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How to Get Birds to Use a Bird Bath – A Guide & 8 Simple Tips

One of the best ways to attract more birds to your yard is having a bird bath. However, simply placing a bird bath in your yard isn’t always enough to ensure it becomes a popular pit-stop for the local bird population. Creating an inviting and safe environment requires a little more thought and preparation. In this article, we’ll explore essential tips on how to get birds to use a bird bath, from selecting the right location and maintaining clean water to making the space around it bird-friendly. 

How to attract birds to a bird bath

gray catbird splashing in a bird bath
Gray Catbird

There are several things you can do to help attract birds to your bird bath. Here are 8 tips that can influence whether or not birds think your bath is a good place to drink and bathe. 

1. Keep it in the shade

On hot summer days, birds like to cool off as much as we do. Taking a quick bath or grabbing a drink to keep hydrate are attractive options. Baths out in direct sun can heat the water pretty quickly, while baths in the shade keep the water cooler and more pleasant to use. As a bonus, less direct sunlight may help algae and other bacteria to grow a little more slowly. 

If the shade is coming from trees, this means the birds can quickly dart from the bath to the protection of foliage. Bathing is a vulnerable time for birds and exposes them to predators. A bath close to trees may make them feel more secure. 

2. Put some rocks in the bottom

Keeping some rocks in the bottom gives the birds something to stand on in the water when they are bathing, and can add variety in the depth of the water. Larger birds are okay with some depth to the water and enjoy wading up to their belly and splashing around. Smaller birds tend to prefer more shallow water so they don’t risk getting in over their head. If you have a deep bath, try adding rocks in strategic areas to cater to larger and smaller birds.

3. Make sure the water is the right depth

You probably don’t want to have a bath where the deepest part is over 2 inches. Birds don’t like to fully submerge themselves and won’t feel secure if they can’t stand on the bottom with their head comfortably above the surface. To make the bath attractive to both smaller and larger birds, try to have a deeper section and a more shallow section. You can tilt your saucer or add rocks to one side to vary the depth. 

4. Keep your bird bath clean

A bird bath can become filthy pretty quickly with poop, dead bugs, leaves, seed casing, algae and many other random things that make their way in. You need to routinely rinse off the bath and use soap if necessary. Fill with new water at least once a week, more often in the summer. 

In hot weather mosquitoes become a concern as well. Bird baths are great places for them to lay their eggs and can become breeding grounds. Adding a fountain or recirculating pump to keep the water moving can be a big help, since mosquitoes look for still, stagnant water. You can also add a few kernels of Mosquito Bits, which contain a bacteria that kill mosquitoes but doesn’t harm other wildlife. 

5. Keep it lower to the ground

If you think about how birds bath in the wild, they’ll look for puddles, brooks and river edges…all places on the ground. Naturally they’ll be a little more comfortable if your bath mimics this environment. You can find baths with very short legs, or place a wide basin directly on the ground instead of a pedestal. 

Of course, they will still use something a few feet off the ground if you don’t want to keep your bath that low. A bath that stands about knee-heigh is good, and try not to go above waist height. The taller the bath is, the more unstable it can become.

6. Pick the right size

A small bird bath might attract some birds for drinking, but they won’t have enough room to bathe. Robins and doves are two larger backyard species that enjoy bathing, and they will need a 12-18 inch basin to fit comfortably. Anything larger than that probably isn’t necessary.

7. Keep the water from freezing

You may have to change your set-up slightly if you live somewhere that the water will freeze during the winter. If you choose to keep your bath out year round, you may want to add a de-icer unit, or swap out the bath for a heated bath. Visit this article to go more in-depth about winter bird baths, and check out some of these Amazon heater choices:

8. Move the Water Around

A bath with still water will work, but moving water really helps attract birds while also combating mosquitoes. 

Water Wiggler: a water wiggler is a small device that sits in the bath and spinning metal legs create continuous ripples in the water. You can find several variations of this online, like this battery powered model that runs fairly quietly.   

Dripper: A dripper is a small tube that sits above a bird bath and slowly drips water into the basin. This is a gentle method of water agitation and doesn’t take up any space inside the basin itself. If you go this route, just make sure there isn’t too long of a time between drips. 

Solar Floating Fountain: just plop it in the bath and you’re done. These simple fountains use solar power to create a gentle spray of water. You can let them float or hold in place with some rocks. 

