In the wild,
birds get water from moist food sources, snow, dew, rain puddles,
ponds, lakes, and streams. But water can be scarce during summer
dry spells and inaccessible during winter freezes. Species that
are not otherwise likely to visit a yard may drop by a birdbath,
especially during hot summer months and during spring and fall migrations.
Since birds carry water to their young in their beaks, a birdbath
also may encourage nest construction nearby.
A birdbath can be almost anything that holds water - from an upside
down frisbee to a backyard pond. Whatever form it takes, certain
features are crucial.
a birdbath with margins that slope gradually, allowing them to wade
in to a comfortable depth (Fig. 4). A dry edge or beach gives birds
a dry place to land before entering the water.
go unused because they are too deep. Keep the water shallow - typically
1 to 3 inches at its deepest point - since most birds bathe in water
that is no deeper than their legs are long.
Few birds will
try to bathe in a bath that has a slippery surface, though they
may perch on the edge to drink. A rough-textured bowl is much preferred.
In winter, some
birdbaths can crack because, when water freezes, it expands about
10 percent. Because ice will exert pressure against an edge, this
is another reason to avoid baths with edges that turn up sharply.
If you fall
in love with a birdbath that is too deep, steep, or slippery for
birds, you may be able fix the problem by adding flat rocks or gravel.
Bathtub stickers or caulk sprinkled with sand also provide traction
on slippery surfaces.
Any size birdbath
may be used by birds. However, the bigger the birdbath the more
birds will use it at the same time. For communal bathing, a birdbath
should be at least 18 inches in diameter.
|Figure 4. Birds need a gradual slope that allows
them to wade in and find a comfortable depth. An 18"-high
wire fence can be added to keep cats from ambushing the
A wide variety of ready-made birdbaths are available from local
nurseries, garden centers, and specialty wildlife stores. All have
advantages and disadvantages: Concrete baths are widely available,
have the feel of stone, fit into most landscape settings, and stay
put even in strong winds. Birds like concrete baths because of their
rough surface; wide, gently sloping bowls; and stability. Plastic
birdbath bowls placed in iron-rod or wood supports are lightweight
and easily moved, hence; easy to clean. However, the bowls often
have steep sides and a slippery surface. Plastic may also crack
if water is allowed to freeze in it. While ceramic birdbaths can
be quite ornamental, glazed ceramic is extremely slippery. Hanging
birdbaths have the advantage that they can be placed where it might
not be convenient to locate a birdbath that rests on the ground.
However, water spills easily from them, especially on windy days.
birdbaths, or dipping pools, are an especially attractive feature
in a garden and may be preferred by some bird species(See Fig. 5.).
They can be made larger than a standard birdbath and may attract
other wildlife, such as treefrogs, that might not visit a birdbath
on a stand. However, because they are at ground level, they may
put birds at greater risk from local cats.
To attract a wide variety of birds, place baths in different locations
around your yard. A bath in a shady area with shrubs or small trees
nearby can attract small, shy birds such as warblers and wrens.
A bath at ground-level can attract bigger, bolder birds such as
juncos, as well as four-legged wildlife. When placing a birdbath,
also think about how you’re going to keep it clean and full.
around a birdbath can help to attract birds. A small brush pile
within ten feet of a bath will attract birds that require nearby
shelter. Birds also will use nearby open shrubs and trees with low
branches for this purpose. However, be careful not to put so much
shrubbery so close to the bath that you give local cats the opportunity
to ambush birds while they are bathing. In areas with a lot of house
cats, keep at least ten feet of open space around your dust bath
or birdbath to prevent birds from being ambushed.
Birds are attracted
to the sound and movement of water. Commercial birdbaths equipped
with built-in fountains, drippers, or misters help to attract birds,
but beware that fancy baths rarely have the optimal bowl design.
Modifications with stones or gravel may be needed to make bathing
don’t worry if the ground around your bath becomes soggy.
Barn swallows, robins, phoebes, and hummingbirds will use mud under
the birdbath for nesting material, while butterflies will gather
there to drink mineral-rich water from mud or wet sand.
Birds need to drink and bathe even on the coldest days. Although
birds can eat snow and melting ice to get water in winter, a birdbath
will be used and appreciated. To be sure it is a reliable source
of water, keep it from freezing between dawn and nightfall, when
birds are active. The water need only be kept just above freezing.
|Figure 5. A ground-level birdbath can be made
concrete, plastic or other synthetic pond liner.
You can keep
a birdbath free of ice by pouring warm water into the bowl, but
this is tedious in extreme cold weather, as the water freezes rapidly.
A stick of wood left in the water during cold snaps can help you
pop out ice so you can add fresh water. (If the water does freeze,
the stick will also help to prevent the birdbath from cracking.)
with submersible, thermostatically controlled heaters will save
you time. Small heaters designed to operate at a depth of one to
three inches are available at garden stores and hardware centers,
and through mail-order catalogs.
You will need
a source of electricity to run your birdbath heater. Exercise caution
here. Outdoor outlets should be on a circuit or outlet protected
by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which will cut off
the flow of electricity in the event of a short. Most outlets in
newer homes are protected by GFCI. If yours isn’t and you
are comfortable with wiring and electricity, you can install your
own. Otherwise, consult a qualified electrician. If you are not
sure whether your outlets are protected, have them checked by a
When using a
heater, keep the birdbath full of clean water or you may ruin the
heater and your birdbath.
spread quickly and easily in an untended birdbath. Change the water
every few days in a small bath, and rinse a dipping pool every week
with your hose, to get rid of regurgitated seeds and other debris.
Change water more often if many birds are using the bath. (Locating
your birdbath near a hose bib will make refilling and cleaning easier.)
baths a few times each month with a plastic brush to remove algae
and bacteria. Never add chemicals to kill algae or insects or to
keep the water from freezing in your birdbath.
a bath that is refilled automatically must be monitored at least
weekly for cleanliness; however— more frequently during the