Habitat in the backyard & schoolyard – Part 7: Birdbaths

Teach young children about how to encourage and observe wildlife in your home, school or daycare center by putting in a birdbath.

This article is part of a series to help encourage wildlife in your schoolyard, backyard, park or other public area.  Since most children and adults enjoy observing wildlife, there are a number of small projects that could be done in an afternoon to encourage mammals, birds, reptiles and insects in the places you love.  Here are some tips from Michigan State University Extension on how to bring wildlife to areas for you and the children in your life.

The temperatures have been rising as spring turns to summer.  Placing a birdbath in your yard can attract our flying friends.  Birdbaths can attract birds that do not normally come to feeders because they do not eat seeds, such as swallows or robins.  Get kids involved with the planning, placement, construction and tracking the visitors of your birdbath.

Here are some important considerations when thinking about birdbaths:

  1. Materials: Birdbaths can be made out of anything that will hold water.  Old ceramic bowls, flower pot saucers or even an old cast iron pan can work.  Surfaces that allow for birds to get foothold are better than glazed ones.  The deepest part of the birdbath should be no more than two inches deep.  Place stones, branches or other perches to allow birds to take a drink without getting their whole body wet.
  2. Location: A typical birdbath, raised on a pedestal, will attract many of the birds which are normally attracted to feeders.  A birdbath on or set in the ground may attract different types of birds as well as chipmunks, frogs and butterflies.  A birdbath on the ground more closely resembles the puddles that wildlife finds in nature.  Placing the birdbath in the shade will keep the water cooler and reduce evaporation (so you do not need to fill it as much).  You also want to place it in a location where you can view your visitors.
  3. Predators: Your birdbath can be a convenient place for local predators to feed on your feathered friends.  Domestic cats are known for staking out birdbaths and killing birds that stop for a visit.  Keeping your birdbath 15 feet from a cat-hiding spot can reduce this problem.  Placing the birdbath underneath large trees can reduce predation from hawks.
  4. Maintenance: Your birdbath should be drained, re-filled every few days and cleaned on a regular basis.  Birds poop in their water, and if you do not clean it, they will be drinking their own filth.  It can make birds sick.  Mosquitoes can also breed in still water.  Algae and bacteria can also cover your birdbath in a green or red slime which is unattractive.
  5. Running water: Installing a fountain, waterfall or drip can increase the attractiveness of the birdbath.  The sound might bring in wildlife that the still water would not by itself.  Water “misters” can also attract additional birds and other wildlife.
  6. Record your visitors: You can use Cornell’s log book for birdfeeders for your birdbath as well.  Track your visitors and you can look back from year to year.  It can be fun to see the variety of birds that you get and when they arrive each year.  Cornell also has great information on how to identify birds, at All About Birds.

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