Ultimate Bird Bath Guide: How To Choose A Bird Bath They’ll Use

Questions You Should Ask Before Buying A Bird Bath

Choosing a bird bath seems like an easy task until you start looking at all of the different choices. It can be hard to know what’s best. That’s why I created this ultimate bird bath guide to remove all the mystery.

If you want to learn how to choose a bird bath that wild birds will use and love, read through the essential questions you need to ask yourself before buying a bird bath.

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small songbird taking a bath in a birdbath splashing water everywhere

Why should you purchase a bird bath?

If you live in a typical suburban or urban neighborhood, chances are a bird bath will attract more birds than your feeders.

Why is this? Well, birds eat a variety of food, not only seeds. Depending on the season and the species, the bird may be eating insects or have other food sources.

Bird baths consistently attract birds to your yard because:

1. All Birds Need To Drink

The fact is that some bird species will very rarely be at a feeder. Take the robin, for example, I’ve yet to see them at any of my feeders but they’ll be hanging around the bird bath.

All birds need to drink though. By providing a source of fresh water, you’ll have birds swinging by your yard throughout the day.

Most residential areas are nicely landscaped but often, the closest source of fresh water is a distance aways. The birds in your neighborhood will choose your bird bath to drink from over the stagnant puddle on the sidewalk.

2. Birds Like Daily Baths

Baths are really important for birds because it helps with their feather condition. They only molt their feathers twice a year so they have to keep them in excellent shape between molts.

While the science is still not 100% conclusive, it’s thought that bathing removes mites that damage the feathers, redistributes the feather’s protective oils, and realigns the feather’s barbs so the bird will be able to fly effectively and evade predators.

That’s a whole lot of benefit just from a shallow pool of water!

Can wild birds drink tap water?

For the majority of the United States, tap water is safe for humans to drink. If your local water is safe for you, then it’s safe for the wild birds.

Typically, wild birds would drink from puddles or other fresh water sources that could be high in bacteria. By providing them a source of clean fresh water, you’re helping keep them hydrated and healthy.

What’s the best bird bath to get?

The best bird bath for you is the one that you’re going to clean and maintain.

Yes, I know that’s probably not the answer you were looking for but the best bird bath is different for each person and yard.

The bare basics of bird baths are that you must clean them out and refill them regularly. Look at your current habits and routine to help determine the bird bath that will work best for you.

Below I’ll go into more detail about the various materials and style of bird baths there are so you can narrow down your search.

Best Material For Bird Baths

One thing to keep in mind when looking at bird baths is the material the bath is made out of. There isn’t one material that is best overall. Each material will fit a yard or lifestyle better than another.

Typical bird bath materials:

  • Concrete
  • Plastic
  • Glass
  • Glazed Pottery
  • Copper
  • Bronze

Simple styles like concrete and plastic basins may be the easiest to clean and offer the highest durability. Other materials like copper or glazed pottery may naturally stay cleaner since dirt doesn’t stick as easily.

In fact, copper is more resistant to algae. Copper’s biostatic properties make algae and other bacteria less likely to grow. A copper basin won’t eliminate algae entirely and you’ll still need to clean it.

Another thing to factor is that too much copper ingestion could cause issues at high doses. Marine life and fish are much more susceptible to copper than birds though so keep it away from any aquatic features.

As an alternative to copper, you can also use dilute apple cider vinegar to combat algae.

Depending on how often you plan on cleaning your bird bath and how dirty it gets should help you in making this decision.

What is the best color for a bird bath?

A bird bath can be any color you want. Each species is attracted to certain colors typically as a food source. You can use these colors on your bird bath or, more effectively, in the plants you plant in your bird-friendly garden.

Best colors to attract birds:

  • Yellow: Hummingbirds, Warblers, Goldfinches
  • Blue: Bluebirds, Blue jays
  • Red/Pink: Hummingbirds
  • Orange: Hummingbirds, Orioles

There is one color you shouldn’t use: White. White is often used in plumage as a warning color and can inadvertently scare birds away.

What style bird bath do you prefer?

Bird baths come in numerous styles and designs. It’s really up for you to decide which style you like best.

Here, I’ll go over the various styles including the pros and cons of each.

1. Classic Pedestal

This is most likely what you picture when someone mentions a bird bath. The top basin is wide and heavy. The basin is balanced on top of a pedestal with a stabilizing base.

It’s easy for birds to recognize and use this type of bath. They’re also easy to stabilize so they don’t fall over. If you go with a concrete version, it can hold up during storms and high winds (up to a point).

On the flip side, the concrete versions are really heavy which makes them awkward to clean and refill. Once you set up this bath, it’s more of a permanent setup because it’s not easily moved around.

Pros:

  • Easy for birds to recognize and use
  • Easy to stabilize.
  • Concrete ones hold up during strong winds.

Cons:

  • Concrete versions can be heavy and awkward to clean
  • Not easily moved around.

