for food, escape predators, and maybe just have some fun.

I have two birdbaths in my yard. One is across the pool, next to the lemon tree that looks out over the canyon. The other is across the side yard, only 20 feet (6 meters) away from my bird-watching blind inside the house.

From this vantage point I have photographed the scrub jay, mourning dove, California thrasher, and California towhee at the birdbath. The scrub jay drinks by lapping up the water and then tilting his head back in order to swallow, while the mourning dove dips his beak deep into the water and sips away.

But its when they're bathing that the true beauty of birds at a birdbath is revealed. Birds usually bathe by dipping their heads into the water first. Then they lower their abdomens into the water and start shaking. Water is flying everywhere, but the birds don't seem to care.

Afterward, the bird gathers itself and puffs out its feathers to help start the drying process. Then the bird usually flies off to a nearby perch to start preening.

If you keep your birdbath filled with water, eventually most of the birds in your yard will pay it a visit, either to drink or to bathe or for both purposes.

One day a California thrasher jumped up onto the birdbath, and I noticed that it had a feather stuck to its beak. The bird no doubt had picked up a California quail feather from the grassy area in the side yard, where I had sprinkled some mixed birdseed and where large numbers of quail were foraging at this time. Moments later, after taking a drink, the thrasher had extricated that feather from his beak. It was a very happy California thrasher.

I highly recommend keeping your birdbath both clean and filled with water. You never know what you'll see there.

Don't Miss a Discovery
Sign up for the free Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top news stories by e-mail.




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.