Submersible Pumps: if your basin is deep enough, you can add a small submersible pump to recirculate the water. Use a simple pump and decorate it yourself with rocks, or you can get a pump that sits beneath a faux granite rock for a more natural look. These require electricity but you can also find solar options.   

Where you should put a bird bath

bird bath by fence

The best place to put your bird bath is in a shady or partially-shady area of your yard. Also be sure that birds feel safe when coming in for a dip. In order to assure this, put it in a spot that is near cover such as trees or bushes. This will help them feel less vulnerable to predators. The have to feel safe from being interrupted by humans too, so a highly trafficked area of the backyard probably won’t work well. Pick a spot where there is at least a 10-12 foot buffer from seating areas or pool activity.

Keeping your bird bath in the shade will also help to keep the water cooler. Because birds want to cool off in your bird bath, you don’t want it to feel like a hot tub because it’s been in direct sunlight all day.

What is the best material for a bird bath?

You are probably used to seeing the traditional concrete bird baths that you find at home and garden stores. These can work just fine and look great in a backyard, but they do have these negatives:

  • They are not the easiest to clean due to their porous surface
  • They are often too deep
  • Too many freeze and thaw cycles can crack them

Baths made out of smoother materials, or that have a smooth coating such as metal or ceramic glaze, will be easy to wipe off. They also tend to be lighter than concrete, which means they are easier to move around. 

No matter what material you choose, make sure there is a little bit of a lip around the edge for the birds to grab onto. 

How deep SHOULD a bird bath be

Think about a shallow basin, which is what your standard concrete bird bath is. You will want it to be about .5 to 1 inch around the edge sloping down to about 2 inches or so max in the middle. Anything deeper than that might scare off smaller birds. 

Another important factor is the slope of the walls of the basin. The more gradual the slope, the more variety in depth from shallow to deep. A bath with very steep sides that is more bowl-shaped than basin-shaped won’t appeal to many birds because it will be too deep.

Why birds use bird baths

Not only do birds bathe in bird baths, but they also drink from them. They will use them daily to remove tiny parasites from their feathers and keep them clean. They will then preen their feathers, or coat them with a special protective oil that their body produces. 

As I mentioned, birds also drink from bird baths. Birds do not sweat like mammals do and do not require as much water. Insect eating birds will get the majority of their water from their diet, but birds that primarily eat seeds will need to seek out drinking water. 

Do birds need bird baths in the winter?

bird at bird bath in the snow

Absolutely birds need bird baths in the winter, just as much as they do the rest of the year. In the very cold months water can be harder to find and they greatly appreciate a bird bath with accessible water in it. Many birds get the majority of their water from insects, snow, puddles, or streams and creeks. If your backyard has a heated bird bath you can expect some activity all year, even in the winter. Learn more about how birds survive the winter.

How to keep your bird bath from freezing in cold weather

There are a few ways to keep your bird bath from freezing in the winter time. A heated bird bath is one option, a submersible bird bath de-icer is another.

Some types of bird baths are harder to winterize, like concrete or ceramic. If you leave water in them year round without taking the proper precautions, you risk them freezing and cracking or even completely breaking apart. That’s why I recommend a good plastic bird bath, go a step further and get a heated plastic one like the one above and you’re set all year.


In the end birds just want a full and clean bird bath, if you build it they will come. You should clean your bird bath out with the hose every couple of days or whenever you see that it needs it. If you notice any algae starting to form on the bottom or see dead bugs floating in it, that is a good indicator it’s time to clean. So while these are all great tips in order to attract birds to your bird bath, they are just tips to help out so don’t over think this one!


14 thoughts on “How to Get Birds to Use a Bird Bath – A Guide & 8 Simple Tips”

  1. My bird bath doesn’t get much sun because there are trees that cause shade most of the day. The solar bird fountain I bought doesn’t have enough energy to pump water into the sprinkler part, it just enough to agitate the water. Are there bird fountains for bird baths that that are battery powered?

    • Hi Jennifer – that’s frustrating! I know some of those solar fountains don’t have much juice when it gets shady. Unfortunately there aren’t any fountains that run completely on battery power that I am aware of. Depending on your set-up, here are some ideas;

      Birds Choice Granite Bubbler: this is a cord-based bubbler but very popular for bird baths. If you are able to run a cord out to the bath this might be a good option. You can use an outdoor extension cord if needed.

