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Providing Water for Birds

If you set out clean water that is 2" to 3" deep, birds don't care too much how it's presented. They will come for a drink if it's in a shallow plastic or metal bowl (with a rock in the center to stabilize it for large birds), in a bird bath or a fountain. Providing water is the best way to attract the greatest variety of birds, especially if you live in a desert or mountainous area where water is harder to find. Birds are attracted to moving water, so installing a dripper or a fountain will draw the most visitors. Choose a sunny location if possible to get better lighting for photos.

robin on birdbath at sunset

To help prevent the spread of disease, change the water daily or at least twice per week, wearing rubber gloves to wipe or scrub out the basin. During frigid days when many birds flock about our bird bath - perhaps drinking a lot to warm up a bit - the water gets so dirty (especially after birds take baths) that I have to change the water twice in one day. It has also happened on cold days that the birds have gone through almost a whole gallon of water. About once per month scrub the basin with a mixture of 9 parts water with 1 part bleach to get it really clean and rinse well.

2 flickers at pie tin for water

Living in a high desert region, a few birds were attracted to our pie tin filled with water. But once the water started freezing over, we went to a bird store and purchased a Four Seasons Bird Bath ($40 to $55 online). The heating element is hidden within the hard plastic 20 " diameter dish. It will keep about a gallon of water just above freezing even when temperatures drop below zero. The birds are usually agreeable about sharing and I have seen up to ten birds at the bath at once.

starlings crowding on birdbath

2 scolding robins on birdbath

We chose this bath because it can attach to a deck railing or an extended 2" x 6" board (2" x 4" is too small) nailed onto something. To change the water, you simply tilt the bowl to dump it, then snap it back in place. My mechanical engineer husband figured out that two screw holes drilled into the side of the metal clamp made the basin very snug and helped the latch stay closed tightly.

Initially, we attached the bath to a 2" x 6" board nailed beneath a bench built onto our deck. Even though the board extended about 10" from our deck, we still got droppings on the bench. As our bath became popular with the neighborhood birds, I noticed many droppings on the ground around it. Not wanting that much mess so close to the house, and desiring direct lighting for photos of birds descending on the bath, we moved it with the same 2" x 6" board and nailed it onto a 4" x 4" post toward one side of our yard. The electrical cord for the heating element can be buried beneath the lawn so it won't be a tripping hazard. The bath is made to attach to a deck railing for good bird viewing from inside one's house, but if it's used by many birds, I can't imagine many people wanting to put up with a lot of droppings on their deck.

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