Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.
There’s nothing like attracting birds to a birdbath in the backyard. It’s also great to watch birds at feeders, but there’s something particularly exciting about watching birds splashing away or sipping water from a bath.
I highly recommend placing a birdbath out in the yard. However, that recommendation comes with a few caveats.
First of all, from my experience anyway, birdbaths are not as active as feeders. Don’t expect there to be non-stop action at the bath like there often is at the feeding station. That, to me, is what makes the visits to the bath so exciting.
Also, birdbaths can attract birds that typically do not visit feeders. I’ve had several species of warblers visit my birdbath over the years. Scarlet Tanagers will also visit baths. A Gray Catbird is much more likely to visit a bath than a feeder.
The second warning, and this one is far more important, is that birdbaths must be kept clean. In the winter, it’s not difficult to keep the bath and the water clean. The water can remain in the bath for several days and be fine. Keeping it from freezing is another matter, however.
In the summer, however, water should be changed every day. Maybe even a few times a day, especially during the inevitable heat waves that hit New England from time to time. Not only will the birdbath itself get dirty quicker, but the water becomes a breeding ground for all sorts of stuff you don’t growing in your yard.
The greatest concern is mosquitoes breeding in the birdbath. It doesn’t take long for mosquitoes to find stagnant water and start creating the next generation. This, of course, is particularly important with the threat of West Nile Virus, Zika and whatever strange disease the mosquitoes will be responsible for next.
Simply dump the water on the ground, spilling any larvae into the grass, and refill with fresh water. It only takes a minute or two and it’s the responsible thing to do, both for the birds and your neighbors. Again, that should be done daily during the summer.
If you’re going on vacation or even getting away for the weekend, simply dump the water from the bath before leaving. It’s also a good idea to remove the bowl and bring it inside or leave it upside-down outside while you are away to avoid having it fill with rain.
On top of the daily water change, birdbaths should be thoroughly cleaned periodically. In the summer the bottom of a birdbath will turn slimy and disgusting quickly. It takes more time than simply dumping and refilling, but a good, thorough cleaning is important.
In the dead of summer, birdbaths should be cleaned every other day or so. Certainly if you see algae building up on the bath, give it a good cleaning.
To clean a birdbath, empty the water, scrub the bowl with a brush and rinse well. Refill with fresh water. It’s as easy as that – if the bowl is relatively clean to begin with. If a more thorough cleaning is necessary, use a mixture of 10 parts water and one part bleach. If you do that, however, be sure to rinse the bath very well before refilling.
Birdbaths can bring great joy. There’s nothing like looking out and seeing a Scarlet Tanager or Magnolia Warbler splashing around in the water. Even seeing American Robins or Blue Jays is a thrill. Maintaining a bath, however, takes a little work. The rewards are worth the effort, though, no question about that.