You can buy a range of bird baths in so many styles for your back yard and outdoor space. We have one that we bought on a pedestal and it's really great. But you really don't need to spend much, if anything at all, to give your visiting feathered friends somewhere safe and pleasant to drink and wash themselves.
There are some great ways to use recycled materials that you probably have already to create something pretty good. Birds really don't care how much the basin or bowl cost nor what it looks like. They are only interested in the practicalities of using it and not on the aesthetics. Garden birds are searching for water that is clean enough to bathe in and drink, that is in a safe place away from the risk of predators creeping up on them and that is the right depth.
My own example which you can see in the photo is good used as a ground bath or raised up on a pedestal. Either way it only cost me a minimal amount to make. The only part I paid for was the plastic basin which was from our local dollar store. I'll be giving you tips not only on making a bird-friendly bath but also on where to put it and how to make it attractive to the smaller birds who are happy to come and visit your garden.
How to Make a Simple But Effective Bird Bath
1: The Water Basin or Container
First you need a suitable basin or a container to hold the water. The best bowls or basins for most of your visiting garden birds have shallow, sloping sides and not vertical or straight sides. This is a safety feature because birds, and particularly the small song birds which tend to visit gardens, can drown if the water is too deep and they struggle to get out. The plastic basin I chose for this purpose was from our local dollar store and it's a shallow planter with gradually sloping sides.
2: Correct Depth of Water for Smaller Songbirds
Current specifications from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds say that water should not exceed a 4 inch depth. This is to keep the level of water safe for birds to drink from, bathe in and cool down in on a hot day. If your container has a depth greater than this, you can fill up the bottom with stones and pebbles to create the correct level of water. It's not just how high you fill the container, you have to allow for any natural rainwater building up the water content too.
Shallow plates with wide rims, pie-tins, gradually sloping sides on a very shallow planter, upturned trash can lids: these can all be inexpensive ways to make a DIY basin bath for your visiting birds.
3: Adding Stones and Pebbles to the Basin
Adding stones and pebbles to the basin can give smaller birds somewhere safe to perch as they drink or wash. These can also help to make the overall depth suitable for them to use. I found an old frog stone statue which I cleaned up and added to the middle of my basin with rocks around it. It makes a good feature as well as being practical by preventing the water from being too deep.
4: Choosing a Position for the Bird Bath
Think carefully about the best place for the homemade bird bath. Birds are more likely to spot the water and use it if you put it near any feeders or the part of your yard where they are most active. Put the basin out in the open in your garden. However also consider placing it close to a safe area such as a bush, shrub or tree where a bird can quickly escape to if a predator shows up.
Although you want the water near a safe place for birds to fly to and from, don't put the bath right next to this area - about a meter or so away is ideal. This is because potential predators such as cats can easily hide themselves in a bush or under a tree and use this as cover to ambush the birds.
Birds are much more vulnerable while they drink and bathe just as they are when eating. Being engaged in a necessary activity can take their mind away from checking on their own safety as much as they normally would.
5: Consider Raising the Bath Up and Away from Predators
Floor or ground bird baths can also attract frogs, as I discovered, and they can also appeal to domestic cats and even other animals like foxes wanting a drink themselves. Attracting natural predators where your birds visit is not recommended for encouraging birds to your garden.
6: Cleaning the Basin Out
Prepare to clean the bird baths out regularly. I clean mine around twice a week and sometimes more in very hot weather. Baths can quickly get contaminated with droppings and germs from all the visitors and this can soon make water which is not fit to drink. If your basin is continually dirty, you are probably doing more harm than good because birds can die easily from diseases.
I prefer not to use any chemicals at all since many of these cleaning products are fatal to wildlife. So I scrub everything until pristine with a brush and a powerful jet of water from a hose. You can find special bird bath cleaner products to use if you want or you can opt for a heavily diluted bleach solution. You should do some research before resorting to using any chemical cleaners.
Keep These Tips in Mind When Making a Homemade Bird Bath
Making your own DIY version of a bath is easy providing that you are aware of what the visiting birds are looking for. A simple shallow basin or container on top of a makeshift pedestal such as a large upturned plant pot, an old stool or a tree stump can work very well. Raising your basin up off the ground can make it easier for birds to keep a lookout for natural predators such as cats. It also makes them easier to clean too.
Image Credit: all images on this page belong to the author of this article, Marie Williams Johnstone