For The Answer
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD,
SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Week of July 17, 2006
“Consider a Bird
We are in a severe drought and it is important that we save water where we can, but one use of water you may want to consider is providing a bird bath for the birds. The water is used for drinking and bathing. In mid-summer a source of water may be important to bird survival. If you enjoy observing birds, a bird bath will provide a great opportunity. More species will frequent a water source than do a bird feeder.
Bird baths can be elaborate or simple. They work if they provide a shallow basin for water that the birds can reach to drink perched on the lip of the basin. A rough surface such as that provided by concrete or plaster allows the birds to have a sure footed grip and makes it more likely they will enter the water to bathe. Our songbirds are related to ducks, but do not seem to float and they do not snorkel either, so keep the depth on part of the bath to 1.5 inches or less.
If you use a plastic or metal container, or if you have a deep basin, improve the footing and depth situation by putting a flat piece of rock in the basin. A piece of flagstone works very well.
Bird baths can be placed in the sun or the shade. There is more evaporation in the sun, but the bath will have to be filled every two days anyway. Rinsing and filling every day is probably better. The bath will become dirty and algae will grow, but it is nothing to worry about. Rinse the bath every two days with the hose spray and once per month or every six weeks scrape out some of the algae. Neatness fanatics can scrape and then rinse with a dilute bleach solution (5%) ever month.
The desirability of your bird bath to the birds can be enhanced if you rig up a dripper to provide new water to the bath on an ongoing basis. The slight splash and movement such an apparatus provides, really attracts the birds. The simplest drippers are a crooked neck metal tube set in a plaster base. The tube from the dripper connects to a garden hose and you are in business. They are inexpensive and readily available from home improvement stores, mail order catalogs, internet and your favorite bird supply store.
wet bird is vulnerable to predators.
Cats learn quickly that the bath is a good place to conduct an
ambush. Hawks are less of a threat, but
they do take advantage of birds concentrating on their baths. To minimize predation, place the bird bath six
to eight feet from a dense shrub such as a pittosporum, viburnum, pomegranate,
Many of my regular readers will find it unbelievable that I would suggest anything to benefit deer or squirrels. They are not conducive to trying to maintain an attractive landscape or produce fruit and vegetables. As frustrating as excessive numbers of deer or squirrels in a neighborhood can be to a gardener, you may want to consider providing water for them this summer as well. You could go so far as to set up a stock waterer, they are readily available at feed and farm supply stores, but a wash tub also works well. Put a cement block at the outside edge to make it easier on the squirrel to reach the water.
If you are part of the 50% of folks that loves the deer more than you do healthy landscapes or productive gardens, remember that if you provide water, you can expect added soil compaction in the vicinity of the water offering. The pests not only eat every green plant in sight, they stomp the soil.