I didn’t understand the appeal of bird-watching until I inadvertently created my own backyard bird sanctuary. I bought one of the little bamboo fountains we sell, along with a water bowl, to enhance the peaceful, easy feeling of my back patio. I love my little fountain! The sound of the falling water truly is calming and lovely. It enhances the incessant sound of the freeway nicely, the little splashes adding a melodic tinkle to the hum. (City living is convenient, but noisy!) 

fountain - Illustration by Helen KrayenhoffThe birds didn’t arrive right away. For years, my neighbor’s cat utilized my patio as an escape from its three French bulldog siblings, each more hyperactive than the last. When the neighbors moved to Portland, the cat and dogs moved, too, and that’s when the neighborhood birds moved in.  

The hummingbirds arrived first, sipping from the spout and dipping their tails and wings into the gently falling water. When larger birds started investigating the fountain, I added some river stones to the bowl to make different perches and pools. There’s now a shallow pool for the finches, chickadees, bushtits and kinglets, and a bigger pool for the towhees. The birds hop from the sides of the bowl into the pools, splash about vigorously, then hop back out to shake and shimmy themselves dry. It’s a hoot to watch! 

Then I scavenged some gnarled manzanita branches from a friend’s burn pile, and propped them in the potted Cestrum ‘Newellii’ and Pteris quadriaurita fern that live next to the fountain. The birds really like these perches. Once they land on a branch, they take a look around to make sure the coast is clear of predators (including the very territorial hummingbirds) before swooping down for a bath. The branches also provide a nice place for the birds to wipe off their wet beaks and fluff themselves dry. 

It’s not all bliss at the Spa d’Oiseaux. When the water is dirty, the bowl and stones get slimy and need to be washed. Aquatic plants like Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce) help keep the water clean, but the roots can get tangled in the pump. (I just learned you can wrap your pump in a piece of nylon stocking to prevent this and I look forward to seeing how it works). Bird poop collects at the bottom of the bowl (oh, those dirty birdies). I know it’s time to change the water when the birds stop drinking and bathing.  The fountain is a bit of work to maintain, but completely worth it given the sheer delight I take in watching the birds cavort in their spa. I keep meaning to go to the local pet supply shop to buy a fish tank net so I can scoop out the plant debris that falls in, but every time I get ready to leave, I hear another “cheep”, and the bird watching begins again…