2. Deck Mounted

Deck mounted baths each mount to your deck differently. Some clamp onto your deck railing while others get screwed into the deck itself.

These baths lend themselves well to apartment dwellers or someone without a large outdoor garden space. For many, these deck bird baths allow people to see their local wild birds up close since the bath isn’t far out in the yard.

Another perk is that the bird bath is much closer to the house so it’s easier to remember to refill and clean. Usually, the basin pops out so you can quickly bring it inside to clean daily.

The biggest detractor for this type of bath is that you’re attracting birds onto your deck so you’ll likely have a lot of bird poop everywhere.

Pros:

  • Great for small spaces or apartments.
  • Can make use of empty deck space.
  • Able to bring birds closer to your home for viewing.
  • Easier to refill daily.

Cons:

  • Not as large so not as many birds can use it.
  • Doesn’t hold as much water so more frequent cleaning.
  • May need to be taken down in storms or high winds so it doesn’t blow away.
  • Bird poop on your deck.

3. Hanging

Hanging bird baths are suspended in the air much like hanging plants. Their basins are much smaller than all of the other bath styles.

They can hang from a bird feeder pole off your apartment balcony so are great for homes with limited outdoor space. This style is easy to bring inside to clean in your kitchen sink.

Just like with the deck mounted baths, this hanging style is attracting birds to your balcony area so you’ll have poop to deal with.

Also, it will need to be taken down when windy. Some birds don’t like this style since it’s less stable and moves.

Pros:

  • Great for small spaces or apartments.
  • Hangs on feeder poles or balcony.
  • Easy to bring inside to clean daily.

Cons:

  • Some birds won’t like it since it moves and is less stable.
  • More frequent refills necessary since the basin doesn’t hold as much.
  • Must remove during wind and storms.

4. Low/Ground Dwelling

Believe it or not, this may be wild birds’ most favorite birth bath. Like the name suggests, this bird bath is low to the ground or directly on the ground.

Wild birds typically bathe in ground puddles they come across. This is the only bath style that closely mimics their natural way of bathing.

A ground bath will attract other ground-dwelling birds as well. You’ll possibly start attracting other wildlife too like raccoons, opossums, and rabbits.

To see who is using your bath, you can set up a night vision camera that records once it senses motion.

Another positive is that this bath style is lightweight and easily moved from one location to another. You can test it out in a few spots before deciding.

Pros:

  • Most natural style of bird bath.
  • Likely to get more birds and species.
  • Easy to move locations.

Cons:

  • Can be hard to see the birds using it if lots of shrubbery around.
  • May attract other wildlife as well.

Assessing A Bird Bath’s Functionality

When choosing a bird bath, another important question to ask yourself is how functional is the design. Often, people pick a bath purely over how fancy it looks or other aesthetics.

They don’t stop to assess the most important features. When deciding between two bird baths, always choose functionality over looks.

It is possible to get a both functional and nicely designed bath. Take into consideration the two following questions before deciding.

How is the bowl designed?

Bowl design is the single most important thing that will attract birds or keep them away.

Each bird species is different as to what they prefer. Taller birds like deeper water but small birds with short legs need really shallow pools.

Ideally, the bowl will be more shallow at the rim and gradually do down to a maximum depth of 3 inches in the middle.

Is the basin easy to clean?

This is a question to ask yourself that you’ll thank yourself later for. The hardest part of bird bath maintenance is keeping it clean and filled with fresh water.

Birds aren’t going to want to come if the water is stagnant or filled with algae. In fact, dirty bird baths can make birds sick!

Do yourself a favor and pick a bath that you find easy to clean and maintain.

Why do birds poop in the bird bath?

Birds are light creatures with hollow bones. They’ve adapted to weigh as little as possible which makes them nimble fliers.

When a bird uses the bird bath, they’re weighing themselves down with water. This sends a natural signal for their bodies to get rid of any excess weight. Hence the pooping.

While it’s annoying to have to clean bird poop out of the bath constantly, it’s an adaptation that keeps wild birds safe and ready to fly away at a moment’s notice.


Why are birds not coming to my bird bath?

There are a few factors to look at to determine why birds aren’t using your bath. They are depth, stability, location, cleanliness, and predators.

Let’s take a look at each factor individually.

1. Depth

Most bird baths are designed for looks and are too deep for birds to use. It’s better to err on the side of too shallow a bath rather than too deep.

How deep should the water be in a bird bath?

A proper bird bath should have a maximum water depth of 3 inches. Typically, the center of the bath is the deepest and the edges are sloped more shallow. This allows the greatest number of bird species to enjoy the bath.

Can birds drown in a bird bath?

Yes, they can, unfortunately. To make sure this doesn’t happen, choose a bath that has a gradual slope and isn’t too deep or slippery.

If you’ve already purchased a deep bath, add rocks or bricks to make it more shallow.

Should I put rocks in my bird bath?

