As I write this post, winter is fast approaching. Cold weather, snow and ice are fun for me and the children, sliding along on the school run. But I want to spare a thought for the birds on my bird feeder. I want to get a bird bath to provide a safe place for the birds to drink and wash but where is the best place to put one and what makes a good bird bath?
The answer to the question of where to put a bird bath is quite simple – in the shade near to natural cover, such as trees and shrubs. Just like bird feeders, the location of a bird bath should allow a bird to dart into cover if they sense danger. As to what makes a good choice of bath – comfort, a suitable safe height and cleanliness are the most important factors to consider.
Below I have put together some bird bath tips for you.
What Makes A Good Bird Bath?
When choosing a new bird bath for your garden it is important to consider our preferences as well as the birds’. What I mean is, I could go out today and choose a bird bath that I think would be great for the birds; it doesn’t suit my garden, it’s too big and I just don’t like how it looks. I am less likely to enjoy looking at it, let alone go out and maintain it regularly.
So, my first top bird bath tip is to choose something you like and that suits your garden environment, rather than spending money on something you think the birds would like. Here are the 5 top tips for using bird baths.
- Comfort: Most bird baths are designed in such a way to suit the birds that will be using them. Something with shallow sloping sides is best so they don’t fall in my mistake. Birds also prefer a rough surface that is easier for their talons to grip. A concrete or stone bird bath is often the better choice.
- Size: A bird bath needs to be large enough for more than one bird to use at a time. Some birds refer to bathe alone but others prefer to bathe in a group. The ideal size is 30 cm or more in diameter around 30 cm
- Moving Water: Running or moving water is more likely to attract wild birds to bathe compared with still, stagnant water. There are a number of ways to achieve this – misters, fountain-style water features, bubbling water. While water movement is attractive to birds, it also minimises the growth of algae in a bird bath and the presence of unwanted insects.
- Height: Getting a bird bath at the right height will prevent an easy attack from a cat or other predator. The height of a bird bath is also key to which birds you will see visiting. Smaller birds such as Tits, Robins and Finches prefer a higher vantage point. Larger birds like Pigeons, Doves and often Blackbirds like bathing at ground level.
- Cleanliness: This is possible one of the most important parts of keeping a bird bath. A dirty, smelly, stagnant bird bath is not going to entice birds to your garden. Keeping a bird bath clean is essential and can be done in many ways. I have included a guide in this post – Red Algae In Your Bird Bath? This Is What To Do. Something to bear in mind is how easy a bird bath would be to clean. For an easier option, avoid elaborate bird baths with more intricate and detailed features.
Choosing The Best Place To Put A Bird Bath
A common question – should you put a bird bath in the shade or the sun? Where possible, bird baths should be placed in a shaded place. This ensures the birds are out of the hot sun and can cool down as they bathe. Be careful not to put your bird bath too close to fences or other ambush sites that could be used by an attacking predator. Try to find a place that gets natural shade throughout the day, rather than using an area enclosed by a nearby out building or fence line.
Putting a bird bath in the shade will also help prevent, or at least, slow down the inevitable growth of algae and other nasties that thrive in sunnier places.
Make sure there is protective cover nearby; as has been mentioned many times, birds need to have a safe place to get to that is not too close but not too far. A tree or large shrub around four or five feet away or more is just fine. I am experimenting with feeders in the front garden at the moment, where there is little natural cover. However, the best place I have found is a metre or so from a medium sized, low hanging tree in the back garden. I can watch the birds playing in the tree waiting for their turn to feed. It seems to be a popular place to congregate for Goldfinches and Blue Tits.
Birds Are Not Coming To My New Bird Bath
I feel your pain! Many times I have refilled the plastic dish that came with my pole feeding station, hoping to see birds taking a dip. All that actually happens is the Pigeons use it as a perch and leave their droppings in it. Basically, the small plastic dishes you get with a feeding pole set up is almost always better used as a feeding tray. Be prepared for larger, pest like birds to help themselves from an open tray.
If you have done your best by putting out fresh water but still find birds are not coming to a new bird bath, the first thing to do is be patient. It could take a while for birds to find it. If you have added a bath to an existing feeding area, already popular with birds, they may just be wary of the new object for a short time. If after a week the birds still won’t use the bird bath, maybe there is something else you could try.
How To Get Birds To Use A Bird Bath
Here’s a list of tips you can go through. See if there is anything you can change so birds are more likely to use your bird bath. I have already mentioned some above.
