My Way: The Water Bowl

I stood in front of the counter at the UFA Farm Supply Store as the counter man wrote up my order; it was an important order but a small one. Although we live on ample acreage, the only farming we do is organic gardening and bee keeping.

“Always nice to see dogs being treated well,” said the counter man. He was referring to the two heated dog water bowls that were part of my order. These circular bowls are approximately five inches deep and eleven inches in diameter and have a heavy-duty, coil-protected cord with which to plug in the bowl. Their purchase price was a little over $30, and each requires only about as much power as a 40-watt lightbulb to operate.

“Oh,” I replied, “these water bowls are not for my dogs. My dogs are indoor companions. These bowls are for the birds.”

The counter man looked up at me in some surprise. I proceeded to explain.

I told him that I had been watching and tending to birds for years, providing birdhouses, bird feeders, and birdbaths for them. My organic gardening has included several hundred bushes and trees that I have planted specifically for the purpose of providing birds with natural cover and food supplies. I have been richly rewarded for all of these activities and consider my limited financial expenditures to have been money well spent—with one exception.

I have been frustrated by the expense and limited success of providing fresh water for the birds when temperatures drop below freezing. Given that I had lived in Manitoba and now lived in Alberta, where below-freezing temperatures are the norm for about half the year, this was a significant issue. This is especially true during the fall, when the surface water bodies have frozen but the snowfall has yet to arrive, leaving the birds with no readily available sources of moisture.

I had purchased various models of heated birdbaths over the years, but they were expensive, given that they rarely lasted beyond one of our harsh winters.

Then one day I saw the heated dog water bowls for sale at the UFA store and inspiration struck. I purchased a bowl, set it on a low stool, placed a large, flat rock in it, filled it to the brim with water, plugged it in, and waited to see what would happen. It was an immediate success.

All year long, the birds come to it, although in the summer I leave the bowl unplugged. They drink, they bathe—occasionally even in the middle of winter! All sizes of birds use it, from ruby-throated hummingbirds to red-tailed hawks. And birds have not been the only visitors. Deer, coyotes, and foxes, as well as stray domestic pets have also been frequent visitors.

“These bowls are inexpensive, easy to clean, and last for years,” I told the counter clerk. “The use of them for the birds has proven to be a great idea.”

While I was telling my story, I became aware that a woman standing just down the counter from me was also listening. Just as I finished, the counter man serving her returned with her items and I heard her say, “And I would also like a heated dog water bowl.”

I turned toward her and we both smiled. I had come into the UFA store with the idea of making life a little easier for some of my feathered friends, but I was leaving with the knowledge that many more of them would be helped than I could have hoped for. To paraphrase a John Denver song, “Some days really are diamond.”

Artist, author, naturalist, and BWD contributor Julie Zickefoose reviewed Ms. McKerness’ My Way article in the January/February 2015 issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest and gave it a try herself. Read her blog post, “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Bought,” complete with pictures of backyard birds that stopped to bathe and drink! Read it now »