Mesmerized by a Milk Jug


Deborah Rayfield, Indian Trail Master Naturalist

 Summer is not yet a distant memory. With days in the 90’s and sparse rain showers, people and animals are still suffering from the dry, dusty doldrums.  In an attempt to give the resident birds a bit of a break, I draped the water hose over a tree limb letting the still dripping hose spill into the bird bath. To my amazement, within the minute, a “new” bird appeared at the bath.  (A “new” bird to a birder is one that has not been seen before in person.)  A striking male lesser goldfinch was taking advantage of the cool bath having been lured in by the sound of dripping water.

Water is a magnet for birds. There is no need to purchase massive birdbaths or sophisticated contraptions to join in the fun.  In fact, birds are most attracted to shallow pools of water, less than 3 inches deep.  When one of the bowls to my numerous baths broke, I purchased a glazed 14” diameter pot saucer for a replacement.  It’s shallow, colorful, easy to clean and durable.

Leaving a hose to drip with water restrictions in place is not a good idea. Looking into store-bought solutions for a slow-dripping emitter was interesting, but costly. Maybe someday I will spring for the solid copper dragonfly sitting on the realistic but manmade rock, but not this day. So here’s what you do. Take note however, if you live in an area with a homeowner’s association, you might want to restrict this idea to the backyard – one with a tall fence.

Take a plastic, one-gallon milk jug with its cap and pierce a tiny hole near the center bottom with a pin. Pierce another tiny hole near the top, to let air into the jug. Insert a tiny screw in the bottom hole and the water will drip out at an excruciatingly slow pace. The birds will still investigate, but not linger. We had some drip irrigation tubing lying around, so next we stuck that in the bottom of the jug. The tubing was still connected to a drip emitter, but the drip was too fast. What to do?  Helpful husband sticks a wooden toothpick in the emitter. At a rate of one drip per second, the gallon jug will last for a couple of hours. Surprisingly, the toothpick is still holding up after a couple of weeks, no matter that a package of brand new slower drip emitters is sitting on the countertop.

It’s also helpful to hang this lovely jug from a shepherds’ hook instead of a tree limb. The hook should be positioned next to the bath so that wind does not interfere with the trajectory of the drip. At last, happy birds.

This afternoon, while sitting in my favorite rocker with a view to the birdbath, I witnessed another first from a birding perspective. A female cardinal was sitting at the water’s edge, seemingly mesmerized by the slow, refreshing drip. In the blink of an eye, a honey bee flew up beside her to take a drink. With a few bobs of the cardinal’s head, the honey bee disappeared. That sly cardinal didn’t even bother to take a sip afterwards to wash the buzzing bee down.



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