Bird Bath Secrets: Attract More Birds with Water

Want to know how to attract more birds to your yard? Just add water! Even birds that don’t visit feeders are likely to come to a bird bath for a cool drink and a quick scrub.

A well kept bird bath invites all kinds of birds, but there’s one dynamite secret that will make your bird bath irresistible.

Why Do Birds Bathe?

For survival: a couple of recent studies indicate that dirty feathers don’t fly as well as clean ones. Birds with dirty feathers are clumsy in flight and less able to escape predators, which makes cleanliness an absolute necessity for survival.

Birds also carry a number of parasites that may be kept under control by frequent water and dust baths.

Finally, although they don’t sweat, birds do need to replace the water they lose by breathing and pooping. Bird baths are a welcome source of drinking water for thirsty birds.

Secret #1: the Best Bird Baths Are Shallow

Bird Bath Secrets: Attract More Birds with Water
This concrete bird bath has a good rim for perching on and slopes gently into the water. The surface is rough enough to provide steady footing for the bird. Image credit: Sheila Brown, public domain.

Did you know that birds (and people) can and do drown in as little as three inches (8 cm) of water? That’s why wild birds bathe in shallow puddles and not in lakes or ponds.

The best bird baths are easy to clean and shaped like a shallow puddle, with a non-slip edge stand on and a gentle slope leading to a maximum depth of two inches (5cm). The inner surface is textured so birds can get a good footing and there are places to perch all around the rim.

A bird bath should be at least 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. Larger is fine, but a smaller basin will limit the types of birds that can use it.

If you already have a bird bath that’s more than two inches deep, line the bottom with pebbles and add an arrangement of larger stones to reduce the depth. Gravel, stones and pebbles are good ways to create secure footing inside a smooth basin too.

Learn more about finding the perfect bird bath.

Secret #2: the Best Bird Baths Are in the Right Place

The best place to put a bird bath for you is in a place where you can see it, of course.

For birds, the best location for a bird bath is a sunny spot with nearby plants or shrubs where they can find quick shelter from predators, since wet birds don’t fly well.

If there’s a tree or large bush within 10 to 20 feet where they can sit and preen their feathers, that’s even better. From a bird’s point of view, the bird bath in this photo is perfectly placed.

The perfect spot for a bird bath – open enough to see predators coming with lots of perches and shelter nearby. Image credit: denisbin CC BY ND 2.0

There are trees and bushes readily available (but not close enough to drop leaves into the basin), no tall grass or dense flowerbeds for cats to hide in, and lots of sunshine to help control disease-causing bacteria.

It’s well away from any windows that birds might crash into and raised off the ground to give birds a chance against roaming cats. It’s easily spotted from above, and it’s on a solid gravel footing where it won’t sink into the ground.

 

Did you notice there are no bird feeders in this picture? Keeping your bird bath well away from feeders means you won’t be constantly cleaning hulls, seeds and other feeder debris out of it.

 

Secret #3: the Best Bird Baths Are Sparkling Clean

A clean bird bath is a bluebird’s delight.  Image credit: Mike’s Birds, CC by SA 2.0

Birds won’t use a dirty bird bath. They won’t drink from it. They won’t bathe in it. They won’t even perch on it.

Keep your feathered friends healthy, happy and coming back by keeping your bird bath squeaky clean. A clean bird bath is a gift to the eyes and doesn’t spread disease to birds (or humans).

Dump the water every day, hose it out with the pressure nozzle and give it a good scrub every 2-3 days.

For the best tips on cleaning the bird bath and controlling algae, please see Keeping Your Bird Bath Clean & Healthy.

 

Secret #4: the VERY Best Bird Baths Have Moving Water

The number one tip for attracting more birds with water is: adding sound and motion to your bird bath. Birds are called to the sound of sparkling, dancing, moving water – it’s absolutely irresistible to them.

There are lots of easy ways to add moving water to your bird bath, from installing a fountain like the one shown above to making your own with an old gallon (4L) milk jug. Learn more about adding sound and motion to your bird bath.

So there you have it – the 4 essential “secrets” of turning your bird bath into a local “airport”!

See Also

Adding Sound and Motion to Your Bird Bath

Finding the Perfect Bird Bath

Keeping Your Bird Bath Clean & Healthy

2 thoughts on “Bird Bath Secrets: Attract More Birds with Water

  1. I love your article, I am wondering though if there is a way to keep all the neighborhood cats from thinking I am creating a buffet?? I seem to be over run with cats that chase the mice and use my yard as a playground, I don’t want to set the birds up to get hurt. My grandson loves the birds and we are in the process of making little feeders for them. We live in the great Pacific Northwest as well and have a great family of Stellar Jays, a couple hummingbirds and a family of Robins that live in the trees around us.

    • Hi Lynda,
      Thanks! You could try enclosing your bird bath with a discreet fence. Most cats will get over a low fence rather easily, but they won’t be able to do it stealthily – i.e. their jumps will spook the birds. If you have a suitable place, you might try a hanging bird bath or one that clips to a deck railing. You can also get pole-mounted bird baths the sit in a ring attached to a feeding station pole, but those tend to be quite small and wouldn’t really suit a Stellar’s Jay. Hope this is helpful!

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