by Erin Marissa Russell
If you’re looking to attract more birds to your garden (and who isn’t?), there are few more effective ways to draw our avian friends in than adding a birdbath to your yard. To help you get the most bang for your buck, in this article we’ve outlined some of the most important guidelines and tips to get your birdbath set up right and maintain it well so you can keep the birds in your yard happy.
Finding a well maintained birdbath is the bird-world equivalent of spotting a cool, clean swimming pool in summer—one that’s open to the public and free to use. Just like a swimming pool, though, one that’s dirty or stagnant isn’t likely to appeal to many visitors. That’s why there are a few things gardeners need to know to make sure their birdbath does what it’s meant to do. Water is one of the most vital requirements a bird needs to ensure survival, but simply putting out a birdbath full of water doesn’t guarantee your neighborhood avian population will be lured in.
If spending mornings at the window with a cup of coffee watching a flock of birds frolic and splash isn’t enticing enough, there are numerous other benefits for your garden when birds drop by regularly. First of all, our feathered friends have voracious appetites despite their small size for the insects they feed on, so they can put a big dent in the pest population on your property when they fly through on a consistent basis.
Some species (such as hummingbirds and orioles will help out by pollinating your flowers so you’ll get fruit or vegetables from your food crops. Other birds (like finches, sparrows, and towhees) eat the seeds of weeds that may be causing you trouble in the garden, protecting you from the difficult and often backbreaking work it takes to pull up mature weed plants. Some sources even suggest that having a home with features that bring in lots of birds can actually raise your property values when it comes time to sell your house.
On top of these perks, when you take the time and put in the effort to make your yard hospitable to your local birds, you’re doing your part to help conserve the ecosystem in your area. Just a little investment from you can give your local wildlife what they need to maintain a healthy population in the face of they habitat loss they often face due to urban development and other threats. One final perk: adding a water source like a birdbath to your yard actually attracts a wider variety of species (and therefore more birds) than putting out feeders alone.
Tip #1: Prevent Stagnant Water in Your Birdbath By Keeping It Moving
On top of being less than tasty, stagnant water can grow all kinds of nasty stuff. It can even pose a danger to human health by providing a place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs, as mosquitoes can carry dangerous diseases. Any water that’s less than two feet deep is prone to becoming a mosquito breeding ground, so you’ll want to make sure the water in your birdbath isn’t stagnant. You don’t want to accidentally increase your mosquito population along with the birds you meant to invite to your yard.
Luckily, there are affordable devices on the market to keep the water in your birdbath moving and prevent this problem. You might choose to use an electric recirculating pump, or many birdbath owners recommend the Water Wiggler, which runs on D-cell batteries. An agitator won’t prevent ice from forming on the surface of your birdbath. That’s too bad, because icy conditions are when birds often need access to fresh water the most.
However, you can find temperature-controlled water heaters that work in birdbaths, or you can purchase a birdbath with a built-in heater if freezing spells are something your local birds face regularly. If mosquitoes are still a problem, check out our tutorial on a DIY mosquito trap made from a three-gallon or five-gallon bucket.
Tip #2: Choose a Shallow Birdbath to Keep Birds Comfortable and Safe
In the wild, you simply won’t find birds bathing and lounging around in deep water. To replicate their natural environment, choose a birdbath with a shallow dish—really shallow, about two inches or less, for best results.
Believe it or not, two inches is plenty of water for the birds you want to attract to cavort in or use for bathing. Some birds will even bring their babies to the birdbath so they can get used to navigating water sources as long as the water is shallow enough not to be a threat to their tiny offspring.
If you’ve already purchased a birdbath that has a bowl deeper than two inches, that’s no problem. You can adjust to compensate by lining the dish with a layer of pea gravel or smooth, flat rocks. To really do things the way birds like them, make the water shallower at the edges than it is in the center so birds can gradually wade into deeper water from the outside perimeter.
Tip #3: Wash Your Birdbath Regularly With a Nontoxic Cleaner
Just like us, birds aren’t enthusiastic about bathing somewhere that’s less than spotless. However, you won’t want to use just any cleaner, as the last thing you want is for your birdbath to be harmful to your avian friends. Luckily, a simple solution made up of nine parts water to one part vinegar will keep your birdbath sparkling clean without putting the birds that use it at risk. Dump out the water and freshen it every two days to keep your birdbath as clean and inviting as possible.
Tip #4: Position Your Birdbath Low to the Ground (Yes, You Should Ditch the Classic Pedestal)
While the stereotypical image of a birdbath is a shallow, circular bowl that sits atop a decorative column, to make your birdbath the most attractive to avians, you should position it near to the ground. Birds are used to finding water at ground level in nature, so water that’s close to the ground is the most natural option—and one they’ll feel most comfortable with—simply due to their familiarity with the circumstances.
All you need to do is take the bowl of your birdbath off the pedestal it came with and instead place the bowl directly on the ground. You can still use the pedestal to jazz up your garden by choosing a decorative element to feature on top of it, like a mirrored gazing ball, living topiary sculpture, garden gnome, or a pretty planter spilling over with colorful blooms.
