Attracting Birds with Bird Baths and Dripping Water

BIRD COLUMN FOR July 11, 2004

By Benjamin P. Burtt

Topic: Attracting birds with bird baths and dripping water

One of the best ways to attract birds through the warmer weather is to provide a supply of water. Whether the birds will use a bath or not will depend on how the bath is constructed and where it is placed.

A bird bath should be a sort of shallow puddle and not a deep pool. It should be no more than a half inch deep at the edges, and slope gradually to the center to a maximum depth of about 2 inches.

If the depth of the water at the edge is greater than one-half inch, don't buy it. Birds must be able to wade in much as we might at a shallow, sandy beach.

To accommodate more than one bird at the same time, the diameter should be 20 to 24 inches.

Placement of the bath

Whether the bath is on a pedestal or on the ground, it should be roughly 10 to 12 feet from the shelter of nearby shrubbery. Birds are timid about venturing too far into the open. If the bath is too close to the bushes they can be more easily caught by a cat hidden there. So, 10 to 12 feet is about right.

Need to see water

The reflections from the surface of the water are more conspicuous to the birds if the bottom of the bath is a dark color. A disadvantage of many commercial concrete models is their nearly white color. Tests have shown that water in a dark container is used more often. If the bird does not see the water, it will not use it.

A dark, waterproof paint (deck and floor paint) can be applied to the concrete to make the water more conspicuous and thus increase its ability to bring in the birds.

Not all birdbaths that are available in stores are suitable. Recently, I visited a garden center for plants and inside their large greenhouse where plants were displayed, there were also many ornaments and bird baths and pools. However, of the dozen baths there, all had steep sides and sloped abruptly to the center.

While birds could perch on the edge and reach down to drink, the water was too deep for them to wade in to bathe.

The baths were more of an ornament than a place where birds could easily drink and bathe.

Do be sure that the bath is shallow at the edges. If you already have one that has steep sides, you can place some thin pieces of slate in the water around the edge. The birds can wade in until they get to the proper depth for their size.

A few commercial baths made of concrete on a heavy stand are quite good and now there are some made of plastic that do not require such a substantial support.

Making your own birdbath

A birdbath can be made with materials you have around your home. You can mount, a shallow, metal trash can lid on a piece of tile pipe. A rock or other weight suspended from the handle and hanging down inside the pipe will hold the lid in place. Once this has been painted to disguise the materials, It looks quite nice.

A bath does not need to be on a pedestal. Most birds are accustomed to finding water in a puddle on the ground. Thus an excellent homemade bath can be constructed from concrete by digging a shallow hole in the ground and using the hole for a mold. Follow the specifications for the size given above. Be sure the cement is at least 1-1/2 inches thick.

If you do not wish to use concrete, the hole can be lined with a piece of thin plastic and weighted down with stones or dirt along the edges. The water presses the plastic against the dirt beneath it. This, together with the wrinkles in the plastic gives a pretty good footing for the bathers. A thin plastic is preferred to heavy material that does not wrinkle. The latter can be quite slippery and birds may be more timid about venturing onto it.

Motion and noise help
Birds are strongly attracted by the motion and noise of dripping water. Let water fall into the bath at about one drop per second and you will attract flycatchers, warblers, thrushes and many birds that otherwise will not come to a bath or to a feeder.

Plastic bucket drip device

The simplest arrangement for dripping water into the bath is illustrated here in Figure 1.

(NOTE: there are six pictures and it may take up to 3 minutes to load them all if you are using a phone modem)

This is a plastic pail with a tiny hole in it. It is suspended about two feet above the bath or pool and water drips from a hole punched in the side of the pail near the bottom.

To make a hole of the proper size, poke a common pin into the side of the plastic pail about one half inch above the bottom. Note: the hole should not be put in the bottom of the pail since it will soon become plugged by bits of dirt.

If the water should drip too fast, leave the pin in the hole with the head on the inside. If it goes too slowly, then you may want to enlarge the hole with a very tiny nail.

If it is not convenient to put the pail directly above the bath or if you do not like the appearance of it there, put if off to the side as shown in Figure 2.

In this case you will need some soft, one-quarter inch tubing and hook up a siphon to bring water over to drop from the end of the tubing into the bath. In the end of the tubing, insert a tiny plastic valve so that you can adjust the flow to about one drop per second.

