“Water is the driving force in nature.” Leonardo Da Vinci sure knew what he was talking about when he made this statement. While many of us recognize Da Vinci as a remarkable artist, he was also a skilled and knowledgeable pioneer of hydrology science. I can certainly see his attraction to water.
Fresh, clean, healthy water is something that we humans simply can’t live very long without. Period. It’s been said humans can live up to three uncomfortable weeks without the nourishment of food. Do you know how long we can survive our thirst? Maybe slightly more than a week if you’re superhuman.
Wildlife, generally speaking, is very much the same. If the local fox squirrels have plenty of acorns tucked safely away in their secret little hiding places during the dead of winter, that’s good news. If all the watering holes around those secret spots are frozen solid for over for a week or more, that’s not good news. We wildlife enthusiasts might forget such an important factor and consequently take water for granted sometimes. This is why you should whet your palette with the idea of watering down your school site!
I’m a big proponent of focusing activities and projects in outdoor learning labs on creating, nurturing, and maintaining water sources. It sounds simple and, the beauty of it is that it can be. Many if not most of the projects and activities conducted on such a site can be as simplified or as complex as you choose to make them. There are countless options from which to choose when offering water to your local wild creatures.
Here are a few to whet your palette:
- Bird bath: since smaller birds are reluctant to enter deep water for drinking and bathing, a shallow collection of fresh and clean water kept in a garbage can lid, drip tray for potted plants, or a scooped out log will all work well. Obviously, you can obtain something specially designed for birds, but be prepared to pay a hefty price for concrete or pottery. Location, location, location is key too! Place your bird bath in a safe area where birds feel less vulnerable to predators; a more open space away from cover will reduce options where predators can hide.
- Pondless Water Feature: a very popular way to go; simply a re-circulating waterfall and/or stream of any shape and size.
- Pond/pool: an artificial pond or garden pool can be designed out of an old bath tub, child’s wading pool, a salvaged watering trough, or other similar container. Definitely plan to do some homework before you break ground; nobody likes broken pipes!
- Shallow wetland: just like it sounds; a wetland of any shape and size which holds, ideally, just a few inches of water. This feature is completed with specialized plants and soils which like to keep their feet wet. Use a rubber, plastic, or concrete liner to help ensure water stays put and doesn’t seep out of the area. Again, do your homework before you dig!
Whatever road you choose to travel when it comes to your water feature just make sure you keep these things in mind:
- Maintenance/accessibility - bear in mind that nearby water supply will make life much easier when cleaning and refreshing your water source, especially small bird baths which will need frequent attention. Hopefully occasional rain showers help you out during warmer months, but know that you might have to put the students to work to carry buckets or a hose from time to time.
- Electricity - to keep water fresh throughout the school year and thawed in the wintertime (when water can be as much needed as during a summer drought), you have a few options. Water pumps, filtration, and aeration can all be important when shooting for the most successful wildlife water sources. Consider solar power as an alternative or a supplement to old-fashioned electricity. As a side note, birds can hardly resist the sound of moving water; aeration not only help keep mosquito larva at bay but reduces concerns with algae too! Please resist the urge to use chemicals to keep a handle on the bugs and algae!
If you’re thinking “well, I am already fortunate enough to have access to natural, existing, on-site water, so I have no need to create such a feature,” then you’re still in luck! There are many resources through Division of Wildlife as well as our partner agencies to learn more about using and perhaps improving these types of important components of a WILD School Site as well.
Please visit wildohio.gov to build on these ideas and to read more about grant opportunities. Visit our Contact Us page to get connected with your regional Division of Wildlife representative who can help you further.
You'll be amazed at what water can do for wildlife and for your WILD School Site! Best wishes with your endeavors and thank you for your interest in Ohio’s wild creatures!
by Jamey Emmert, Wildlife Communication Specialist, Wildlife District Three, Akron, OH