Tip #5: Provide a Base to Help Birds Keep Their Balance in Your Birdbath
Wet concrete or stone can be really slick, so birds feel vulnerable and less than safe when they aren’t provided with a bottom surface that gives them a secure leg to stand on, so to speak. Glazed ceramic is especially unsuitable for birdbaths due to its smoothness, but it’s a popular material in the options you’ll find out there to purchase. Birdbaths made of rougher materials, such as cement or fiber-and-resin options, may provide enough coarseness that a pea gravel layer won’t be necessary.
Once water has been added to your birdbath, just run your finger along the inside to check the texture. If it feels slippery to you, it’ll feel slippery to the birds, too. Luckily, this is a quick fix. In our second tip, we recommended using pea gravel to make a deep birdbath shallower. Pea gravel has the added benefit of giving birds the textured surface they need to stay safely on their feet and balanced while they bathe.
And it may go without saying, but just in case, make sure the birdbath itself is securely positioned on top of its stand, if you’re using one, so it won’t topple over on your feathery visitors. If your birdbath is located on the ground but is still wobbly, you can use stones to prop it up until it safely sits flat.
Tip #6: Choose the Most Ideal Location for Your Birdbath
Some spots on your property are bound to be more favorable for a birdbath than others, so you’ll want to choose the position of the birdbath carefully. Of course, you’ll want it to be visible from the house or wherever in the yard you spend most of your time, whether that’s the garden, the porch, or an entertaining area or hammock where you like to relax.
You’ll also want it to be in a place that’s easily accessible for cleaning and maintenance so you’re not stretching to reach it or squeezing through a narrow spot. A water hose and electrical outlet within easy reach can make quick work of refilling the birdbath and keeping it clean. Failing to consider your own comfort and convenience as well as the birds’ only means you’ll prone to procrastinate on maintenance to avoid the hassle, and birds aren’t likely to frequent a poorly maintained birdbath if they have other options nearby. (Not to mention, as we’ve discussed, a poorly maintained birdbath comes along with the risk of increasing insect numbers and spreading disease among humans and birds.)
For safety reasons, it’s mandatory that any electrical outlets you use outdoors have a ground fault interrupter (sometimes abbreviated to GFI), which is vital to protect you and the wildlife from electrical shock. And if you’re using a solar birdbath, check to make sure spot you select gets enough sun to power it before you go to the trouble of installing.
Tip #7: Choose a Birdbath With Water That Splashes or Flows for Maximum Auditory Appeal
In the bird world, the sound of flowing water is as good as an engraved invitation to stop by for a drink and a bath. Birds may hear a water source that they wouldn’t otherwise notice in their travels. And the running-water strategy does double duty, as the movement in the water will also discourage insects from using the birdbath as a place to lay eggs.
Another benefit—a birdbath that has an element of sound is likely to bring in more species of birds than a silent one (resulting in more birds total). The importance of audio here is only natural since so much of bird communication relies on the power of song and sound.
Tip #8: Keep Birds Protected by Providing Cover, But Don’t Leave Predators Room to Hide
Cats are known for skulking around near birdbaths and ambushing unsuspecting birds with a pounce from the shadows when they least suspect it. When your feathered friends are wet, they’re heavier and therefore slower and easier for cats to catch. Don’t entice birds to bathe in your yard just to allow them to fall prey to the neighborhood cat. Make sure your birdbath isn’t positioned near shrubbery or other objects that could conceal a sneaky feline.
To be specific, you’ll want to put at least five or 10 feet of space between the birdbath and any spots where cats could hide. For maximum protection, place the birdbath near a tree with some low-hanging branches so that the wet, sluggish birds can simply flap a short distance up to the safety of the tree’s foliage if they’re threatened. (Avoid the branches dangling directly over the bowl, though, or you’ll have lots of leaves, seeds, and other debris to contend with.) Having an escape route will make birds feel that much more secure against attack from predators of all kinds.
The cover and camouflage of a nearby tree will make birds feel at home as well, but make sure that cover isn’t too close to the birdbath. Too near, and it could do double duty to camouflage a prowling cat as well.
Felines are famously intelligent, resourceful creatures, so keep an eye on the birdbath when it’s new to make sure a cat hasn’t found a spot to spring from that you overlooked. If your yard is already a cat hotspot, try these humane methods to discourage cats from loitering in your garden.
Videos About How to Help Your Birdbath Attract the Most Birds
Gardening Guru Offers Tips on Creating the Perfect Birdbath Fountain CBS Los Angeles: This feature from KCAL9 News will give you instructions for creating your own birdbath as well as providing some tips.
Bird Bath Cleaning Tips: This instructional video takes you step by step through the process of cleaning a birdbath.
How to Seal a Birdbath: Make your birdbath a long-term fixture by applying a sealant that will protect it for years to come. This tutorial will show you how.
DIY Water Fountain Bucket Solar Pump Garden Bird Bath Pond-Bathroom Makeover on a Budget: Follow our advice and make your birdbath have some ear appeal (solar-powered, at that) by following the process from this step-by-step DIY guide.