Becoming a Natural Neighbor: Creating Water Sources

Water is a vital and attractive resource for a variety of wildlife and thus a powerful element to include in backyard habitat. This is especially apparent when water is scarce during periods of drought – such as the Vineyard has experienced in several recent summers, including this one – or in the winter, when sub-freezing temperatures turn water to ice. Water features do not need to be large to have an impact. You can start small with a birdbath or explore the possibilities of designing a pond. Over the past winter, we had a Natural Neighbor share images of robins enjoying her birdbath. This summer, a participant undertook construction of a pond. Read on to hear more about their experiences and the joy it brought them to observe how their water resources supported wildlife.  

Accounts From Natural Neighbor Participants

Year-round Birdbath

If you are interested in increasing bird diversity at your home, establish a perpetual water supply. Last fall, we visited with Kelly McCausland and suggested she install a winter water feature. Kelly, who did not need much convincing, bought an all-in-one heated birdbath.  Almost instantly, her birdbath was frequented by many birds, including flocks of robins.  

Natural Neighbor Kelly McCausland’s winter birdbath visited by Robins

In following up with Kelly in the spring, this is what she had to say about installing her new water feature:

“We totally enjoy watching a variety of birds visit our heated bird bath in the winter. The birds bring life, color, and the hope of spring during those cold winter days. It was the easiest backyard water feature to set up. All that was needed was an outdoor outlet and an outdoor extension cord. I can’t wait to get it going again this winter to see which birds visit!”

Freshwater pond

If you already have a birdbath but want to undertake a larger project, you might consider a pond. In addition to providing water, ponds allow for creative designs with native plants and help bolster habitat and promote biodiversity. One of our biggest recommendations is to have a pond without fish: the idea of having fish may be appealing, but most fish are predators, and their presence will dramatically limit the ability of your pond to support breeding amphibians eggs, dragonflies, and other species with aquatic life stages. Location is also very important with ponds. They are best suited for areas that allow for safe movement of wildlife to and from the water source. For instance, you would not want to build a pond next to a busy street.

The view from Mary Jane’s porch looking towards the pond

Last summer, we visited with Mary Jane Aldrich-Moodie on her quarter-lot in Oak Bluffs.  We encouraged her to act on her vision of creating a small brook that would flow into a pond basin.  She positioned the pond so that it was viewable from the deck and could be a focal point of the backyard.  Mary Jane was kind enough to share her experiences in this endeavor with a step-by-step guide.

 

 

 

 

1. Thoughtfully consider what you want and where to put it

    • Mary Jane knew she wanted a stream, and the significant elevation change in her yard was conducive to that vision.
    • From her research, she found that a frequent regret of pond makers is actually that they build too small.

 

2. Measure the area and price out necessary materials

    • She used a combination of preformed units and liners for the stream and collecting pool.
    • The most expensive component was a submersible solar-powered pump, an essential piece to circulate water and deter mosquitoes. Solar-powered pumps are a useful alternative to running an electrical cord or cable from an external outlet.

 

3. Finalize the shape and size; then dig, dig, dig

      • The deepest point of the pond is 1.5 feet and the pond itself is 10 feet in diameter.  Shallow ponds tend to be more accessible and useful for aquatic species such as amphibians.
      • Create shelves around the perimeter so that you have different levels to accommodate a variety of plants.

4. Lay out the liner and place rocks and gravel along the sides and shelves

 

5. Fill the pond, make sure it holds water, and then install the pump

 

6. Incorporate plants to add cover and aesthetically soften the hard edges

 

It has been a month now since Mary Jane finished constructing the pond. The drought has made it challenging for sourcing plants and keeping them alive, but it has also highlighted how ecologically valuable the new pond is. Just the other day she had her first amphibian sighting! The frog visitor was found sitting in a shallow section fairly close to the running water.

One caution: water features can become a bit of an obsession!  There are always new plants that you will want to include, or other cover features you want to incorporate. Next on the docket for Mary Jane’s pond is a basking space for pond dwellers to sun themselves.

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