With the exceedingly warm weather that the Washington area has been experiencing, we are all concerned about keeping our gardens healthy and well-maintained. However, many of the birds and animals that visit our gardens are also feeling the effects of the summer weather.
While some bird species get all the water they require from the vegetation and insects that they eat, many other species need a reliable source of fresh water to drink from and to bathe in. Birds need water both to prevent dehydration and to aid in digestion. A birdbath not only provides a cool respite from the heat but also keeps their feathers clean and in tip-top shape.
Birds are more than happy to use a shallow stream or even a puddle for their baths, but puddles have been few and far between with the ongoing drought. During dry spells a birdbath can prove even more irresistible than a well-stocked feeder to our fine-feathered friends.
A birdbath can be as simple as a large plant saucer or even an upturned garbage can lid filled with water, but many more visually appealing birdbaths are available commercially. A high quality birdbath can make for a nice focal point in the garden, used much like a piece of sculpture. Look for a large shallow dish, no deeper than 2 to 3 inches at the center, with a rim around the edge for birds to perch and preen upon. Avoid very smooth glazed surfaces—a rough surface on the inside of the bath will make the birds feel more comfortable and sure-footed.
Place the birdbath under or near a tree to provide a safe place for waiting birds to perch. Place it on a pedestal, so that it is reasonably safe from predators, and keep it away from shrubs and other objects that could serve as a hiding place for cats and other animals that might prey on the unwary bathers. Choose a site convenient to a hose so that you won’t forget to keep it filled and clean. Every few days, or whenever you notice the water getting dirty, empty the bath and clean it with a strong blast from a hose nozzle.
This, along with a thorough scrubbing with a coarse brush every few weeks, will keep the birds happy and the bath free of algae and mosquitoes. A kitchen steel wool pad is great for removing algae and the soap will reduce the bacteria and fungi that may harm the birds. Rinse the bath thoroughly. Birdfeeders, birdbaths, and especially hummingbird feeders must be cleaned on a regular basis to reduce the chance of spreading diseases among birds.
Consider using a small recirculating pump to provide a gentle stream of water into the bath. The sound of moving water is particularly attractive to birds and the recirculating water will help to keep the bath cool, fresh, and mosquito larvae-free.
Editor’s note: We would like to emphasize the importance of cleaning out a birdbath at least one or twice a week to keep it from becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are known to transmit several serious diseases, not the least of which is West Nile Virus. By emptying and cleaning the birdbath once or twice a week and eliminating other sources of standing and or stagnant water from your property, you will be doing your part to decrease the mosquito population in our area.
by Kevin O’Toole, Artist and Horticulturist
(Republished from an archived GardeNews Letter)