The importance of water for wildlife

Water is an essential part of life; all living things need to consume water. A person may be able to live up to 30 days without food but would perish in a few short days without water.

Unpolluted water is a very important habitat requirement for wildlife. Animals 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.

Many animals are drawn to rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands for habitat. It is estimated that 50 percent of bird species use marshes and wetlands as habitat during some part of the year and that 33 percent of threatened and endangered species live in wetlands. Wetlands cover about 5 percent of the area in the United States; about 75 percent of our seafood comes from these areas.

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.

Vernal ponds are another important source of water. These are temporary wetlands that form in the early spring when water is plentiful after snow melt or spring rains. These wet areas dry up in the summer. Because they dry up, predators like fish will not inhabit these 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.

Retaining wetlands, vernal ponds, shallow water impoundments, or establishing riparian forest buffers with trees are actions you can take to enhance habitat for many species of wildlife.

Nature Notes articles are written by members of the Frederick County Forestry Board. You can contact the column editor, Ginny Brace, at


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