Bathing Birds Brighten Backyards

by Lee Haggas, Natural Resources Commissioner

Looking for cheap (or cheep) entertainment this summer? Put a birdbath, or two or three, in your garden and watch the fun fly. Along with providing sources of food, shelter and nesting spots, giving birds access to water is one of the best things a homeowner can do for our feathered friends. They need to stay hydrated just as humans do, and fluffing their feathers in a nice bowl of water helps them wash away nasty parasites too.

An important feature a birdbath buyer should consider is size. While smaller birds like smaller bowls where they’ll be safe from bullies, a large birdbath can host a greater population and attract more diverse species. Whoever shows up, it’s great fun to watch birds of all types stack up like planes over O’Hare as they wait their turn for a dip in the pool.  

Bowls should have gently sloping sides and hold about 1 to 3 inches of water. Some birds like to perch on the edge and dip their beaks, while others just dive right in. Curving edges make great perches for talons. Tall pedestal-style birdbaths are popular, but a shallow bowl placed on or near ground level can attract bigger birds. Just make sure it’s not a target for lurking cats or other predators. Placing it near dense shrubbery offers birds a ready escape route if needed.

Moving water provided by sprays, drippers, fountains, or bubblers attract birds and help keep the birdbath clean. Change the water every other day and scrub out debris with a gentle 9-parts-water/1-part vinegar solution. Avoid using soaps and other cleansers that can strip essential oils from bird feathers.

Select a spot for your birdbath that is away from direct sunlight so the water stays cool and doesn’t evaporate too quickly.  Place it close enough to trees or shrubs so birds can dart in for a quick dip then back to their safe location. Make it readily accessible to a water source for easy refilling and cleaning, and finally, install it where it can be easily seen for maximum enjoyment – of both birds and humans!