The Allure of Moving Water

Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.  

~Lao Tzu

One of our refurbished pools has a small waterfall. Since the pool was dug on a slope, a waterfall seemed like a logical addition. Besides the aesthetic aspects, there is an added benefit of the sound of moving water, a soothing background element that we can hear from open windows or the screen porch. But one of the main reasons for creating the waterfall was to entice birds to drink and bathe in it. This is especially important in freezing weather when bird baths will ice over. And it is a magnet for a variety of birds, especially warblers, during migration. I’ve moved a lot of tall plants that were growing near that pool to maintain an open view from our house so I can keep tabs on what visits (this will be continuing process since plants often have a mind of their own about where they should be growing).

We can see the activity from the kitchen windows, the porch, and the sun room, places we tend to spend a lot of time in, especially in spring and summer. I thought I might set up a blind outside to try to photograph any birds that came in, but the lighting on the waterfall isn’t great for much of the day. It turns out that many of the birds that visit do so early and late in the day when the low light makes it even tougher to get a decent image. But one day, I looked out the side door and there was male Rose-breasted Grosbeak taking a bath on the large rock that hangs out above the pool. I grabbed a camera and took several shots through the door glass before it flew off (it had finished splashing around, but sat in the water and took several drinks). That convinced me to at least try to get some images, so now I have a tripod set up in the sun room with a telephoto lens pointing out at the waterfall. If I am going to be sitting in the room for any length of time, I crank open that window and hope for a visitor. The down side of that is the open window does provide occasional access to unwanted guests (usually insects of various sorts that I catch and release, although a wren did try to land on the lens one morning). Other times, the window is closed and, if we see something, I shoot through the glass (less than ideal for a sharp image). We left that screen out so I can at least get a quick shot.

Camera set up at the window (click photos to enlarge)

Here are some of the birds that have visited the past few weeks…

–A female American Goldfinch comes down to the top rock of the waterfall and gets a drink

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the bird that got me to try to photograph our waterfall visitors
Most of the resident yard birds, like this Tufted Titmouse, are regular visitors, especially if the usual bird baths are not filled or are occupied
The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are regular visitors to the waterfall. They often hover in the spray from the waterfall or sit in this location or on the orange-ish rock to the right and splash around. Unfortunately, they tend to come early in the morning before there is any appreciable light on the pool, making it very difficult to get a sharp image with the telephoto lens.
A female Northern Cardinal gets a drink. I have yet to see a male at the water. They seem to prefer the flower pot base bird bath over near the feeding station.
A female Brown-headed Cowbird stops by for a drink
A few of the birds, like American Goldfinches and this Carolina Wren, hang down off the rocks above to get a drink. Others, like in the next photo, usually stand at the edge (or in) the water and dip in for a drink from a more horizontal position
Yellow-rumped Warbler taking a sip from the large rock just above the main pool
The Yellow-rumped Warblers tend to come in waves
We have had a lot of Northern Parula Warblers near the pool the past couple of weeks
We were excited to see this Cape May Warbler in late April, as it is a new species for the property, giving us 112 species on our woodland bird list
A stunning visitor this week – a male Scarlet Tanager. Unfortunately, like several of the birds above, this was taken through glass instead of an open window, so the image is not as sharp. If I try to crank open the window once a bird is already at the pool, they usually fly off due to the motion

Note that we have seen several other waterfall visitors that I have not yet managed to photograph (did it really happen if you don’t get a photo?). They include Wood Thrush (including a male sitting on top of the waterfall one evening singing his beautiful flute-like song), Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Carolina Chickadee, Purple Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and some non-birds – Eastern Gray Squirrel, and Eastern Chipmunk. A few of the these warbler species landed on nearby twigs (like the goldfinch in the photo below) and were checking out the pool before getting chased off by another bird.

Male American Goldfinch (not yet in his full breeding plumage) on a Baptisia stem just above the pool

A lot of birds hesitate and sit and look at the pool before coming into the waterfall. It probably is a bit scary at first with all the rocks that could provide hiding places for predators. But once they have been a few times, they move right in. Looking forward to seeing what else might be attracted to the sound of moving water as the seasons pass and the vegetation around the pool matures. If you don’t have a wildlife pool with a waterfall, you can still get some moving water by placing a small solar-powered fountain in a bird bath or plastic tub. There are also a variety of drip hoses and fountains available at local bird stores for attracting birds. I once poked a small hole in the bottom of a plastic milk jug filled with water and hung it above a flower pot base to provide a slow drip for an hour or so before needing to be refilled. Whatever your method, I’m sure you will find that, just like us, birds have a hard time resisting the allure of moving water.

9 thoughts on “The Allure of Moving Water

  1. These waterfall photos are so sweet! thanks for sharing your backyard fountain and such a variety of birds!

  2. Loved the grosbeak and tanager photos! I don’t feed the birds, but we have a water feature with two waterfalls and a small pond. The birds LOVE it! Hope you see plenty more feathered friends in your yard. šŸ™‚

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