American Robins on birdbath
Photo by Jean Schuster, FL

Birds need fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing. Most birds drink water every day. They also seem to enjoy bathing to clean their plumage and remove parasites. Providing water improves habitat for birds and other animals, and increases your chances of observing their fun behaviors up close! You can attract more birds to your balcony, roof patio, or yard by including a birdbath, and few things are more attractive to them than a clean, well-maintained one.

Warbler bathing in a natural puddle
photo © Birdmandea

Good birdbaths are similar to shallow puddles, the natural birdbaths in the wild for birds. Choose a shallow container that is easy to clean, such as an old frying pan, shallow baking pan, or plastic lids of large containers. If you have a yard, you could dig a shallow hole and line it with plastic or some other waterproof material. Although birds prefer water basins that are on the ground, consider if cats are a danger. If you think that a birdbath on the ground might be too tempting to cats, put the birdbath three or four feet off the ground. Place some sand in the bottom of the bath and arrange a few branches or stones in the container, so birds can stand on them and drink without getting wet. This is especially important in the winter when keeping body heat is essential for survival in the cold.

Hawk at birdbath in back yard
photo © Mary Marin, WI

You can try an immersion heater for keeping the water from freezing in a birdbath. These heaters are safe and cost pennies a day to operate or you could try putting a light bulb in a plant pot and place the water basin on top. The light bulb will keep the water from freezing.

To keep the water fresh, remember to change the water in the birdbath and clean it every couple of days. Try to clean the birdbath before the water becomes stale, and clean the bottom and walls immediately if green algae begin to form. Keep the birdbath full of water and then enjoy the feathery visitors having fun at your “puddle!”

Northern Cardinal taking a bath in birdbath
photo © Robert Scott, Ontario, CANADA

Learn more about Providing Water for Birds from the Great Backyard Bird Count (PDF).