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How to Provide Water for Birds in Summer

 Updated by Melanie Cruff on 04-23-2024

Sources of freshwater are important for birds, both for drinking and bathing. Whether you have bird feeders in the yard or not, a bird bath can bring many birds to the yard and help them out when finding water in the wild is difficult. During the heat of summer, smaller pools, puddles and creeks can dry up, leaving birds with fewer options. In this article we’ll give you all the tips you need to provide birds with clean, fresh water to get them through the summer months.

How to provide water for birds

Believe it or not, you can actually attract more birds to your yard with water than you can simply by providing seed and suet. Only a portion of wild birds will eat food that humans provide, but most birds will use the water we provide. Here are some of the main ways that you can offer water in your yard:

  • Birdbath – You can set out a simple planter drainage tray or you can buy a traditional pedestal style like this one on Amazon.
  • Pond – A small garden pond with a water mover of some type is a great way to provide water for birds.
  • Bird waterer – A bird waterer typically hangs from a hook like a feeder but dispenses water into a try by gravity, this one is a good example.
  • Bird misterHook this up to a hose and sling it over a tree limb to provide a mist for the birds. As a bonus, hummingbirds love by bathe by mist.
  • Moving water – This includes fountains, wigglers, and other water movers. Birds are attracted to moving water.

Hummingbirds need water to bathe and clean their feathers, however due to their small size they often don’t like the same deep water as other birds. If you want to provide water for hummingbirds consider a mister, a misting sprinkler, or a fountain where water pours over a shallow edge.

Attracting Birds to your Bath

We have 8 general tips here for how to make your bath most attractive to birds. When it comes to the summer, finding a shaded spot for your bath may make it more attractive to birds. Shade can keep the water a little more cool and refreshing. Placing the bath near some bushes or a tree can help birds to feel more secure. Having wet feathers means birds can’t fly away as easily. So when they are submerged in the middle of their bath, they are vulnerable to predators. 

When it comes to your water basin, you want water depth to be about 0.5 to 1 inches 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.

Robin in bird bath
robin bird bath

Why do Birds Need To Bathe?

As a living creature, it’s pretty obvious why birds need to drink. But why do they bathe? Birds need to bathe for several important reasons related to their health and survival. Here are the main reasons why birds bathe:

  • Feather Maintenance: Bathing helps to remove dirt, dust, and parasites from the feathers. Clean feathers are essential for effective flight and insulation. Water helps to loosen and wash away debris that can weigh down feathers or interfere with their alignment and structure.
  • Preening Aid: Bathing is often followed by preening, where birds use their beaks to align their feathers, distribute natural oils, and generally condition their plumage. The water helps to soften the feathers, making them easier to groom and ensuring the feathers are coated evenly with oil from the preen gland located near the base of their tail. 
  • Parasite Control: Regular bathing can help control and reduce the burden of external parasites like mites, ticks, and lice, which can cause irritation, spread disease, and damage feathers.
  • Cooling Down: On hot days, bathing can help birds regulate their body temperature. You may notice an increase is birds splashing around in your bath during the hottest summer months. 

Keeping Bird Bath Water Clean

Keeping a bird bath clean is crucial for the health of the birds and to ensure that they continue to use it. While it’s always important to keep the bath clean, the hot weather of summer can pose even more of a challenge between mosquitoes, algae, and bacteria growth. And while you may assume birds know not to poop in their own water supply…they always do!  

Empty and scrub the bird bath every few days. Scrubbing the bath prevents algae buildup and removes droppings and other debris. Use a stiff brush or scrubbing pad specifically for the bird bath. I find it helpful to get a plastic bucket and keep your designated bird bath cleaning items in there. That way you can just grab it and carry it over to the bird bath when it’s time for a cleaning.

You may see some people recommend to only use natural cleansers. If this is important to you, you can use a 1:9 ratio of vinegar to water to create a cleansing solution. Personally, we don’t have a problem with using dish soap as long as you keep the amount small and make sure to do a very thorough rinsing before you fill the bath back up. No matter what cleanser you use, make sure the basin is thoroughly rinsed before refilling and all residue is gone.