Place it Lower
Most bird baths you buy these days (and the style many people associate with) are pedestal bird baths. They are usually about a metre high and look nice in the garden. But is a pedestal bird bath the best type?
If you have your bird bath at a higher level try putting it lower down, either firmly seated on the ground or just a foot or so up on an old milk crate or a few bricks. In nature, natural sources of water that birds use are at ground level. Clearly, the location of a ground level bird bath would need to be free from threat and unwanted attention but bird may just prefer it that way.
Shallow is Best
Most birds don’t like deep water, unless they are a Seagull or Puffin! The ideal depth for a bird bath is around 2″ or less. This depth is just right for smaller birds to jump in and splash about. If your bird bath is deeper than a couple of inches and you don’t want to change it, you could always put a few large stones or some gravel in the water. These will give the birds a safe place to stand in and around the bath without it being too deep.
A Shady Place
If you have followed the guide above for where to put your bird bath, hopefully you have it in the shade already. If your bird bath is out in the sun move it to the shade and see what a difference it makes.
By keeping a bird bath in a sun trap the water gets warm and evaporates quicker. Birds visit a bird bath to cool off and take a sip of some fresh water. They don’t like warm water and won’t return if the bird bath runs dry. Also, beware the algae! Algae thrives in the hot sun.
Non Slip Surface
How many bird baths have you seen that are made from ceramic or a similar material that look great but can be slippery when wet? My children had a rubber bath mat when they were really young to stop them from falling in the bath. The same goes for our birds.
If you are looking to buy a new bird bath, look for something with a suitable surface, giving birds a good grip in the water. If you already have a bird bath try lining the bottom of it with some pea gravel or stones. This will make the birds feel safer in the water.
Give Them Cover
Just like feeders a bird bath needs to be within flitting distance of some protective cover. Again, not so close to a branch, fence or other place a predator can launch from but close enough that a bird can dart to when danger approaches. Providing some natural cover also gives bird a safe place to land and use to approach the bird bath.
It is a good idea to put a stick or similar object next to the bird bath so birds have a place to land upon their approach. Providing this will make the bird bath more approachable for birds, who can use the perch as a vantage point to scan the area for danger before settling in to bathe.
A perch next to the bath is a good place for a bird to sit and preen themselves after bathing. If you can, do not place the perch over the bird bath, as it will also be used by birds to poop as well.
Keep Your Bird Bath Clean
A clean bath is a nice bath and birds will love you for it. As already mentioned cleaning a bird bath is so important if you want the birds to keep coming. If left for too long, the algae will come. As well as algae there will be bits of seed, poo, feathers, insects and more.
It isn’t difficult to give a bird bath a quick clean now and then. Ideally it will be done every couple of days, if not every day depending on the seasonal weather. Vinegar can be used as a really effective cleaning agent that is not harmful to birds. For a more neglected bird bath you might consider using bleach with water. Make sure you thoroughly rinse with fresh water after cleaning with bleach.
Make It Available
We want birds to come to our feeders and bird baths – that is the whole point of this. Don’t allow your visiting birds to find a dry or frozen bird bath. They will just go and find another one and you will not see them for a while.
In the summer months you will find that water in a bird bath disappears very quickly. This is either because it gets used more by birds, or it is due to the main reason that water evaporates in warm weather. So, keep an eye on your bird bath and make sure it is topped up with cool fresh water.
In the winter months shallow water in a bird bath will freeze, particularly at ground level. Make sure the water in your bird bath is not iced over. If it is, remove the ice and top up with clean water.
This could be tricky if you have no electricity supply near your bird bath. Unless you want to go all out and spend more money on the birds in your garden, you may not be able to follow this tip.
Birds like running and moving water. A bird bath with moving water that sparkles in the sunlight will more likely catch the attention of a passing bird as it flies over your garden. If you have the means to, add a mister or a low pressure pump to get the water bubbling or trickling. There are many water feature type bird baths available but they will need an electricity supply to work.
An alternative is something I found recently online – a solar-powered water fountain. Only 16 cm in diameter, it is suitable for a bird bath, ponds or any other water feature you might have. It is solar powered, so needs no electricity supply to work. This one is on Amazon and has a lot of good reviews.
There are benefits to having moving water in a bird bath. It helps prevent the onset of the dreaded algae and other things like bugs contaminating the water.