      Water Wiggler: this isn’t a fountain, but does make ripples in the water the birds may enjoy. It runs 100% on batteries.

      Solar Fountain with Battery backup: this is a solar fountain however the solar panel is separate from the fountain head. So if there is sun near the bird bath, you can put the panel out in the sun while the fountain in the bath is in the shade. I think the cord is about 9 feet. It also has a battery backup which means it stores some of the solar energy so that when it gets cloudy or shady it supposedly should keep the water moving a little more smoothly than the start-and-stop of the solar fountains that don’t store any power.

      Hope you can find something that works for you!

    • That’s very cute! The sound of the running water from fountains is a great attractant. I don’t know if you can adjust the amount of water that remains in the basin but I would suggest having that be just a little bit more full. It’s always hard to tell what is going to work in any given yard, but I think yours definitely has a good shot!

  2. Do you know what time of day they are more drawn to the baths. I’d like to get some footage of my bath with some birds. I’m in south west Florida. Was having a lot of activity 3 weeks ago, and now I don’t see much draw. But it could have been a morning vs afternoon discrepancy..

    Thank you.

    • That’s a good question Ally. I haven’t found a definitive answer to that, I think it’s very dependent. I read a study done in Britain where they logged bird bath activity by time of year and time of day. The data suggested that it was actually different for each species. Some preferred morning, some preferred afternoon, and usage sometimes went up and down as the seasons changed. Florida this time of year has a lot of migrants flying north, perhaps you caught some that were stopping for a rest before heading out of Florida. Bird baths can be difficult to establish as a yard “safe space” and I think most people see activity wax and wane pretty frequently. It also depends on things like how clean the bath is, how easy it is for birds to find water elsewhere, etc. Good luck and I’m sure they will be back soon. Let us know if you observe any patterns!

  3. I have a new heated bitdbeth. It is in the same place as the others have been, and I change water and clean it every other day. Many different birds used the other bath twice a day, year around. The new bird bath is black where the others have been a light grey color. The birds have not used this bath at all. It’s been in place for 10 days. Any ideas why they aren’t using it?

    • Hi Nikki – that’s a tricky one. Is the depth of the new bath different than the old one? If it’s a deeper bath maybe try not filling it all the way or adding some stones. Unfortunately, it might just be an issue of them being familiar and comfortable with the old one, and this one looks different enough that they are hesitating. You could experiment with adding a dripper or fountain or other feature to move the water around a bit and entice them. But maybe with enough time they will get used to seeing it there and start to come back on their own. Hope it works out!

  4. We added a bird bath that has a corded pump and led light that we leave on 24/7. It seems that not many birds are taking advantage of the water. Does the light scare away the birds?

    • It’s hard to say what the birds are being put off by. Might be worth removing the light for a few weeks to see if they come back. It’s possible the light reflects in the water in a way that looks strange to them. Or try adding something enticing like a solar fountain. It also happens sometimes that if you have had a birdbath for awhile and then change something, like location or adding features, they become a little suspicious and need to build up trust again. Being out in the open and bathing is a vulnerable time so they might be a little wary until they get used to your new setup.

  5. I have several feeders hanging from a roof and large tree attracting a large variety of birds; finches, grosbeaks, towees, hummers, soarroes, chickadees, etc. I attached a bath to the deck rail below the feeders. It seems like it should be perfect – shady, lots of nearby perches, but no bird will yet go into it. I change the water daily, it is shallow and has a rock in it for another perch. Does it just take awhile for birds to trust it?

    • It can certainly take birds awhile to get used to and feel safe about using a bath. It may be that some more time is all they need. If nothing is happening after a few more weeks maybe move it a little further away from the feeder. It’s possible the birds feel there is too much activity nearby.

  6. I bought Henri birdbath 4749f2. Just installed today. I put some “beach rocks” in it and I’m going to buy an artificial branch to put in it as well. No takers yet. Bought it for the birds to use. Hope they come.

  7. Thank you so much for your tips on birdbaths. I got six ideas and helpful hints to try for my birdbath. I am hopeful. I have seen finches land there a couple of times for a drink. We do have a creek that is not too far away…my husband says they probably go there for their water needs. We shall see.


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