Summer 2006: Water for Birds -- A Good Drink and A Bath

Birds need water for drinking, bathing, and for making mud to build nests, to soak their food, and yes! to cool off on a hot day. ( They need it just as much in winter, especially to keep their feathers in good shape for flight and insulation.)

Clean water will draw birds even more then feed supplements, particularly if it's splashy and in motion.

Finally, a bird garden needs quiet.



How to "Water" Birds

           A wide variety of birdbaths can be found at a garden supply shop or on the internet. Some basic rules:

         1.  For healthy birds, keep it clean! Fill your birdbath daily and clean it regularly to remove bacteria, algae, debris, and mosquito larvae. A garden hosing is fine: so are mosquito dunks. Flush it every three to four days. (Once or twice a year, use a heavy brush and either a mild bleach solution (9 parts water to 1 part plain bleach) or vinegar. Rinse throughly.)

         2.  How deep? Shallow -- only 1-1/2 to 3 inches maximum depth, with gently sloping sides. Birds have short legs. Better too shallow than too deep.

         3.   Surface counts! Birds need a sure footing before they will use a bath. Rough it up     (concrete is ideal.) Plastic or smooth baths can be improved by adding flat rocks. Leave the surface of the rocks dry above the water edge.

          4.  Safety. Pedestal birdbaths are relatively safe from predators. Place them in the open away from shrubs and trees from which predators can hide and pounce, but close enough to branches for preening, resting, and your own viewing.

     In the wild, birds look for water at ground level or lower. You can use more then one water source. If you're using a saucer on the grass, ground cover, or among perennials, raise it up with bricks or a grate so birds can keep watch. Limiting hiding spots for predators will encourage visits.

             5.  Watch out for window hazards, especially large windows. Birds can collide on takeoff or mistake reflections for the sky. Mark picture windows with decals or decorations to keep them from mirroring and confusing birds.

Make It Yourself Birdbaths and Drippers

One of the easiest sources of homemade birdbaths is a garbage can
lid with handle (bury the handle into the ground), terracotta or plastic
pot saucers  with rocks, and the bigger the better! For wonderful birdbath ideas, see Las Palitas Nursery. (California dreaming....)         

     For magic, add a mister or a dripper.
 (Check your garden supply or internet.) Dripping or gurgling sings to birds. Attached to a hose bibb, misters spray out into the yard and shrubbery nearby with a fine mist. (And Hummingbirds like them.)
       Drippers add fresh water to baths and ponds a drip at a time.

Moving water will draw more birds out of the trees and into view than still water.


                   Home Drippers Made Easy


   1)   Drip Bucket. Take a 10 to 12 quart wooden bucket or metal pail; drill a small hole in                the bottom so an occasionally steady drip will fall. Suspend from a tree limb or                   other support about two feet above the birdbath. Or,

    2)   Hang a one or two gallon plastic jug, preferably with a handle and screw cap,
         from a tree limb, shepherd's crook, or trellis. Poke a hole in the bottom with a pin or tack. 
         Add water to the jug and test it's speed. Eight to nine drops per minute is good.*
         If you wish, you can cover the plastic jug dripper with a larger ceramic pot
         with a drainage hole or painted metal container. Lay an old piece of garden hose
         over the limb for the supporting twine or rope to rest on to prevent cutting the branch.**

    3)  "Ninety-degree Special -- Hot Weather Cocktail!" Freeze an eight quart pot of                 water; remove the pot and place it in your birdbath.

If You Make It, They Will Come!


The Best of Love to All.
--Wild Birds for the 21st Century


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Birds eat fruit (and berries, bugs, caterpillars, worms for moisture, too.) Besides Espalier (see Apr/May report): your balcony or deck or patio can grow fruit in a barrel!***

All you need is a bare root or potted dwarf fruit tree; a bucket of water to soak tree roots for an hour or more before planting; a wooden half-barrel (approx. 25 gallon capacity); soil-based potting mix.

Prune dead or broken roots. Place barrel in quiet, chosen location where birds can visit. Make sure barrel sits level. Add five inches of soil-based potting mix to the barrel. Create a small raised core of potting mix in the center of the barrel, if the plant is bare root. Place plant in barrel, letting the roots flare over the cone. Fill in around roots or root ball with potting mix, so that tree sits at same level in the new soil as it grew in the nursery. Water throughly. Make sure your dwarf tree is well-adapted to your climate. Check with your local botanist/ nursery specialist for which trees are right for your area. Read the label.Remember - birds will eat imperfect or blemished fruits just as happily as perfect fruit.***

*   - Page 176 & 177
** - Page 185 - 187
*** - Page 91

The footnoted information and above illustration can be found in Projects for the Birder's Garden : Over 100 Easy Things That You Can Make To Turn Your Yard And Garden Into A Bird-Friendly Haven, Editors Fern Marshall Bradley and Editors of Yankee Magazine, Rodale Books, 2004.

It can be ordered from in paperback or hardcover editions by clicking here.