By Alisha Brewer

We’ve all been told not to feed the wildlife. It’s good advice. Feeding wildlife increases their dependency on human handouts. It causes animals to lose their innate fear of humans resulting in wild critters approaching us at our homes or in the street hoping to be offered food. While we are backing away thinking, “Too close! Too close! This javelina is getting way too close!” That javelina may be thinking, “Bologna sandwich! Bologna sandwich! Something that looks just like you gave me a bologna sandwich yesterday!” This can lead to aggression if we do not oblige with what the animal is seeking. An unfortunate situation all around. But, as our warm weather presses on and temperatures begin to surge, what about leaving bird baths and water bowls out for our native neighbors? Is putting water out an ok thing to do?

For years now Tucson (and the entire state of Arizona) has been dealing with drought conditions. Not surprising, we live in a desert. But, last summer Tucson had record setting heat and it was our driest year on record according to the Arizona Daily Star. As a result, waterholes and streams were left dry and the foliage that so many of our animals depend on died. This puts huge stresses on our wildlife. Though our hearty wildlife are built to survive heat and lack of water, the conditions that they are facing are severe. The continued lack of resources, paired with extreme heat is quite literally a deadly combination.
Starting in 2018 AZ Game and Fish stepped in by trucking and airlifting hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to catchments (over 3,000 of them!) to remote areas across the state (and they continue to do so).

These catchments are designed to be self-sustaining by catching rainfall and making it available to animals such as deer, elk, bobcats, birds, bighorn sheep, javelina and small mammals. But, with monsoons not producing enough water to sustain local populations our wildlife needs our help.
So, should you put a water bowl out? Absolutely! And bird baths can be life savers too. A couple summers ago, we started filling two water bowls for our wild visitors; one bird bath that stands about 3 feet high and a tub that rests flat on the ground. I put some large flat rocks in both bowls to give any sized critter the opportunity (and footing) to reach the water without fear of falling in. Well, word spread and I was not prepared for the turn out that we would see. Cardinals, orioles, cactus wrens and many other bird species came to drink and bathe. Honey bees stopped by and buzzed out just as quickly as they buzzed in. Cottontail rabbits and even a gila monster found our ground bowl. Our backyard turned into an oasis and we have had so much fun watching the action. It’s like we get to eavesdrop on wildlife watercooler gossip! One thing that I did not expect was the decrease in the amount of ‘pool floaters’ that we find, but it makes sense. The animals don’t have to take the risk of getting a drink from the pool when they have easily accessible water from the bowls.
If you put out a water bowl, you’re going to attract wildlife. For many of us this is a welcomed opportunity to observe some of the critters that we share our home with. I have a wall around my backyard which limits the types of animals that we see- mostly lots of birds and little guys. If your property does not have a wall or fencing, be prepared for larger animals to enjoy the hydration too. I surmise that every bowl of water that I fill up for my visitors leaves that much more for everyone else. Every little bit helps.

My fingers are crossed for a wet and wonderful monsoon season, we need it! In the meantime, my water bowls will be flowing. You too can provide relief for our native residents, give a water bowl or a bird bath a try. Every drop makes an impact and that’s no bologna.

Alisha Brewer is a veteran zoo keeper of nearly 15 years. U of A alum. Boy mom, veggie dog connoisseur, anti Oxford comma and eternal optimist. Alisha hopes to connect residents to the incredible creatures that surround us.

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