Adding rocks to your bird bath is a great way to make sure the bath isn’t too deep. It is a also helpful for wild birds to get their footing if the bottom of the bath is slick or glazed.

Rough stones are another way to help fledglings or birds who aren’t quite sure in their footing enjoy the bath as well.

Another benefit of adding rocks is that beneficial insects like bees and butterflies can now land on the stones safely to drink.

2. Stability

A wobbly bird bath can scare off a lot of species. Depending the type of bath you have, you’ll need to try different methods for stabilizing it.

How To Stabilize A Bird Bath

A pedestal and ground-dwelling bath may need to be set on level stones. Deck mounted and hanging baths may need to be put in less windy locations.

3. Location

If your bird bath is in the middle of an open yard without shrubbery nearby, it may be too exposed. Songbirds especially like to have brush they can quickly fly into for safety if a bird of prey flies by.

Test your bath in a few different locations to see which spot gets the most use.

How can I keep my bird bath water cool?

If your bird bath gets sun exposure for most of the day, the water may be too hot for birds to use. This is especially true in the summer in the Southern states.

The best solution is to keep your bird bath in the shadiest location in the yard. This will help prevent the water from evaporating as quickly.

If that still isn’t cooling the water enough, another solution is to do a mid-day water change. Dumping the hot water and replacing it with cooler hose water in the late afternoon.

In the summer, birds will be most active in the morning and late evening when it’s not as hot so this gives them access to the coolest water possible.

4. Cleanliness

Birds won’t use a dirty bird bath. This includes algae, stagnant water, and bird poop.

Make sure you’re changing the water every few days even if it still looks clean to you.

5. Predators

If you’ve done everything else right, the last thing to assess is if there are predators around you didn’t know about.

Often, stray cats will set up camp near bird feeders or baths hoping for an easy meal. Or perhaps there’s an owl or hawk next nearby you didn’t know about.

Once you’ve figured out what type of predator is scaring the birds from your yard, then you can find ways to exclude them or move the bath to another area entirely.


Can a bird bath be used in the winter?

Yes, bird baths can be used in the winter but not all bird baths can be winterized.

Decorative bird baths are often more delicate and can’t handle freezing temperatures. This includes glass, bird bath fountains, mosaic designs, solar bird baths, and glazed pottery. It’s best to store these ones away and bring them back out in the spring.

Even concrete baths may not be able to take the damage from freezing and expanding water. If you live in a climate that freezes or has ice storms, then swap out your bird baths for the winter.

Plastic, metal, or fiberglass baths can stand the freezing cold and can have modifications done to keep from freezing over.

Heaters and De-Icers

If your birdbath freezes over when the temperature drops, you should look into adding a heating element to your bird bath.

Bird bath heaters get plugged in and part of it is submerged into the middle of the bird bath. This prevents the water from completely icing over in cold temperatures.


Do birds like bird bath fountains?

Yes, birds love fountains. The sound of flowing water is great for attracting birds to your yard. They’ll hear the water and come investigate. While standing water is good, flowing water is the best for wild birds.

Other ways to add moving water to your bird bath is through misters, drippers, manmade ponds or streams.

How to convert a bird bath into a fountain

The easiest way to convert a bird bath into a fountain is by using a solar-powered fountain addition.

You simply place it in your bird bath and the solar panels will pump water through the fountain. Since it’s powered by small solar panels, you don’t need to worry about batteries or much upkeep.

Make sure your bird bath is large enough that birds can still bathe in it after the addition of the fountain pump.


Concerns About Attracting Wildlife

Another concern people have regarding their bird bath is whether it will attract other undesired wildlife.

At night, you may get the harmless raccoon, opossum, or rabbit but in more rural areas, you could even find deer, coyotes, and more.

Do bird baths attract snakes?

Not really. Snakes do drink water but they’ll likely use a less exposed spot to drink than a raised bird feeder.

If you also have bird feeders nearby that are attracting mice or rats, then you could have snakes coming to prey on them. That’s actually beneficial to you though since the snakes will take care of your rodent issue.

Do bird baths attract mosquitos?

Mosquitos are attracted to any stagnant body of water to lay their eggs. That’s why it’s important to change out the water every few days.

You can add a solar fountain to your bird bath to make the water unhabitable for mosquitoes.

Conclusion

Now that you know all of the common questions and concerns about bird baths, you can make an educated decision on which style and type of bird bath will work best for your backyard garden.

If you still have any questions, leave them below in the comments.

Rose Churchill headshot with cockatiel on her shoulder
Rose Churchill

Avian Biologist & Bird Nerd

Head bird nerd at Spark Lark, Rose has been birdwatching for over 15 years. After working with rehabilitated wild birds as an avian biologist, she found a love of birds that has continued on. Now, she is raising her son to be an outdoor nature-loving child. Here, she shares her knowledge of attracting birds to your yard and tips for getting kids obsessed with birds.

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