Water is an essential component of any bird-friendly backyard, but hot summer days can quickly dry out bird baths and leave birds without a reliable water source, especially in areas that are prone to drought conditions. There are different tactics and tricks backyard birders can use, however, to keep bird baths topped off with ease so birds are never without fresh water.
Use the Proper Bird Bath
A small, shallow bird bath will dry out quickly, and switching to a larger, deeper bath can help keep water more readily available to backyard birds. A deeper basin can be more difficult for birds to reach, but positioning twigs that angle into the water can provide perches even as the water level fluctuates, and stacking rocks in one section of the bath can create a shallower section for small birds to use. Avoid very deep baths or using buckets or barrels as bird baths, however, since small birds can drown in deeper reservoirs. If rain barrels are present in the yard, they should always be covered or topped with screens to prevent mishaps.
Another option is to switch from typical basin bird baths to reservoir waterers, such as the Garden Sip & Seed or similar designs. These "water cooler" styles provide a continuous source of water for birds with only a small drinking area available at once so evaporation and waste are minimized. It may take birds some time to grow accustomed to waterers, but once they discover the water source, they will be frequent visitors.
Eliminate Other Bath Uses and Wasted Water
There are many sources of wasted water at bird baths, and reducing the amount of water spilled or otherwise used up without birds can help keep a bath full for a longer period. Check that the bird bath is properly placed to avoid accidental tips or spills, including spills or splashes from high winds, and check that the basin is level so it can be filled as full as possible. Use baffles, fencing or other deterrents to keep other wildlife away if they may visit for drinks or baths, and consider using rocks or branches to break up the surface of the water and discourage birds from bathing – vigorous splashing can empty even a generous bath in minutes, especially when flocks of robins or sparrows all bathe at once. When cleaning the bird bath, inspect it carefully for any damage that may be causing unwanted leaks or drips that can waste water.
Refilling the Bath
Even with the best efforts, bird baths will eventually dry up. While it is best to rinse and refill a bath daily, that may not always be possible, but with clever adjustments or unique tricks, it is possible to keep a bird bath topped up even without frequent refills.
- Add ice to the bath each morning – freeze a block of ice in a plastic bowl each night – and as the ice melts, it will refill the bath and keep the water fresh. Reflections off the ice can also help attract birds to the water source, and the cooler water will resist algae and bacteria growth.
- Position the bird bath in an area that gets shade during the hottest part of the day to minimize evaporation. If possible, keep the bath in full shade during the summer months.
- Adjust the bath's position or height to take advantage of automatic sprinklers for a little extra topping off whenever the lawn is watered, but be sure it is not so close to nozzles that water is actually forced out of the bath.
- Position the end of a flowerbed or garden drip watering system to help refill the bird bath whenever the bed is watered.
- Add a small dripper or mister above the bird bath, which will not only help refill the bath but will attract birds with splashing noises and sparkling reflections.
- Place the bird bath underneath a gutter downspout so any rain, even small amounts, may help refill the basin.
Even with multiple tricks to help keep the bath full, it is best to check the basin regularly to ensure it is not drying out. If possible, adding additional baths, waterers, fountains and other water sources to the yard will ensure birds always have a way to get a drink even if one water source has gone dry. A full bath is more reliable to birds, and by offering a good water source in the backyard, birders can attract a greater variety of thirsty bird species.