Not only are they interesting to watch and listen to, but birds can play a powerful role in de-bugging your garden.
If you make your yard an inviting place for birds, they will be happy to return the favor by eating insects, worms and bugs that may be plaguing your garden. Perhaps one of the easiest and least expensive ways to attract more birds -- and a greater variety of birds -- to your garden is with water.
Birds need water for drinking and for preening (the process by which they clean their feathers), and they just seem to love splashing around in it as well. While there are many elaborate ways of adding water features to your garden, birds can be just as content with a do-it-yourself bird bath as they are with an expensive waterfall feature.
A traditional bird bath is about three feet high and made in two pieces - a bowl and a pedestal --of glazed terra cotta or of molded concrete. However, many other materials can be used (such as glass, marble, mosaic tile and plastic) as long as it can hold water and can tolerate weather conditions. You can re-purpose many items you have around your house. Just be careful the bowl is clean with no sharp edges and is rust-free. Here are some ideas to consider:
* an old hubcap
* a metal pie pan
* a glass cake pan
* an overturned garbage can lid
* a large shallow bowl
* a serving tray
* a large pot saucer
Use your imagination. To attract and keep attracting your feathered friends to your watering hole, you do need to follow some basic guidelines. Here are six tips:
Keep it shallow. You can use almost anything that holds water for a birdbath from a dish to a tub, but you will attract more birds if the water is shallow enough for them to comfortably stand in. Your bath should be two inches at its deepest point (for larger birds such as cardinals, blue jays and grackles), with the ideal depth for most songbirds to be about an inch or less.
Make it natural. If you watch birds preening at a stream or pond, you will notice that they often gather in shallow, pebbly areas. You can mimic this type of environment by adding pea gravel and rocks of various sizes to your bird bath. Natural rocks such as slate will give birds safe perches as they bathe. You also can raise one end of a dish slightly to give varying depths to the water.
Provide an escape. Birds are naturally wary of predators and will not feel comfortable visiting a water feature that is too out in the open. Find a spot that offers nearby low-hanging tree branches, shrubs or other easy perches birds can reach if they need to get away quickly. You might even consider hanging a saucer of water from a tree branch.
Offer some shade. Most birds do not like to bathe in full sun, but, on the other hand, they want to feel warm. If you position your bird bath in a spot where it will get morning sun and afternoon shade, you should be able to appeal to most birds.
When thinking about placing your bird bath, also keep in mind a spot where you can see it from a nearby window or porch, or you will miss all the fun.
Keep it moving. You'll attract some birds with standing water, but it will probably be the ones who were coming to your yard anyway because of your feeder or your trees. Migrating birds probably won't notice it. Birds have sensitive hearing, and they can hear dripping or running water from a long distance away. They also will notice the movement of water as they fly overhead and swoop down to investigate.
To give the water some movement, you can purchase a battery-operated water agitator (around $25 to $30) for your bird bath or select a bird bath that already has this feature. Also called "water wigglers," these little domes create constant ripples in the water, providing the double duty of both attracting birds and discouraging mosquitoes. Another option is to use a dripping hose or a mister attachment on your hose. With proper placement, the mister can give a gentle waterfall effect that birds love.
Keep it clean. Birds can get a bath pretty dirty in no time at all. You'll notice feathers, leaves, sticks and all kinds of stuff in the water. They have been busy cleaning themselves of dirt and debris in the water after all. You'll notice a sharp decline in their presence if you don't keep the water clean, however.
Plan to give the bowl a good cleaning once a week. Remove all the water and debris and use a stiff-bristled brush to clean the bottom and the sides. This prevents mosquito larvae from moving in as well. You may need to use an abrasive cleaner or even a diluted bleach solution to clean off stubborn algae. Just make sure you thoroughly rinse the bath with fresh water to avoid exposing the birds to any chemicals.
You will be rewarded for your efforts by happy birds. They always notice when a bird bath has been cleaned and seem excited to splash around in the clear water.
Like all living creatures, birds need water to survive. By offering a water feature in your backyard, you not only help birds stay clean and hydrated, you also help the ecosystem. A great side benefit is that you may be able to see and enjoy new species. Have your binoculars handy!