The Birdbath

We recently discovered that a flock of finches is called a “charm of finches,” a factoid that seems completely in character for these pretty songsters. For the two years we’ve lived in this apartment, we’ve watched, and written about, the house finch population residing in the building across from us.

One observation we’ve made is that they are extremely skittish. Our balcony is visible from both my studio and our living room. If we make any move within either of those rooms while finches are on our balcony, they vamoose. So, in an attempt to encourage more, and longer, finch visits to our balcony, I became obsessed with the idea of a birdbath.

Many years ago when I lived in the mountains, I put a birdbath on my deck. It was used by mountain bluebirds, Cassin’s finches, juncoes, white-crowned sparrows and Stellar’s jays. The daily ablutions of all of these birds delighted me beyond all explanation. Although we live in the city now, I was determined to see if I could lure our neighborhood finches, or robins or crows or swallows to splash in my birdbath.

I haunted gift shops, garden centers, hardware stores, grocery stores, department stores — searching for the perfect birdbath. It had to be small, it had to be ceramic, and it had to be pretty. Other requirement were that it be shallow, and that there be a rim upon which birds could perch while drinking or fluffing their feathers after bathing.

There is a garden center about a 20-minute walk from our place. I go there every spring to buy herbs for my balcony garden. One warm morning in late May I was getting itchy to start planting and realized I needed a small, hand-held garden spade, and some herbs to plant. Car-free as we are, it is a nice walk through the neighborhoods to the garden center and whatever little plants I buy, I can easily carry home. As I cruised around the greenhouse enjoying the earthy smell and tempting flowering plants, I found myself in the yard ornament department and there it was… the perfect birdbath. It met all the requirements: small, shallow, ceramic, pretty, had a rim, and it was a good price. It didn’t seem very heavy and the bowl and pedestal were separate so I felt I could carry it home.

The BirdbathI paid the cashier, put my little spade and plants in the bowl, and braced it with one hand. The other hand, I wrapped around the pedestal base and started walking home. During my visit to the garden center, the air temperature had climbed to a sunny 85 degrees. It was high noon and as I put one foot in front of the other, the birdbath got heavier with every step I took. I had to stop frequently to put down my burden and rest. After a 20-minute walk turned into what felt like a forced march, I finally made it home, sweaty, thirsty and HOT.

Jim took one look at me and what I had done and just shook his head. But I had a birdbath and as exhausted as I was, I was happy. I filled the birdbath with water and positioned it in the corner of the balcony, up close to the railing where birds could perch just before diving in, and waited.

Truth be told, I have witnessed a bird in the bath only once, but I know they use it when I’m not watching. I find bird droppings on the railing and an occasional feather in the water so I know. The birds are just shy and don’t want to be watched so they bathe or drink quietly. Sometimes a male finch will sing his beautiful song while perched on the railing above the birdbath. I like to think he is telling his flock-mates all about how nice it is to have a spa in the neighborhood. I’m sure of it.

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