Attracting Birds with a Birdbath

A birdbath is any type of water-holding container put out for the purpose of providing birds with a place to drink and or bathe. Birds will feel most comfortable visiting birdbaths that adhere to the following specifications:

                                                                  Blue Jay at birdbath

                                                                  Blue Jay at birdbath

  • Shallow Water Level: Generally, birds are not comfortable venturing into deep water, depth should be between 1 to 3 inches.
  • Non-Slippery Bottom: Birds (like humans) don’t like to slip in the tub, the bottom of the birdbath basin should be of coarse texture. If you already own a birdbath that features a slippery bottom you can add rocks or pebbles to the the basin to improve stability for the birds.
  • Fresh Water: Birds will get sick if they drink/bathe in dirty water and will generally avoid murky birdbaths all together. Dumping old water and replacing it with fresh water should be done about every two to three days – and even every day in hot weather (when algae grows quickly). It is also a good idea to scrub and rigorously clean your birdbath at least once every couple of months.
  • Strategic Placement: Birdbaths should be placed in a shaded area in close proximity to trees or shrubs – as most birds prefer to perch on branches directly before and after using a birdbath. Placing a birdbath in a shaded area will limit exposure to predators and also keep the water cool which will help prevent algae buildup. Remember that birds are most comfortable using birdbaths that mimic what they would use in nature – a birdbath in the middle of an open field will turn off most birds. Placing a birdbath in a native garden is often one of the best options. Also make sure to place your birdbath in a spot that is off limits to cats (whether your own or your neighbors). 

Birdbaths (like birds) come in all different shapes and sizes, from ground to pedestal, from concrete to plastic.

Styles of Birdbaths

                                                       Scarlet Tanager at birdbath

                                                       Scarlet Tanager at birdbath

  • Pedestal: A pedestal with a basin on top. Pedestal birdbaths are the most commonly used style and will appeal to most birds. Because it is off the ground, it will provide some protection against predators and other unwanted visitors.
  • Ground: A basin placed on the ground. Ground birdbaths appeal most to ground-dwelling birds (Doves, Robins, Towhees, and Sparrows). In the wild most birds get their water at ground level, so reclusive birds like warblers may be more inclined to visit. Keep in mind however that ground birdbaths do not provide the protection of raised birdbaths and leave birds more prone to ambush – especially from cats.
  • Hanging: A basin that hangs from a tree branch or hook. Hanging birdbaths are probably the most convenient option for birds because they can visit them with limited effort and exposure. They can also be convenient for birdwatchers because they tend to be small and easy clean. Remember not to place your hanging birdbath too high (as that will make it more difficult for cleaning) and to place it in a view-able spot.  
  • Heated: Birdbath with some sort of heating mechanism. Birds need water in the cold weather just as much (if not more) than they need it in the warmer months. Heated birdbaths will keep the water warm and prevent freezing even when temperatures dip below freezing. And because water can be hard to find in winter, a heated birdbath may become a bird hotspot.
  • Fountain: A basin with a fountain mechanism. Some say the sound of running water attracts birds like a magnet, which makes a birdbath with a fountain (whether powered electrically or by solar) – something to consider. A cheaper option is to poke a small hole in a one gallon jug, hang it to a tree branch over the birdbath, fill it with a water - and let the slow drip bring in the birds!

Type of BirdBaths

                                                      Rose-Breasted Grosbeak at birdbath

                                                      Rose-Breasted Grosbeak at birdbath

  • Concrete Bird Bath: Probably the most popular option, concrete birdbaths tend to be the most ornate and attractive. They are also quite effective at attracting birds due to their inconspicuous color and coarse texture (which as mentioned above, prevents birds from slipping while in the basin). They are however: very heavy which can make transport difficult, prone to cracking (especially if left out for the winter), and tough to clean (susceptible to to algae buildup).
  • Plastic or Resin Bird Bath: Despite being the cheapest commercial option, plastic or resin birdbaths can be as effective as any other birdbath and actually offer distinct advantages. Quality-made plastic birdbaths for example tend to be quite durable to both wear and tear and seasonal weather. They are also lightweight which can be helpful if you ever need to transport the birdbath. On the downside, most plastic birdbaths feature slippery basin bottoms and many are not of high quality craftsmanship.  
  • Ceramic Bird Bath: Considered to be an attractive ornamental option, ceramic birdbaths may look good but most are not among the most effective options when it comes to attracting birds. The reasoning being that ceramic birdbaths tend to be very slippery (which will prevent some birds from using) and are often brightly colored. They just don’t mimic the natural water sources birds use in the wild – remember most birds prefer to live their lives without attracting unnecessary attention to themselves. 
  • Metal (Aluminum, Iron or Copper): Similar to plastic birdbaths, metal tends to hold up well year-round. Obviously, a metal birdbath shouldn’t be purchased unless it is clearly marked rust-free (as water and metal = rust overtime). While metal birdbaths often feature ornate designs and can be an attractive addition to a garden they will get very hot on summer days. Metal birdbaths may also feature slippery basins, which will prevent some birds from ever using them.
  • Homemade: A functional birdbath can easily be made at home, see link for some ideas