The little valve costs $3.00 and is available in any store or hardware that sells parts for small gas engines. It is called an "in-line fuel shut off valve". It would normally be used with gas line tubing, but soft vinyl or rubber tubing is better for the drip device. ( the valve I found was a Sten 120-212 or a Briggs and Stratton part No. 494768). One of the tapered ends of the valve is inserted into the tubing. The inserted tip is called a barb fitting because its ribbed surface keeps the tubing from slipping off.

Once you get the siphon started and the water flowing, then you can easily adjust the valve handle to get the correct drip rate. Keep the pail covered so that dirt does not get into the water for that will plug up the valve eventually.

Buying a ready-made “dripper”

If you do not wish to make a "dripper" yourself, a ready-made one that attaches to an outside faucet is available in most stores that sell supplies for attracting and feeding birds. These consist of a kit with all the necessary parts partially assembled.

Each of the following stores in Central New York carries one or more models: In Auburn, the Bird House on State Route 326, 315-252-1850,
In Syracuse, Lee's Feed Store in Syracuse , Milburn Dr. on the south side at 469-1481.
In Cicero, Barone Gardens on South Bay Rd. near Thompson Rd, at 699-2429.
In Fayetteville, Wild Birds Unlimited on E. Genesee St., at 637-0710.
At Moyers Corners about 4 miles east of Baldwinsville, Tweeter Feeders will have some in soon. Call 622-4737.

As shown here in Figure 3, the "dripper" consists of a metal "Y" that you attach to the garden hose faucet outside your house. This "Y" is normally used so that two garden hoses can be attached to the same faucet. There is a valve in each arm so that one or both can be turned on.

Instead of attaching a garden hose to the other side, you screw on a cap on that has a nipple to which a piece of 1/4 inch diameter plastic tubing is attached. The other end of the miniature hose is fastened just above the bird bath so that water will drip into the bath. The bird bath can be placed on the ground or on a pedestal.

The water can merely drip from the end of the tubing into the bath. The tubing can be supported by a tree branch, or from the top of a stake near the bath.

Instead of suspending the end of the tubing over the water, some units include a copper tube mounted on a small crockery pedestal that sits in the bird bath as shown at the bottom right of Figure 3 and just below in Figure 4 The piece of copper tubing goes up, over and down, dripping water into the bath.

Some other drip units clamp onto the edge of the bird bath and the water drips from the tip of a metal tube that hangs over the bath.

With this arrangement, the regular faucet on the outside of the house is turned on. The little valve is opened just a bit to allow water to drip from the end of the tubing into the bird bath. The other valve on the "Y" is turned off unless you wish to connect the garden hose.

Thus, the faucet is available for all its customary uses, but the little valve on one arm of the "Y", controls the flow of the dripping unit. In some kits you also have a little valve in the tubing to adjust the flow. One drop per second is about right.

Once it is dripping at the proper rate, you do not need to readjust it unless the water pressure changes drastically.

These kits with all the parts give you the best and most convenient arrangement I have seen for attracting birds to water in summer. The basic unit is $40 to $50. Some models allow you to choose whether to operate it as a tiny fountain or as a dripper.

It is nice to have a ready-made device, but if you like to make things and have access to a good hardware store, you can find these parts and put together your own "dripper".

There are also bird baths made of plastic that have a built in dripper that can be attached to a faucet in much the same way.

Solar powered fountain.

A very unique unit was invented by Chris Gates of Chittenango a few years ago. It consists of a floating lily pad about 8 inches in diameter on which sits a little green frog.

Photo cells in the lily pad operate a little pump under the frog. Water is drawn from under the lily pad and is squirted vertically out of two jets on opposite sides. The two little fountains goes over a foot in the air and drop back to splash in the pool.

Below is a photograph of one operating in my back yard. For fun it could be put in a fish pond or even allowed to float about in a swimming pool.

It is only available on the web or by mail. It costs $89 and is a lot of fun.

If you wish to buy one on line, go to the web site

and follow the directions to fill out the order blank. If you do not have access to the web, you can order one by mail.

Write to
Pratique, Inc, 1325 Route 173, Chittenango, NY 13037. The total cost will be the sum of the following:
89.00 Solar Power Fountain
7.34 Sales tax for NY residents
6.00 shipping and handling

Total = $102.34

Please include your name, address, phone number and email address if you have one.