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Basic or fanciful baths for birds.

IF YOU WANT TO ATTRACT A CROWD OF FRIENDS THIS SUMMER, just say, "Come on over for a drink and a swim." It's a sure bet they'll come flocking. The same goes for birds, who never turn down an invitation to sip and frolic in cool water--especially on a warm summer day.

All birds need water for drinking and bathing. They'll happily frolic in a streambed or a puddle, but a birdbath in the right spot your garden--kept filled and clean--is the ultimate watering hole for all kinds of feathered visitors. On these four pages, we show a collection of birdbaths that you can buy or build yourself. Some are basic bowls. Others, like the sleek triangular flagstone bath or the whimsical miniature swimming pool carved in wood, are as much for people to look at as for birds to splash in; you can display them as sculpture among garden plants.

Once the birds discover this reliable water source, they'll bring your garden alive with color, sound, and activity. You'll discover the quiet pleasure of watching finches, jays, robins, sparrows, and other song birds swoop into the bath for a splashing-good time. If you add a bird feeder nearby, there's sure to be an even bigger crowd. (You might even see birds washing berries in the water.)

While a bath can cool off the birds and enhance your garden in summer, it's beneficial to birds in winter, too; bathing then actually helps insulate birds by keeping their feathers free of dirt and leaving space between them for pockets of trapped air.

Birdbath basics

Whether you buy or build a birdbath, here are a few rules of thumb to help you choose and locate it.

Keep it shallow but roomy. Most birds bathe by wading into shallow water that's no deeper than their legs are long, so 2 to 3 inches is deep enough. The bath's sides should slope gradually, so birds can wade in to a depth that's comfortable for them. If the bath has vertical sides, some birds find it difficult to judge the depth; add a flat rock in the bath's center.

To allow room for more than one bather, choose a bath that' s at least 24 to 36 inches in diameter. Consider materials. Birdbaths can be made from many materials--concrete, glazed ceramic, metal, plastic, and terracotta, to name five. The photographs on these pages show a sampling of ones available. Plastic and metal withstand many types of weather, but surfaces can be too slippery for birds. Some plastic can get brittle with age and crack; metal should be stainless steel or other material that resists rust. The surface texture should be rough enough to offer traction; you can add gravel to slick-bottomed ones, but that makes cleaning a little more difficult. Lightweight birdbaths need firm pedestals to keep from tipping.

Keep it clean. Mosquitoes and algae love standing water, but stagnant water isn't healthy for birds. Change the water daily during summer, every three to four days in cooler months when the bath is used less. Use a strong jet of water from the hose to clean the bowl; if the bottom is dirty, scrub it.

Keep it safe. If you're going to attract birds to your garden, you'll need to make sure they're protected from predators. Put the birdbath next to shrubs or trees that provide cover and escape routes. But make sure the plants aren't so close to the bath that they create hiding places for cats and other marauders. Putting a bath on a pedestal base isn't enough--there still should be some open space around it. Avoid clustering Dots too close to a birdbath's pedestal; cats can climb hem to get to a bath (they'll sip the water, too).

Certain kinds of birds prefer ground-level bathing, but that leaves them even more vulnerable to predators. Place ground-level baths where they have10 to 20 feet of open space around them (but no more, or you'll leave damp birds exposed to hawks, owls, and other birds of prey).

For greater viewing pleasure, place the bath where you can see it from the patio or house. To keep the water cooler and encourage day-long use, try to choose a location that receives morning sun but some shade at midday.

Birdbath extras

To keep birdbaths especially inviting to birds year-round, you can add the following devices to them.

Running water. The sight and sound of moving water are appealing to birds and can increase the number of birds visiting the bath. Some baths come with built-in fountains. Or you can create a miniature fountain by adding a submersible pump with a spray head. In a more natural-looking, ground-level pond, the same style pump can also recirculate water in a streambed or waterfall. Pumps should be plugged into receptacles with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).

Drippers hook onto outdoor faucets and let you add as little as a few drops a minute to keep a bath full and clean (many have their own pressure reducers and needle valve controls). Freestanding misters put out a fine spray that will attract hummingbirds, which enjoy hovering for midair baths.

Heaters. If you live in a climate where water in the shallow baths can easily freeze solid, consider adding a small heating element that will keep it thawed and available to birds during cold spells.

Sources for birdbaths and extras

The birdbaths pictured on these pages are available from the following sources.

Synthetic rubber pond liner: Avian Aquatics, Inc., 6 Point Circle, Lewes, Del. 19958; (800) 788-6478.

Terra-cotta bath on steel pedestal (also birdbath heaters,drippers): Duncraft, Penacook, N.H. 03303; (603) 224-0200.

Three-quarters railing birdbath: Gardeners Eden, Box7307, San Francisco 94120; (800) 822-9600.

Wall-mounted birdbath: Iron Design, 26309 146th St., Zimmerman, Minn. 55398; (612) 856-4700.

Fiberglass boulder: Second Nature Inc., Box 217, Alamo, Calif. 94507; (510) 943-6333.

Copper birdbath with fountain, hanging birdbath: The Nature Company, 750 Hearst Ave., Berkeley, Calif. 94710;(800) 227- 1114.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Whiteley, Peter O.
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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