Being highly developed mammals, we humans know that venturing into water without either sight of the bottom or an ability to swim is a recipe for disaster. Well, one of my earliest mistakes was thinking that birds somehow instinctively, surely, must have the same insight.
WRONG. So as the proud owner of a brand new multi-level cascading waterfall style fountain, I installed it in the bird room and switched on the pump. Great! Beautiful! My emerging diorama of an idyllic jungle scene complete with multiple bird species and water feature was taking shape nicely. And so it continued to do until a couple of months later the first casualty – a zebra finch (come to think of it, all the casualties that followed were zebra finches) – was found floating motionless on the surface of the pool below the waterfall.
Straight away I went out and bought some plastic mesh with which to cover the water. Since the water feature was a multi-level structure with the legs of each level standing in the next lower level, it was difficult to cover every inch of water because of the irregular shape of the exposed area. I got most of it covered – somewhat ruining the ‘natural’ look of the whole scene – and thought it would be fine and it was. For a few months.
The fact is, in an aviary every square centimeter will eventually be explored. Anything remotely dangerous will be found and messed with. Unfortunately, it took another couple of zebra finch deaths for me to really take this to heart. Each time one died I added more and more mesh and the already small uncovered areas became smaller until the whole water feature was pretty much covered in mesh. In the end I just didn’t want to have any risk at all so I got rid of the water feature entirely.
i) Baby birds who are at the weaning stage ie out of the nest but still learning to fly and eat by themselves are the most vulnerable to water feature death. They cannot control their flight properly yet so will easily dive straight into water without even meaning to during this period. DON’T have uncovered water features if you are breeding baby birds.
ii) Adult birds might cautiously have a go at wading into deep water, but the action of the water on their body works to effectively keep them
stuck to the surface of the water. Once they are in, they cannot raise themselves vertically high enough out of the water to let their wings generate the required lift to get them out of trouble. Exhaustion and death follow. Not nice.
iii) Bird baths are shallow for a reason. Birds must be able to stand in them. In general, don’t have water features deeper than that.