Amy K. Hooper
The sound of running water attracts birds to a birdbath more than a pool of still water.
Wild birds need fresh water year-round, and we can offer that vital element in many forms in our yards. The options include birdbaths, drippers, bubblers/fountains, misters, streams and ponds. The most important consideration is our willingness to clean these areas and offer pure water. Regardless of the seasonal weather around our homes, we always can give birds something essential to their survival.
Most of us think first of birdbaths — the traditional, elevated, shallow container of still water. Birds will drink the water and also bathe in it to clean their feathers, which can pick up dust and other particles. The chance to clean and preen their feathers allows birds to keep flying.
Elevated birdbaths offer more safety from outdoor cats that should be indoors, while shallow containers provide better footing in the water. Some backyard birdwatchers add a big stone or two and pebbles for more perching options for avian visitors. The water level likely should remain just 1 to 2 inches.
Bubblers Or Fountain Drippers
The sound of moving water can attract even more birds than still water does, so consider attaching a dripper — which looks like a simple faucet — connected to a fresh-water source. A bubbler or fountain works with the water already in the birdbath’s basin, moving it up and around and creating more noise.
A mister can work as a stand-alone item, not necessary with a birdbath. It sprays a fine mist into the air and typically catches the attention of hummingbirds. The small fighter pilots zip through the mist repeatedly to wet their feathers, then land on nearby perches to preen.
To lure more birds, think about setting up more than one water feature in different areas of your yard. If local and migratory birds see and hear the water, you might see and hear a conga line of visitors moving through your vision.
Cleaning & Maintenance
While misters require little to no maintenance, birdbaths definitely need regular cleaning to ensure that birds drink fresh water. Visitors can leave behind droppings that carry disease, as well as food and parasites such as lice. Still water can host mosquito eggs, too.
If you’re going to successfully offer fresh water to wild birds, you have to commit to weekly cleaning of birdbaths. (Daily refills also should fill the bill — no pun intended.) For less than 10 minutes once a week, use a strong blast from the garden hose, a scrub brush and a weak bleach solution (1 tablespoon to a gallon) to ensure that your water supply keeps visiting birds healthy. Some wild-bird supply stores sell cleaning solutions.
Other water-feature options include streams and ponds. These involve more planning and maintenance than birdbaths do, but they also can lure a wider variety of birds, especially during migration if your home sits under a flyway. Again, think shallow water features — maybe 3 inches deep at most and with plenty of rocks to provide perches.
Even if you provide a simple birdbath on your patio, you can help wild birds during winter in colder regions, too. Birds always need fresh water, and they might visit your home if you’ve used a submersible heating element or a heated birdbath. If you opt for a submersible heater, check that the watts won’t melt the birdbath, and use an outdoor extension cord to connect the deicer to an electrical outlet.
Want to learn how to feed wild birds? Check out these articles on bird feeders:
Hopper Bird Feeders
Window Bird Feeders
Jelly Bird Feeders
Globe Bird Feeders
Nyjer or Thistle Bird Feeders
Tube Bird Feeders
Suet Bird Feeders
Hopper Bird Feeders
Platform Bird Feeders