Watering the Birds, Practical Gardening (with a video!)

Water is a necessity for all life. Birds need water for drinking and preening; it helps keep a bird’s body cool from the inside and out. Water baths remove dust, loose feathers, parasites and other debris from their plumage.

Adding a water feature to your garden is an important element, and one of the quickest ways to attract birds. Offering water will draw more birds than just food sources, since birds that would not visit your feeders can be enticed by water. And the more birds, the more bugs eaten!

Standing water is not dynamic enough for visiting or migrating birds to notice. Moving water will attract more birds because they can hear dripping, sprinkles or splashes, and the reflective motion catches their eye. Adding a jiggler accessory to a standing birdbath adds motion. A hose dripping into a dish or pond can have a similar effect attracting birds. Flowing water also stays cleaner and is less likely to harbor parasites or bacteria that could harm birds.

The most popular ways to offer birds water in your garden are the basin/saucer style birdbath, on the ground or pedestal, and misters.

For birds to feel comfortable using a birdbath, it should be ½-1” deep at the edge and only 2” deep in the center. If you find birds are hesitant to use the basin, add a flat rock to the center or several smaller stones at the edge to create a shallower island for birds to use. The birdbath should also have a rough surface to provide traction.

Keep the birdbath (and stones) clean by scrubbing with a dedicated stiff-bristled brush about every other day—and wear some gloves—rinsing it well. In the heat of the summer you may find algae to be a problem even with regular cleaning. To help reduce this issue, after cleaning and draining the birdbath, add one part white vinegar to nine parts water and scrub the basin again. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry fully before refilling with water.

Place birdbaths in the shade to keep the water cooler. The birds will feel safer the closer it is to trees and shrubs when they need to further preen and dry. A simple saucer or shallow bowl can be placed on the ground, secured to a fence, patio table, stump or steps. Hanging dishes and models that attach to deck railings are available. If cats are in the area, use a pedestal style instead.

There are several types of saucer birdbaths to choose from. Concrete is stable, but difficult to relocate and tip for cleaning. Ceramic and glass styles are easy to clean and relocate, but a challenge for birds to get a footing because of the smooth surfaces. These style must be protected or brought inside during the winter. Birdbaths made from plastic or fiberglass are easy to relocate, tip for cleaning, and can be used all year round by adding a heater—or purchasing a model with a built-in warmer.

Consider adding a small fountain or bubbler to any style birdbath to draw attention.

Misters are a favorite way for hummingbirds to find water and they will often repeatedly hover in a mister on a hot day. Misters may be attached to fountains or birdbaths, or they can come as separate water features that attach to a garden hose. For the best effect, position the mister in a partially shaded area that has several perching sites within its mist.

Speaking of humming birds, here is a video for your enjoyment. Hummers do an activity called leaf rolling to clean their plumage. Things get really cute when it starts licking the water at second’s marker :35!

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