If you enjoy feeding and watching hummingbirds in your yard, you might be thinking about adding in a water feature for them. Or perhaps you already have a bird bath but have noticed hummingbirds don’t seem interested in it. Do hummingbirds use bird baths? Yes, but they have some particular needs and preferences when it comes to how they like to drink and bathe. They won’t be attracted to or use certain types of baths that other, larger birds enjoy.
To figure out what kind of baths hummingbirds will use, it’s important to understand how hummingbirds bathe and interact with water in the wild. This will give us clues about how we can set up a water feature they will find appealing.
Do hummingbirds drink water?
Yes. Hummingbirds actually get a lot of their daily water intake through the nectar that they drink. But they need to drink fresh water too. They often like to drink from small droplets of water such as morning dew or drops of rain on leaves. They may also fly down to areas of moving water and take a few sips, like we would do from a water fountain.
How do hummingbirds take a bath?
Hummingbirds get dirty and need to clean themselves just like other birds. Flying so close to flowers all day they can get dusted with pollen and the sticky nectar can leave residue on their feathers and beak.
Hummingbirds prefer to get wet by either by flying through water, or rubbing up against something wet. They have tiny feet and extremely short legs. They can’t maneuver well on land and mainly use their feet for perching and gripping, but they don’t really “walk”. Since they can’t use their legs for walking, they don’t like to land in water any deeper than approximately 1 centimeter.
They can’t wade around looking for a shallow spot. If they get in water deep enough that they can’t touch the bottom with their super short legs, they would have to flop around with their wings hoping to get to shallower water. You can see they would avoid that!
Hummingbirds can get wet by flying through mist from waterfalls, splashes of water from fast moving streams, rubbing against wet leaves and rocks, flying through dripping leaves, skimming the surface of small streams, or zipping through your sprinkler a couple times. They may even sit out on an open branch during a light rain shower and open up their wings, getting their feathers wet. Once wet, they will fly to a comfortable perching spot and preen their feathers.
How do hummingbirds clean their feathers?
Preening is the term used when birds clean and maintain their feathers. After their shower, a hummingbird will fluff its feathers out and then use its bill to stroke and nibble along each feather. As they do this oil, dirt and parasites such as tiny mites are removed.
Then they take small droplets of oil, made from a special gland under their tail, and work the fresh oil through the feather. They also run each flight feather through their bill. This ensures the small hooks and barbs on the feather are all smoothed down and zipped back into proper position for flying.
Using their tiny feet, they can scratch the back of their head and neck where they are unable to reach with their bill. To clean their bill, they will often rub it back and forth against a branch to remove sticky nectar residue.
How to attract hummingbirds to a bird bath
Now that we’ve learned a bit about how hummingbirds drink and bathe, we can figure out what will attract them. The top three ways to attract hummingbirds to a bird bath are;
- Add a water feature such as a fountain. They don’t like stagnant water.
- Keep your bath very shallow or have a shallow section.
- Place the bath within sight of your hummingbird feeders.
Add a fountain
A fountain can spray water up into the air, or just create a gentle bubbling effect. If water is sprayed up, the hummingbirds can fly through it, dip in and out of it while flying, or even sit underneath it and let the water shower down on them. A more gentle bubbling effect can also be enjoyed by hummingbirds as they dip down into it to get wet or can hover over it and drink.
If you have the water cascading over some rocks or into a very shallow area they may even enjoy sitting in the path of the cascading water and rubbing against the wet stone. Using a solar fountain or a water mister can be a simple way to add some moving water.
Keep your bath shallow
As we said above hummingbirds have short legs and can’t maneuver when trying to walk in water. If you have a spot you want hummingbirds to feel comfortable landing, the water should be no more than 1.5 centimeters deep. The shallower the better!
Their favorite will be a very thin layer of water gently flowing over a surface. This is where they can feel confident landing and splashing around. You may even see them rolling back and forth to wet their feathers.
You can add some large stones with flat tops to deeper water to create a shallow section, or look for fountains that feature a flat area with cascading water.
Place within sight of your feeders
This may seem obvious but, don’t hide the bath away in a corner! If you have a hummingbird feeder, place it nearby. It doesn’t need to be right under the feeder…and to keep it clean you probably don’t want it to be!
The actual distance doesn’t matter, just that they have a line of sight to it from the feeder. If you don’t have a hummingbird feeder, try to place it in an area that hummingbirds might be attracted to, such as in your garden where colorful flowers bloom.
Will hummingbirds use my bird bath?
If you have a typical bird bath which is just a large basin of water, probably not. Usually these are too deep, and the water is too still for hummingbirds to be interested in. However there are some simple things you can do to make the bird bath you already have more attractive and “user friendly” to hummingbirds.
Add moving water to your bird bath. A simple small submersible water pump (either solar powered or electric) placed in your bath can accomplish this. Surround it with some rocks and let the water flow down over the rocks. The hummingbirds can dip down to the fountain or sit on/rub against the rocks.
You can also use a nozzle attachment to create a shower effect that they can fly through. If the fountain is spraying too much water out of your bath and emptying it, widen the holes in the nozzle. The wider the holes the lower the water will spray up. Add large rocks, some with nice flat tops, to create a shallow section.
For more tips on bird baths and bath accessories check our article here on the best baths for hummingbirds.
Why aren’t hummingbirds using my bird bath?
If you’ve followed the recommendations above and have some moving water and shallow areas and they still haven’t checked it out, give it time. Hummingbirds can be at their most vulnerable when sitting out in the open and relaxing to bathe. It will take them awhile to feel comfortable with your bath and may approach it slowly over a period of time.
Also hummingbirds are more likely to use a bath in areas of the the country that are hot and dry, such as Texas or southern California. That’s not to say they won’t use baths in other parts of the country, but they might have more choices for natural water sources and therefore will be a little slower to check out your bath and start using it.
Melanie is an environmental scientist, birdwatcher, and amateur photographer. She’s been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and learning about birds of all types. Over the years, Melanie has identified more than 250 bird species, with sightings of the Atlantic Puffin, Hawaiian Goose, and Arctic Tern among her most cherished.