A bird bath is one of the simplest and cheapest ways of attracting birds to your garden, but when you first put out a bird bath it may take a while before birds start to use it. This could be days or even weeks if there are other sources of water nearby, so patience is key.
However, there are a few easy things you can do that will ensure your bird bath is as attractive as possible, providing your garden birds with a safe environment in which to drink and bathe. Follow these tips, and birds should come flocking to use your bird bath in no time at all.
Place your bird bath in a shady spot or where it does not get too much direct sunlight. Birds prefer drinking cold water, and it will give them somewhere to cool off on hot days. Warm water is a breeding ground for bacteria and disease and on very sunny days it will eventually evaporate. When looking for a shaded area, don’t place your bird bath under a tree that sheds a lot of leaves or blossom as fallen foliage can cause a build-up of algae and attract insects and other organisms.
Birds are at their most vulnerable when eating and drinking so place your bird bath somewhere where birds have a good view of the area around them and with some protective cover close by, such as a bush or a tree, where they can fly to if they sense danger. However, don’t place your bird bath too near anywhere a predator could hide and make a surprise ambush.
Birds prefer to drink and bathe in shallow water and deep water can be dangerous, particularly for smaller birds, so keep the depth of water in your bird bath to about 5 cm. If you have a very deep bird bath of the sides of your bird bath are steep, place some stones or rocks in the base so that birds can bathe in different depths of water. Make sure that they are set firm so that they will not move or slide about when birds land on them as any sudden movement or noise will scare birds away.
A pedestal bird bath is a popular choice as it makes an attractive feature in the garden, but it may not be the best design for birds. In the wild, birds tend to drink and bathe in water near ground level, so they may not feel comfortable using a bird bath that is very high. A bird bath placed on the ground may be a better option, although if you live in a neighbourhood with lots of cats, a raised bird bath makes it harder for them to launch an attack.
Ceramic, or glazed and polished bird baths can look attractive, but they don’t offer birds much in the way of grip. Birds’ feet have adapted to grip onto rough, cylindrical surfaces like the branches of a tree so they will find it hard to land and perch on wet, slippery surfaces, and they could even find themselves in danger of drowning if they lose their balance. Again, a few rough stones at the bottom of the bath can help birds get a better footing.
Place a perch, such as a stick, by the side of your bird bath so that birds have somewhere to dry off and preen after bathing. A perch will also give somewhere for birds to have a look around for any dangers or threats before they diving in to bathe. Don’t place the perch over the bird bath as you’ll find that birds will sit on it and poo in the bath.
Birds will not be attracted to a dirty bird bath. Although they will happily drink from rainwater puddles, stagnant water in a bird bath carries bacteria and disease and the smell can attract flies, rodents, and other pests. Change the water regularly, particularly on warmer days, and give your bird bath a good clean periodically to remove algae, droppings, dead leaves, feathers, and other debris.
When the temperature drops below zero the water in a bird bath will freeze. Water is important for birds in winter and if they will use up valuable energy sources if they have to drink very cold water or melt ice. Try adding a couple of ping-pong balls to keep the water moving or invest in a bird bath heater to keep the water ice-free. Do not add salt, anti-freeze, or any other toxic chemical to the water to unfreeze your bird bath. Remember, stone bird baths can crack in freezing weather so if you have a stone bird bath you may want to replace it temporarily over winter.
Birds will be attracted to the sound and sign of moving water so a fountain or dripper is a great addition to any bird bath. You can buy solar-powered bird baths that have integrated fountains which are efficient to run, and mean you won’t need to run cables around your garden.
Alternatively, you can buy small pump kits that fit in the bottom of a regular bird bath. Keeping the water moving in your bird bath will help oxygenate it and prevent the build-up of algae, keeping it fresher for your garden birds.
Birds are creatures of habit and are most comfortable in environments they are familiar with. Once birds have got used to visiting your bird bath keep it out all year round and don’t move it around your garden too much if you can help it. Make sure you keep the water topped up – when it is hot and sunny, you may need to refill it several times a day.