1. Provide fresh water daily. The safest way to offer water to birds is in a bird bath that's elevated beyond the reach of house cats. Change the water every day to avoid spreading disease.
2. If you don't have a bird bath, put a bowl on the ground - but only if you can put in an open area where cats cannot ambush birds. I'm guessing that a cat can ambush a bird from any sort of hiding place within 10 feet of the water bowl. Maybe more than that. If you have natural areas in your yard, squirt them occasionally with the hose. Squirrels and rabbits and chipmunks will come to a bowl on the ground, but snakes, toads, mice etc, that are burrowed in the leaf litter need moisture too. And they generally won't come to a bowl to drink.
3. Offer seeds and fruits to birds, such as slices of orange. Drought affects not only the water available, but it affects the insects and plants that birds and animals eat. As above, make sure the feeder is not a bird-trap for the local house cat, by elevating it or placing it on the ground with a wide circumference of open area. Keep it clean by scrubbing it regularly.
4. For the long term, native plants withstand drought much better than introduced plants and ornamentals, many of which are from tropical rainforests. So landscape your own yard with native plants, which can be found at plant nurseries, even Home Depot (ask the plant manager there). If not, google Native Plant Society and your state name to find a local source for native plants. Don't dig up native plants in protected woodlands for your own yard - tempting but damaging to wildlife. You might find a friend who propagates native plants and will give you a few seedlings or seeds. For a good guide to landscaping with native trees, shrubs and perennials in North Carolina, see www.ncwildflower.org. Most states have such organizations now. Some of the most attractive native plants for landscaping in North Carolina are eastern redbud trees, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susans and eastern columbine. Animals love shrubs and trees that produce berries and fruits, such as mulberry, dogwood, and persimmon. Ask at your local native plant society or nursery about which varieties are native to your area.
5. Keep your house cat indoors. Birds and small animals weakened by hunger and thirst may be more vulnerable than ever to house cats, all of which prey on birds or small mammals - whether you witness it or not. Not only will the birds and other animals be better off, but your house cat will be safer too. For more info on how to make your cat a happy indoor cat, local cat laws, and resources, visit www.abcbirds.org/cats.
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