The Importance of Water for Wildlife

Water is essential for all living things. A person may be able to live up to 30 days without food, but would perish in a few short days without water. Wildlife are no different in their need for water.

Unpolluted water is a very important requirement for wildlife; they will drink water, eat snow, or lick ice to obtain the water they need. Some animals will obtain fluids from their diet, especially animals that eat fruits. There are a number of desert animals that can metabolize water from eating nuts and seeds. Animals in arid regions have developed a number of adaptations for surviving in the dry conditions, most notably slowing down their activity during the warmest part of the day or adapting a nocturnal lifestyle.

Catoctin Creek, Myersville MD

Photo courtesy of Jan Barrow

Water is also a preferred habitat for many animals which are drawn to lakes, streams, and wetlands for survival. It is estimated that 50% of bird species live in marshes and wetlands during some part of the year, and that 33% of threatened and endangered species live in wetlands. Wetlands cover about 5% of the area in the United States, and about 75% of our seafood comes from these areas. Vernal ponds are temporary wetlands that form in the early spring when water is plentiful after snow melt or spring rains and dry up in the summer. The fact that they dry up means that predators like fish will not inhabit these temporary water sources. Vernal ponds are very important habitat for many amphibians such as frogs, salamanders, and aquatic insects because they provide a place to breed and develop in relative safety.

Large streams and rivers also serve as important fly routes for many migrating waterfowl and bird populations. Stream corridors that have a fairly wide (greater than 300 feet) forested area around them are especially important for migrating forest interior birds, because they reduce predation and make the weary birds feel more comfortable with their temporary surroundings. Forested “riparian buffers” will also filter out a number of sediments, nutrients, and pollutants before they reach the water and help cool water temperatures. These natural filters will improve water quality and promote more stream life. Retaining wetlands, vernal ponds, and shallow water impoundments, or establishing treed riparian forest buffers enhance habitat for many species of wildlife.

Article by Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board

Nature Note for 12/13/2019