Water is critical for birds in summer, particularly on the hottest days or in drought-prone regions, but unsafe bird baths can be even more dangerous to birds than no water at all. For example, a dirty bird bath – whether it is contaminated with feces, seed hulls, molted feathers, grass clippings or other debris – is a breeding ground for communicable bacteria and viruses that can infect an entire bird flock. Similarly, a warm bath with old, scummy water is more likely to harbor not only bacteria, but also disease-carrying mosquitoes and other insects, some of which can also be harmful to humans. Backyard birders should take care that their baths are not contributing to disease or other unwanted side effects, and these tips can help.
- Keep It Clean: Clean bird baths regularly and offer only fresh, clean water to birds. Daily rinsing can keep debris from building up in a bird bath, and more thorough cleaning with a weak bleach solution should be done whenever algae or staining becomes prominent. If necessary, soak the bath with a stronger bleach solution to remove deep stains and sterilize the basin.
- Shade Is Best: Position summer bird baths in shaded, protected areas. This will not only keep the water cooler and slow evaporation, but it will also lessen algae growth and discourage mosquitoes and other insects from breeding in the water. The bath should also be in an area where it will not easily tip or fall during severe summer storms or when children or pets play in the yard.
- Steer Clear of Chemicals: Protect the bath from summer chemical applications such as garden or lawn fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, as even small amounts of these chemicals can be toxic and deadly to birds. If cleaners are used on the bath, be sure it is thoroughly rinsed and dried before being refilled so there is no remaining chemical residue that could endanger birds.
- Fill It Up: A full bath provides more water for more birds to use, and will take longer to fully evaporate. Adjust automatic sprinklers or use the end of a drip watering system to help keep the bird bath full, or add a block of ice to the bath each morning so it will slowly melt and keep the water clean and fresh, which will also attract more thirsty birds, but be sure the basin is no more than 2-3 inches deep or smaller birds will be unable to use the bath.
- Add More Water: In especially dry areas or periods of intense heat waves, it can be useful to add additional bird baths to the yard. Simple plant saucers, pie tins or pet bowls are easy makeshift bird baths, and more birds will appreciate the easy access to water.
Properly maintained, a summer bird bath can be a refreshing oasis for backyard birds, and birders may be surprised at which species will visit for a drink or a quick bath, including not just familiar songbirds, but also backyard hawks, owls and species that don’t typically visit feeders. All birds need water, however, and a good summer bird bath can provide water for everyone.
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