When gardeners want to attract birds to their backyard, their first thought often goes to feeders or houses.
Though these are two great ways to attract birds, there are other options. Another obvious choice is to include plantings that provide food, shelter or cover. A fourth option, and one that is often overlooked, is simply to provide water.
Available water for birds is often limited in neighborhood yards and gardens. Birds need water for drinking, bathing and preening. They don't need elaborate water fountains or a deep pond, access to shallow water is sufficient. The backyard idea is to attract songbirds not waterfowl.
Songbirds don't swim, but bathing helps keep their feathers clean. The bird bath should be located near cover, so there are escape routes away from predators.
For a pool, shallow is better than deep, but if there is a deep end, place some rocks in and around this spot to provide places where the birds can stand.
The simplest bird bath is a shallow bowl that sits atop a pedestal. A little elevation is good for avoiding ground predators, such as cats, and also allows for better viewing opportunities. Bird baths made of cast stone, terra cotta or reinforced concrete are common and fairly inexpensive. It doesn't matter if the baths are glazed or not.
A resourceful gardener might look for interesting bird baths at estate sales or scour the thrift stores for wide, shallow bowls that could be used for a bath. Large plastic planter saucers also work, although these have to be stored indoors in winter. Setting the bath on a pedestal, log or pole also works well.
Some baths or saucers are suspended by chains that clip into the bowl lip. These work in areas where space is limited; however, the bowls may swing in a strong wind.
Adding a dripper to a bird bath also increases the chances that birds will find and use your bath. The sound of moving water is a powerful attractant, even if it is one drop at a time. Drippers may be a curved piece of metal tubing that connects to a supply line and stands upright in or on the bath's edge. Another possible source is the micro tubing that xeriscape gardeners use and by adding a low-flow dripper to the end. The tubing can be attached to the bath, as well or hidden amongst rocks.
Some gardeners install pre-cast plastic ponds or line a hole with pond liner material to create a larger, irregularly-edged pool. A circulating pump in the pond can move water up to a point where it then flows back into the pond. Shelves of rock or a curved stream adds some form to the feature and allows birds opportunities to access the water. Including some "streamside" plants will provide the cover birds need so they don't feel exposed along the water's edge.
Though bird baths work well for most of the year their value is limited in winter unless some type of heating source is added to the bath. This might be a heat cable or metal heat stand. Some bird baths come with the wiring installed. Providing water in winter is an extra bonus since birds have the same needs, but available water is scarce.
In combination with bird feeders, bird houses and plantings, adding a water feature to the backyard will enhance the attractiveness of your area to wildlife. I have spent many hours watching the comings and goings of birds and mammals in my backyard thanks to a few simple additions.
Birdbath image courtesy of Mikes Birds and Wikimedia Commons.