Provide Water for Birds

In nature, birds use puddles, rocky creeks, and other shallow water sources to bathe and drink. However, during the hot, dry, summer months, many of these water sources may dry up. Providing birds and other wildlife with a reliable source of this important resource is a good way to attract them to your yard.

Birdbaths don’t have to be fancy. The best birdbaths are located close to the ground, are only a few inches deep, and are located in the shade. Photo credit: Mike’s Birds, cc-by-sa 2.0

You don’t have to purchase a fancy, new birdbath in order to provide water for birds and other wildlife. Many shallow pans or other containers, like a flowerpot saucer, can be turned into inexpensive birdbaths. In many cases a homemade birdbath could be just as good, or better, than a store-bought one. It all depends on how the two birdbaths are made.

Although many stores carry birdbaths, the traditional birdbath isn’t the best design for birds. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a puddle or creek sitting several feet up in the air? The best birdbaths are placed on or near the ground, because that’s where the birds’ natural water sources are found. The exception is if you have cats around, then having the birdbath on a taller pedestal is better for the birds’ safety even if it isn’t as natural.

A birdbath should only be a few inches deep and should provide plenty of traction. Really slick birdbaths can make it difficult for the birds to get in and out of the basin just like a wet bathtub with no traction in the bottom can be problematic for us. If you purchase (or already have) a birdbath with a slick bottom or one that is more than 2-3 inches deep, try adding pebbles or sand to the bottom. The pebbles and sand will make the basin shallower and provide traction.

Adding moving water to your birdbath can make it more attractive. A simple and inexpensive way to accomplish this is to hang a container (bucket, clean milk jug, etc.) with a small hole in the bottom above the birdbath and then fill the container with water so it drips into the birdbath. Photo credit: Madaise, cc-by-nd 2.0

Birds are especially drawn to the sight and sound of moving water. Adding a recirculating pump, hanging a bucket with a small hole in the bottom above the birdbath and filling the bucket with water, or even allowing a hose to trickle into the birdbath are all ways to create the sight and sound of moving water. Moving water also has two additional benefits: 1) mosquito larvae will be less likely to develop and 2) algae will grow slower. Placing the birdbath in the shade will also help keep algae from growing as quickly.

Birdbaths should be cleaned any time algae starts to grow. As with most things, algae is easier to take care of it when it first starts to occur than after it has had time to become more of a problem. A little bit of soap and some elbow grease are the best ways to take care of algae. For really bad cases of algae, use a dilute bleach solution. Always rinse the birdbath really well after cleaning it. Also make sure to change the water frequently enough to keep mosquitoes from developing.

Whether you decide to purchase a birdbath, modify one you already have, or make a homemade birdbath, providing a reliable source of water can increase the number and types of birds that visit your yard. You may also be surprised to find other wildlife such as deer, opossums, raccoons, frogs, toads, and many other species using the birdbath too if it is in a location where they can reach it.

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at

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