There is nothing that a bird appreciates more on a hot summer day than a refreshing drink of cool water or a quick splash. Most birds prefer the foods that nature abundantly provides in the summer, so feeder visits become sporadic and the visitors less varied. And because bacterial contamination is more of a problem in warm weather, the necessary frequent feeder cleanings can be a real chore and many people put them away until fall.
A better way to coax birds to visit your yard in summer is to provide a reliable supply of fresh, clean water. Birds don't sweat, but they do pant and lose moisture that they must replenish. Some moisture is obtained through the juicy foods they eat such as berries and insects, but when the weather is hot they also need drinking water. Bathing helps to cool and rid the birds of mites. It also facilitates oiling the feathers while preening oil from the gland above the base of the tail.
Birds love to bathe. Often they will expose themselves to a sudden shower, or flutter in wet leaves or dew. Even eagles, hawks, owls and crows bathe. Hummingbirds will fly through a sprinkler. Surely you've noticed how robins are attracted to lawn sprinklers.
Bird baths come in all shapes and sizes, but a simple plant saucer can also fit the bill (pun intended!!) The important thing is to keep the bath filled, clean and fresh. When choosing a bath, be certain it won't be too cumbersome to clean. A big concrete model may look good on the lawn, but how easy is it to scrub and rinse? Another thing to keep in mind is that birds don't like deep water. Put no more than three inches of water in the bowl or, better yet, provide a flat rock or two so that birds of various sizes may enjoy it. Many species seem to prefer ground level baths and there are some beautiful ones in the garden centers now. If you want to really have a bird spa, consider setting up a drip system or gentle spray fountain. Birds are attracted to the sound of running or dripping water. This could be as simple as a plastic milk jug hanging above, with a pinhole to allow a slow drip.
Whatever type of birdbath you choose, be sure there are shrubs or other cover nearby for a quick escape to safety from predators. It is best to have the bath near overhanging branches or bushes for security when they soak themselves so much they can hardly fly, but not so close as to allow a cat an opportunity to ambush them.
Cleanliness is critical. Unfortunately, birds don't know the difference between bath and potty and bacteria can multiply astronomically in hot weather. Where feces are present, there is always a danger of salmonella. This is why we suggest having a bath that won't be a chore to clean. CHANGE THE WATER EVERY DAY. If you will be away, have a neighbor do it or turn it upside down for the duration. To clean, dump the old water, flush with a hose or a watering can. If you fill from a hose, make sure it's the kind from which it is safe to drink.
The bath will need an occasional scrubbing to control algae and scum. Use an old vegetable scrubber or other clean, stiff brush kept for this purpose. Never use algaecide. To control persistent algae, rinse the bowl, fill with water, add a teaspoon or two of bleach, let it sit for five minutes, empty and rinse thoroughly. Fill with fresh, cool water and watch them splishing and splashing!
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