A bird bath is an artificial "puddle" or small shallow pond, created with a water-filled basin, in which birds may bathe, 'cool off,' and from which they may drink. A bird bath can be a garden ornament, small reflecting pool, outdoor sculpture, and part of creating a vital wildlife garden.
A bird bath is an attraction for many different species of birds to visit gardens, especially during the summer and drought periods. Bird baths that provide a reliable source of water year round add to the popularity and "micro-habitat" support.
Bird baths can be pre-made basins on pedestals and columns or hang from leaves and trees, or be carved out depressions in rocks and boulders. Requirements include: a shallow gradually deepening basin; open surroundings to minimize cats' stalking; clean and renewed-refilled water; and cleaning to avoid contamination and mosquitoes. Two inches of water in the center is sufficient for most backyard birds, because they do not submerge their bodies, only dipping their wings to splash water on their backs. Deeper or wide basins can have "perch islands" in the water, which can also help discourage feline predators. Elevation on a pedestal is a common safety measure, providing a clear area around the bird bath that is free of hiding locations for predators. A bird feeder can complement a bird bath to encourage birds to linger and return.
Design and construction
The traditional bird bath is made of molded concrete or glazed terra cotta formed in two pieces: the bowl and the pedestal. The bowl has an indentation or socket in the base which allows it to fit on the pedestal. The pedestal is typically about one meter tall. Both bowl and pedestal can be clean or decorated with bas-relief. Bowls can be pure curved geometry, or have motifs of a shell or pseudo-rocky spring. The pedestal can also be a simple silhouette or incorporate decorations. Birds seem unconcerned with the aesthetics, with even a shallow plate, pie-tin, or puddle below a slowly dripping water outlet used.
Bird baths can be made with other types of materials, including glass, metals (i.e.: copper), plastics, mosaic tiles, marble, or any other material that can be outdoors and hold water. In natural landscape gardens rocks and boulders with natural or stonemason carved basins can fit in unobtrusively. Some bird baths use a recirculating pump as part of a fountain or water feature, and can include filters, a float valve-water connection for automatic refilling, or a drip irrigation emitter aimed into the bowl. Some use a solar powered pump, floating or submerged, to recirculate the water. Birds are attracted to the sight and sound of running water, with integrated or nearby fountains an important element to bring birds to the garden.
Perch and view needs
An important feature of a bird bath, which should be considered when designing one, is a place to perch. The bath should also be shallow enough to avoid the risk of birds drowning. This requirement may be fulfilled by making the bowl shallow enough to allow birds to perch in the water. Another way is to add clean stones inside the bowl to create places where a bird can stand.
Safe refuge needs
Consideration should also be made to the issue of house cats and other predators, by placing the bird bath in a location where birds can see the area around it, and where there are no hiding places for predators. Birds cannot fly well when their feathers are wet, so it's best to allow 2 feet of open space on all sides of the bath, so that birds can see danger coming with enough time to escape.
This is one of the reasons bird baths are customarily placed on pedestals in the middle of a lawn beneath limbs of a large tree, to which the birds may fly quickly if threatened. To see approaching predators, birds should be able to see the clearing around it, over the edge of the bird bath as they bathe; hence a small diameter bird bath is better. Only very low and open foliage plants should be placed beneath a bird bath to avoid providing a hiding place for a predator.
If the bowl is too deep, some birds will be afraid to enter the bath, staying at the edge and using it for drinking water only, being unable to see beyond the edge if entering the water, or unwilling to enter water that is too deep for their safety.
To make a safe and secure habitat for birds be careful not to unintentionally create dangerous items, such as unused plant holders and open-lidded trash cans. Items such as these can & will drown a bird after filling with rainwater.
Birds lacking binocular vision have poor depth perception, and can find a bird bath off-putting if they're unable to judge the water's depth. Leaning a stick or flat rock against the bird bath rim as a ramp to allow them gradual access into the water may allay their fear.
Including native plants, and ornamental plants, that supply berries, acorns, nuts, seeds, nectar, and other foods, and also bird nest building materials encourages the health and new generations of birds. These qualities can also increase the visible population to enjoy in a garden. Using companion planting and the birds' insect cuisine habits is a traditional method for pest control in an organic garden, and any landscape.
Taller shrubs and trees nearby allow short and safe "commutes" to the bird bath. The bird bath will attract more birds if placed where a frightened bird can fly up easily to an overhanging limb or resting place if disturbed or attacked.
Larger birds, such as the Canada goose, also enjoy baths. They may be accommodated well by large agricultural sprinklers in a field of stubble. The sight of several hundred or thousand large geese "playing in the sprinklers" can be a moving experience. Providing such a place for migratory birds, especially in urban and suburban areas devoid of wetlands is an excellent way of encouraging them to frequent an area. As wetlands become more scarce, steps such as these can be important conservation practices.
A bird bath requires regular maintenance. Maintenance may be as simple as a daily quick wash and refill, but it will depend on the bird bath materials. This is important because of the possible adverse health effects of birds drinking dirty water, or water which may have become fouled with excrement, algae, or fungi. Fresh water is important. Concrete bird baths tend to become mossy and, therefore, slippery—requiring an occasional scrubbing out with a stiff brush.
Bird baths often are the central feature of an overall plan for a garden setting that includes natural nectar and food plants, shrubs, trees, and feeders. They often are placed where they may be viewed through the windows of a home, school, or office. They also may be placed on a small patio, deck, or terrace which is designed carefully to provide for the safety of the birds by eliminating access by predators. Deck mounted birdbaths are popular for people that do not have much yard space or live in a building with no yard, but do have a balcony or deck. These types of birdbaths can be mounted directly to a deck rail, thereby eliminating any floor space use.
- Bird feeder
- Bird watching
- Conservation biology
- Riparian zone restoration
- "Offer Water to Wildlife In Winter" from National Wildlife Magazine 1/6/2010
- Sally Roth (1998). Attracting Birds to Your Backyard: A Rodale Organic Gardening Book, p. 18. Rodale Press Inc., Emmaus PA, ISBN 0-87596-892-9.
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ponds and birdbaths | http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/backyard/ponds-birdbath.htm | accessdate = 2009-03-13
- "The Best Way to Offer Water to the Birds". The Ornate Bird Garden. 2007-10-22. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Water for wildlife by L Cryer and F Mazzotti http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW09600.pdf
- Sally Roth (1998). Attracting Birds to Your Backyard: A Rodale Organic Gardening Book, also on p. 18. Rodale Press Inc., Emmaus PA, ISBN 0-87596-892-9.