How to make a bird pool the Gambian way

Here at Balaba Nature Camp we have several bird baths around the camp to attract the beautiful birds that live around us. One of our pools is sited right next to the forest edge, especially to encourage the shy birds, and this has been a real success. We have lots of birds visiting every day. However, over the last few days, some of the bigger birds have been trying to have a bath in our rather small bird bath! These tend to be quite shy birds, such as the Violet Turaco and the Western Grey Plantain Eater.

Don't you think you're a bit big for that bird bath?
Don’t you think you’re a bit big for that bird bath?

So Lamin thought it might be a good idea to try and build a larger pool which might give them a better chance of having a bath.

So here is your step-by-step guide to building a bird pool Gambian-style. (I should explain that my camera went on strike while I was photographing, and some of the earlier ones didn’t save properly, so the photos only start some way into the instructions!)

1. Find an area of ground that has nearby shelter for the birds, and is shaded for at least part of the day. Clear away any weeds, sticks etc. to make a smooth surface.

2. Mark out your pool, and dig out a shallow hole.

3.Line the hole with plastic (not sure if you can get butyl liner in The Gambia, but we had some old plastic laying around – remember that nothing ever gets thrown away here!). Pack the earth carefully behind the edges to give support.

Balaba Nature Camp

4. Cut the liner to size with a razor blade.

Balaba Nature Camp

5. Cover the edges of the liner with soil or sand, and weigh it down with stones so it doesn’t slip.

Balaba Nature Camp

6. Make sure the liner fits the hole as closely as possible, so it doesn’t pull out from under the earth and stones when you add water.

Balaba Nature Camp

7. Add pampuran sticks from the rhun palm around the edges for further weight and to make it look more attractive.

Balaba Nature Camp

8. Add water carefully – don’t fill the pool too deep or the smaller birds won’t want to use it.

Balaba Nature Camp

9. Add a stone or two in the pool, so the small birds can land safely before having a bath.

Balaba Nature Camp

10. Fix some branches nearby, so that the birds can land on it to check if the area is safe before taking a bath.

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Then sit back and enjoy watching the birds taking a bath. It may take a few days before they feel confident enough to use it, but hopefully they will soon be splashing away happily.

Balaba Nature Camp

(PS: And all this was completed before we’ve even had breakfast!)

21 April 2014 Update:

Well, the birds may be a little hesitant about using the bird pool, although a couple went and took a cautious look yesterday.

An African thrush taking a cautious look!
An African thrush taking a cautious look!

But when I went to have a look first thing this morning, I found the ants were very keen! They had completely surrounded the pool, and even made an ‘ant bridge’ across the water to the stone in the water.

Check out the ants round the pool
Check out the ants round the pool
An ant bridge
An ant bridge

Several streams or ants were scurrying in and out of the forest, and they had also scaled the pole supporting the bird bath and were festooned all around the bird bath as well.

Ants on the bird bath too!
Ants on the bird bath too!

Although the bird bath was empty, I didn’t want to get too close to the ants, as I know they can swarm quite easily, and they may look small but they have a painful bite! So either the birds will have to be thirsty for a bit, or they may have to brave the new pool! However, I know the ants won’t stay long, so I will go out and fill the bird bath as soon as I can. Wildlife in The Gambia is certainly never boring!

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