My backyard fountain and the birds that come to it

I’ve been asked quite a lot about my fountain and pond (in Davis, California) and why it is so successful in attracting birds. Here are some, I think, key elements:

  • The first is the sound of falling water. Birds hear this and come to investigate. The pond is rather simple. It all begins with an amoeba-shaped pre-fabbed pond liner, about 18″ deep. A small electric pump and hose carries the water about 3 feet up, where I feed the hose through a knot-hole in a piece of wood. From there, it falls into a plastic garbage can lid, and then pours thru a small cut into another garbage can lid, and finally into the pond itself. Each fall creates more trickling sound. I’ve put a flexible pond liner under the “waterfall” so that any water that wicks under the garbage can lids still ends up in the pond. The two lid pools are 1-2″ deep for bathing. Finally, all this stuff is covered up with rocks and driftwood.
  • Second, it’s all about context. The pond is essentially in a green grotto with lots of vertical structure above it, meaning that birds can come into a high tree, descend to a medium tree, and descend again to a shrub near the fountain, and then finally into one of the pools.  They do serious recon about where they drink and bathe; an individual often takes several minutes to come in. I think the horizontal structure — what’s 15′ away from the pond, matters less than what’s above it; they come down from above.

  • At the same time, they need some visibility and escape corridors in case a cat or Cooper’s Hawk comes. I’ve trimmed all the bushes around it 18″ off the ground so any stalking cat will be clearly visible. A Cooper’s Hawk is largely thwarted by all the vegetation.

With all this cover, the pond is mostly in the shade. That’s good for controlling algae growth, but bad for taking photos. But in my experience a birdbath out in the open sun attracts only a few species. I have installed a couple iPhone holders so I can do some live video feeds (e.g. Facebook Live) of the birds coming in. I’ve also situated the pond so I get a clear view from my kitchen table, from right here as I type this on my laptop. My binoculars and camera are beside me in case anything interesting comes in.

Finally, there is the issue of my house, which has windows that birds can fly into. See this post about how to prevent birds from flying into your windows. 

I’ve recorded over 40 species using the pond. Here are some of them.

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Wilson’s Warblers

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Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warblers

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Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Nashville Warbler with a Western Tanager

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MacGillivray’s Warbler

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Black-throated Gray Warbler

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Yellow Warbler

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Orange-crowned Warbler

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Tennessee Warbler– this bird appeared while I was working from home on a conference call. Needless to say, I managed a photo.

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Western Tanager

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Black-headed Grosbeak with Wilson’s Warbler

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Varied Thrush

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An unusual strawberry blond Purple Finch in front of a regular one

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Hooded Oriole

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A White-crowned Sparrow defends a bathing spot from a Western Tanager

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Hermit Thrush, typically the last visitor of any winter evening

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Swainson’s Thrush

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American Robin and Cedar Waxwing

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intergrade Northern Flicker

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Spotted Towhee

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Slate-colored Junco

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Sooty Fox Sparrow in front of a Yellow-rumped Warbler

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One more Western Tanager

Not shown: Anna’s Hummingbird, Wild Turkey, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, California Scrub-Jay, Warbling Vireo, Northern Mockingbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bushtit, Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Warbler, House Finch, Cassin’s Finch, American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, California Towhee, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow… and probably some others.

 

2 thoughts on “My backyard fountain and the birds that come to it

  1. Pingback: My backyard fountain and the birds that come to it | The Cottonwood Post – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

  2. Lovely! We also have a backyard pond with waterfall, in mostly shade, and have used an infrared camera to get night shots of the critters who come. It is such a gift to be able to help wildlife!

    Like

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