The recent wildfires throughout southeastern Australia have had tragic impacts on people and wildlife.
While the Macedon Ranges and its environs escaped devastation during these latest fires, our region’s sensitive natural habitats are still subject to chronic rising temperatures and declining rainfall, posing threats to long-established wildlife populations. In light of the immense damage suffered in neighbouring regions, protection of our own precious habitats is more vital than ever before.
Mindful of the need for wildlife to have access to fresh water, particularly over our harsh summer months, I set up a 10-litre birdbath three years ago in a clearing in a secluded part of our forest property at Cherokee.
Daily examinations of the birdbath each summer revealed that creatures were indeed consuming the water at a rate of approximately three to six litres per day; however, I had no idea of the numbers or varieties of animals using the birdbath.I had placed a hidden wildlife camera near the birdbath in the first fortnight of January 2020, following a spell of dry and hot weather. This infrared-equipped camera, triggered by motion, can take photos in both daylight and complete darkness.The results provided immediate insights into the high value of fresh water in our natural environment.
Over the course of the fortnight a consistent pattern of animal behaviour emerged.
Typically, each 24-hour day-night photographic session recorded: well over a dozen different species of birds; at least one echidna; at least two wombats; at least four kangaroos; and at least six wallabies. A timestamp on each photo demonstrated regular animal behaviours. For example, kangaroos visited the birdbath in large groups at dusk, whereas wallabies attended singly or in family groups throughout the day and night. This behaviour might support the intuition that kangaroos cover larger territories than wallabies, and therefore visit individual water sources less frequently.
Birds used the birdbath at all times of the day, and there were even several nighttime visits by a parrot and bassian thrush.
Wombats tended to take to the water soon after nightfall (between 9-10pm) and again between midnight and 2am. Echidnas visited the birdbath regularly, actually climbing into it for both daytime and nighttime swims.
There were also unique visitors, i.e. just one appearance over the entire fortnight, by a possum (phascogale?), which visited at 2.20am one night, as well as a frog.
Most animals visited the birdbath briefly, spending a few minutes drinking before heading off.
Most positively, the photos also provided evidence that pest animals were not benefiting from the birdbath. Despite photographing a fox on our property on two occasions at the end of December, there were no fox visits to the birdbath during the fortnight of the birdbath photographic shoot. Nor were there any visits by deer, which I sighted on our property for the first time on January 3.
How thirsty are animals on hot days compared to cooler, wet days? Amazingly, and despite the consistency of the animal visits throughout the fortnight in question, there were no visits to the birdbath (except for one honeyeater) on January 5-6 when steady drizzle blanketed the property, and no nighttime visits on January 14 in the wake of heavy evening rainfall.
In other words, it seems a broad cross-section of wildlife craves water during hot and dry conditions, but interest suddenly drops to zero when rains return.
On the basis of the above observations, I can only urge local residents to fill their birdbaths on hot days – you might be saving dozens of lives.
- By John Power