Wildlife guzzlers….have you heard of them? They sound like a two-can party hat worn by the frat boys in “Animal House” but they are not. They are simple devices that collect rainwater for use by animals in rural or remote areas.
Guzzlers can range from homemade designs using 30 or 55 gallon plastic barrels to in-ground, networked systems holding 25,000 gallons of water. The size of the guzzler depends on the type and amount of animals using the guzzler. Small guzzlers can provide water for birds and small animals, whereas larger guzzlers would provide water for cattle and other large animals.
Other design factors include the location of existing water sources, mobility of animals, local rainfall patterns and the ability to maintain the site. Good planning is important before construction begins.
Historically, guzzlers have been used by state and federal highway departments to reduce the number of animal fatalities by vehicles in rural areas. The watering stations are placed in undeveloped areas to lure animals away from roadways and reduce the need for the animals to cross highways in search of water.
Another use for guzzlers is to avoid wildlife and human interaction in populated areas. As the drought in Arizona continues into its 20th year, there is growing concern about the potentially dangerous mix of large predatory animals, such as mountain lions and bears, coming closer and closer to human environments looking for water.
In our state, Arizona Game & Fish has installed more than 850 wildlife watering stations of various designs since their first “Arizona guzzler” in 1946. Two new watering stations are located here in the Huachuca Mountains – Black Canyon and West Hunter Canyon in the Coronado National Forest. Both of these designs were developed to reduce animal – vehicle strikes.
There are many benefits associated with the use of guzzlers. The Arizona Big Horn Sheep Society notes that where water sources are few, artificial water devices increase game bird, amphibian and big horn sheep populations.
Wildlife guzzlers are also becoming mainstream. Guzzlers have primarily been built by conservation districts, government agencies and land trusts, but now scout troops, landowners and environmental organizations are creating them as special projects.
There are economic benefits to installing guzzlers too. Ranchers in the Big Bend area of Texas have installed wildlife guzzlers to increase mule deer populations on their land. These ranchers earn extra money by leasing hunting rights to sportsmen. In this case, water guzzlers provide an economic incentive for ranchers and are a fringe benefit to other wildlife species in the area, providing a win-win scenario for everyone – except maybe the mule deer.
Community oriented guzzler projects have also sprung up. The Hill Country Master Gardeners in Texas, part of the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service, have gotten together with the Boys and Girls Club of Fredericksburg to make a birdbath guzzler at their Native Plant Center. Detailed plans of their simple guzzler design are posted on http://www.hillcountrymastergardeners.org/articles2/others_art2/guzzler_brochure.pdf.
It’s exciting to think the Hill Country Master Gardeners and Boys and Girls Club might be on to something. Their simple design could easily be duplicated by scout groups or other civic organizations. Every southern Arizona community could benefit from teaming up to build rainwater catchment guzzlers for wildlife, and we can all drink (water) to that!