Taking care of our feathered friends

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Gardeners are stewards of all things natural. When we garden and use environmentally friendly practices, we promote biodiversity, conserve resources and minimize harm to the Earth. We also can provide ecosystem services in our gardens.

You may have read this term in my columns before. What does it mean? Ecosystem services are the various benefits that an ecosystem provides to humans as well as the environment and all the living things around us. With some creativity and planning, we can transform our backyards into critical ecosystems that are part of the larger ecosystem where we live here in Louisiana.

Ecosystem services are categorized by their function. There are provision services such as food production, timber and wood products, and fiber production. There are regulating services that support and enhance environmental conditions. Plants can help with climate regulation and stabilization. They provide oxygen and filter pollutants, purifying water and the air. In coastal situations, plants offer flood and erosion control.

Another category of ecosystem services is supporting services that are essential for ecosystem health and sustainability. This includes nutrient cycling, or the recycling of organic matter; soil formation and fertility; biodiversity; and lastly, habitat for wildlife.

Many gardeners choose plants based on their ability to provide these types of services. With the drought we have experienced recently, it’s especially important that we consider how to support wildlife — including our feathered friends.

One of my fondest memories of gardening with my mother was her bird bath. My grandparents gave it as a wedding gift to my parents. My mother routinely and dutifully cleaned that bird bath and taught me to do the same.

Bird baths are an excellent addition to any landscape. In addition to enhancing the aesthetic of the garden, they attract a variety of bird species. They also promote bird health by providing clean water. Clean bird baths can help reduce the risk of diseases that can be transmitted through contaminated water sources.

They also encourage biodiversity by providing a reliable source of water. Bird baths can attract not only different bird species but also other wildlife, such as butterflies, bees and small mammals, creating a more biodiverse and vibrant garden ecosystem.

One recent question I received was about keeping bird baths free of contaminants while not harming the birds we are trying to care for. One thing that can help is placing the bird bath in an area that gets shade. This can help decrease the growth of algae that can be an issue during warm, sunny days. Algae photosynthesizes just like plants do, so by reducing the amount of sunlight, you will reduce the amount of algae able to grow in the bath. In addition, placing the bath in a shaded area can reduce the temperature of the water.

If you do have issues with algae in your bird baths, the LSU AgCenter’s assistant professor of agricultural water quality, M.P. Hayes, recommends removing water and cleaning the bath thoroughly with a mixture of equals parts of water and white vinegar. Avoid soaps and cleansers that can strip the essential oils off of bird feathers. The cleaning will remove any residual algae blooms to mitigate the issue moving forward.

If your bath contains a fountain, it is best to run clean water through the filtration system before adding water back to the fountain.

If the algae problem persists, it could be due to decaying plant foliage in fountain water, causing a dissolved oxygen imbalance; stagnant water in warm temperatures; or minerals or nutrients in water from things like bird droppings.

Routine bird bath cleaning will ensure that our feathered friends stay happy and healthy while providing joy to both the birds and the humans that observe them. In the summer, cleaning should be done once a week. There's something special about taking the time to savor the garden, the birds and other wildlife. It's yet another gift our gardens offer — a profound connection to our natural environment that shapes our sense of belonging and identity.

Several birds drinking from a bird bath.

Properly cleaned bird baths provide healthy drinking water for birds. LSU AgCenter file photo

Bird bath.

Place bird baths in shaded areas to keep water cool and to help reduce algae growth. LSU AgCenter file photo

Hawk sitting on a bird bath.

Observing birds can be a source of joy and wonder, and it provides an opportunity for birdwatching and wildlife appreciation. LSU AgCenter file photo

9/20/2023 7:09:53 PM
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