  • Algae Growth: To help prevent algae growth, place the bird bath in a shady spot (although not too hidden that predators can easily ambush birds). You can also add a few copper pennies to the water; copper can inhibit algae growth and is safe in small amounts. But note – pennies made after 1982 only have a 2.5% copper coating and won’t help. So use pennies dated before 1982, or some other small, pure copper item.
  • Change Water Regularly: Refresh the water in the bird bath at least every few days, daily if possible.  
  • Sanitize Periodically: Once a month, you might want to give the bird bath a deeper clean. You can use a diluted bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) to sanitize it. After using bleach, rinse the bath several times with plenty of clean water to ensure no bleach residue is left.
house finch bird bath wiggler
House finch drinking from bird bath with a water wiggler | image:

Preventing Mosquitoes from breeding in your bird bath

Mosquitoes are attracted to standing water as it provides an ideal environment for laying their eggs. Females lay their eggs on the surface, where they quickly hatch into a wriggling, larval stage. After just a few days to a week in the larval stage, they will emerge and fly away. Not only can mosquitoes carry and transmit diseases to humans and animals, but their itchy bites are miserable to deal with. We do a deep dive on mosquito prevention here, but here are some main takeaways to disrupt the life cycle of mosquitoes and reduce their populations in your yard.

  1. Stagnant Water: Mosquitoes need still water to lay their eggs because it ensures that the eggs and the larvae that hatch from them will not be swept away by currents. If you can move the water in your bath in any way, it will make it much less desirable to mosquitoes. Add a solar fountain, a dripper, a water wiggler, or any other type of water mover. 
  2. Organic Matter: Bird baths can collect leaves, twigs, and bird droppings, which decompose and provide nutrients that feed mosquito larvae. By keeping your bath clean, there won’t be much for the mosquitos larvae to eat. 
  3. Dump and Refill: Dumping out the bath and refilling it daily or every 2-3 days will help get rid of any mosquito larvae in the bath. As a bonus it helps keep the bath clean and fresh, making it more attractive to the birds.

How do birds drink water?

Most of your backyard birds drink by dipping their bill in water and filling it, then lifting their head and tilting it back, using gravity to move the water down their throat. Pigeons are an exception and can suck water up without tilting their heads back to swallow. But most birds aren’t able to suck water up and swallow like we can. Watch the birds at your bath and see if they do the “sip and tilt”!

Is tap water safe for birds?

As a general rule, if you feel safe to drink and bathing in the water that comes out of your tap – then it’s ok for the birds. Unless you are aware of a specific health concern with your town’s water, it is safe to fill up your bird baths from the hose pipe or kitchen faucet. If you are still worried you can test the water by getting a testing kit from Amazon.

Where do wild birds get their water?

Birds in the wild access water from a variety of natural sources. Some birds that have a diet high in insects, fruits, or nectar are able to get the majority of the water they need for drinking from their diet. But most birds that focus on nuts and seeds need outside sources of drinking water. Plus, all birds need an occasional bath to stay clean and maintain feathers. Here are some common places where birds might find water in the wild:

  • Rivers and Streams: Flowing bodies of water are a reliable source for many species. The moving water helps keep the supply fresh and less likely to harbor large quantities of bacteria or parasites.
  • Lakes and Ponds: These larger bodies of water provide ample space for drinking, bathing, and for some species, feeding. They are particularly important for waterfowl and other aquatic birds.
  • Rain Puddles: After rainstorms, puddles that form in ground depressions are often used by birds. These are temporary but important sources, especially in dry regions.
  • Dew, Raindrops, and Wet Vegetation: Some birds can get their moisture from dew on leaves, water that collects on leaves or grass, or direct from raindrops. 
  • Seeps and Springs: These are areas where water naturally percolates to the surface from underground sources. They are often cleaner and cooler than stagnant water sources.
  • Glacial Melt: In mountainous or polar regions, birds may rely on meltwater from glaciers or snowpacks. This source is critical in areas where liquid water is otherwise unavailable for large parts of the year.
  • Ocean: Seabirds obtain water from the ocean. They have specialized glands that allow them to excrete excess salt, enabling them to drink seawater.

When it gets really hot in the summer and small puddles and creeks dry up and evaporate, having a bath can really help your backyard birds! It may even give you the opportunity to see some bird families as parents bring their young fledglings to bathe and drink.

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