One of the ways to attract birds to your yard is to feed them. Another way is to provide a source of water. While Michigan has abundant water sources, birds really appreciate a nearby source of drinking and bathing water close to nesting and feeding sites. Ponds, large water features and natural water areas may not provide the shallow, protected places they like to bathe in and drink from. In hot and dry spells during summer you may see more species of birds at a bird bath than at a feeder. Birds splashing and playing in water are entertaining so make sure your bird bath is located somewhere where you can watch the fun.
Birds like shallow water and dripping or flowing water is a big draw. A small fountain with a shallow basin will be eagerly used. The simpler the design of the fountain the better. Make sure that birds splashing in the basin of the fountain don’t dislodge stones or ornaments which will then direct the fountain stream out of the basin, wasting water and burning out the pump.
A fine spray, small stream or gentle drip is preferable to harder streams of water. A simple jug with a small hole in it suspended over a basin to catch the drips will be a bird favorite. Dump and clean the basin every other day. Fountain bases where the water is re-circulated won’t become mosquito breeders but may become dirty and cause bird diseases. Remove floating debris like leaves and feathers daily and dump, clean and refill every week.
Birds will also use less elaborate set ups of simple saucer-like bird baths. Saucers with rough surfaces that keep tiny feet from slipping around are ideal. The depth of the basin should be no more than 4 inches at the deepest part. If it is deeper add a large flat stone in some part of the basin whose surface will be just under the water. This is fairly easy to remove for cleaning. Keep the surface area of the basin modest in size – 12 – 18 inches is a good size.
Saucer type bird baths should be easy to dump and clean. To keep down mosquitoes and bird diseases they should be dumped and refilled every other day. A good scrubbing with a rough brush once a week is recommended. Disinfectants and cleaners are generally not needed. If the feeder looks exceptionally dirty just use a dish detergent, scrub, and rinse well.
Locate your bird bath in an open area but with cover nearby. Wet birds are somewhat more vulnerable to predators and need a hiding place they can fly to quickly. Sunny or shady areas work equally well when its hot, sunny areas are better in cooler times of the year. Elevate the bird bath from 1 to 3 feet off the ground. This makes them feel safer and you will be able to enjoy watching their bathing antics better. The bird bath should be in a spot that’s quiet, without a lot of human or pet traffic near it. The shyer species won’t bathe if they feel predators, like cats, might be near.
Do not add bird baths directly under bird feeders. Seed hulls and droppings will quickly make a mess of the water. Place them at least a few feet away from feeders.
Birds appreciate a source of water in the winter too. There are heaters that can be added to birdbaths and birdbaths with heated bases that keep unfrozen water available. If you have a basin type bird bath that won’t crack when it freezes you can simply provide warm water a few times a day.