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Water is For the Birds

A dirty bird isn't happy and neither is a thirsty one. A water source attracts birds who drink and bathe and adds an interesting focal point for fascinating scenes of bird behavior. Clean feathers insulate better, and bathing helps reduce parasites. Birdbaths can be bought or made from large clay saucers, upside-down garbage can lids or similar containers. These can be encircled with rocks or small logs to increase their aesthetic appeal. Birdbaths should be 1 to 3 inches deep, dull or neutral in color and not tip easily. They should have a roughened bottom so birds have a foothold. They can be placed on the ground or elevated a few feet, in a somewhat open area but with cover within 10 to 20 feet. 

Birdbath water should be changed and replenished every day or so to keep it clean and to prevent potential growth of mosquito larvae. Clean birdbaths with a brush to remove algae. A mild bleach solution, such as one part of household bleach to nine parts of water, also can be used if needed, though it should be rinsed off thoroughly afterward.

Consider the attractiveness and enjoyment of a small pool, which could provide water for birds and a home for a few fish (which eat mosquito larvae), turtles and other aquatic life. Small fiberglass or plastic pools can be purchased, or made by digging a hole and lining with plastic. Be sure to include some shallow areas where birds can drink and bathe.

The sounds of running or dripping water are attractive to birds, and a variety of commercial flowing-water systems are available. Another simple approach is to use a recycled plastic jug with a lid. Punch a tiny pin hole in the bottom, then add water and the lid. Loosen the lid just enough so that water drips from the pin hole in the bottom. Hang over your water bath where the dripping may alert and entice more birds to come. Source: Ron Johnson, Ph.D., Wildlife Specialist, NU/IANR

This article was submitted by Barb Ogg, PhD, Extension Educator. It appeared in the Nebline Newsletter.

Bird baths

Description and Habits:

When people are thirsty they can seek something to drink from the nearest water faucet or refrigerator. Birds do not have that luxury. They must rely on nature or people to provide water for them.

Bird baths come in a variety of sizes, shapes and prices. They range from the very ornate to a simple garbage can lid. They may be purchased at most lawn and garden stores or be made at home with a variety of materials. Terra-cotta saucers used under large plants make excellent bird baths. A garbage can lid with a few stones placed inside also can be used. Whether you decide to purchase your bird bath or make it from items found at home, follow these guidelines for success.


Bird baths should be no deeper than 3 inches at the deepest point and should have sloping sides down to this point. An edge along the top will provide a place for birds to perch while taking a drink.


The surface of the bath should be rough so that birds can maintain sure footing. Pebbles, stone and concrete all provide the needed traction. Plastic is generally too slippery.


Bird baths may be placed on the ground, on a raised pedestal or hung from a branch a few feet off the ground. Ground level baths have the added benefit of providing water for many small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits. However, bathing birds are extremely vulnerable to predators. If cats are in or around your yard, your bird bath should be raised above the ground.

Dripping Water:

Nothing attracts birds as quickly as dripping water. Some bird baths have fountains, but a water drip can be made easily. Take a bucket, large jug, or can and make a hole with a nail in the bottom or along the side just above the bottom. Attach the container to a branch 3-4 feet above the branch and fill it with water. This should provide a slow steady drip that will attract birds to your bath. Once they have found the bath, they should continue to visit it even when the water isn't dripping.


Ideally your bath should be placed near a tree with overhanging branches so the birds will have a place to sit and preen after bathing. If cats are present, place the bath away from dense shrubbery where cats can hide and surprise the birds. Different species will be attracted to the bath depending on the height and location. You may want to experiment to see what works best for you. But, don't forget to put the bath in a location where you can watch it.


Keep your bird bath filled with clean, fresh water at all times. A reliable source of water is important for attracting birds. Dump the water out and refill it every couple of days. Use a brush to remove any algae that may have grown. Never use any chemicals to control algae. Now sit back and enjoy your bird bath. Once the birds have located this water source, they will visit it on a daily basis and give you a welcome diversion as you watch them enjoy the water.

This article was submitted by Mary Jane Frogge, Extension Associate. It appeared in the Nebline Newsletter.

These resources were updated on July 24, 2012 The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site:
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528
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