Birds and other wildlife need water all year round for bathing as well as drinking. If water is not available naturally in your garden, such as in a stream or pond, then you may provide a bird bath to help them and you will be able to watch their entertaining antics
Birds wanting to bathe and drink will use anything that will hold water. Unfortunately, if the container has steep sides, such as a bucket or water barrel, the birds could drown. Ideally, the birdbath should have shallow sloping sides and a rough surface so that the birds (and other animals) can climb in and out or paddle around the edge without the risk of slipping or drowning. The bath should also have an area deep enough for them to bathe, say 5 cm (2 inches) deep.
The bird bath can be constructed simply from a large dish, or an upside-down dustbin lid that has either been sunk into the ground or supported on three or four bricks. Place some gravel or several stones in the centre so the birds can get in and out of the water easily.
Alternatively, bird baths of various designs can be purchased from bird food suppliers and some garden centres. A good selection of bird baths is available at Primrose London, UK Water Features or Water Features 2 Go.
While bathing, the birds will be vulnerable to predators, so place the birdbath close to bushes that can provide cover for the birds, but ensure that cats and Sparrowhawks cannot use the same bushes for a surprise attack on the bathers.
For whatever reason, birds in some parts of the country seem unwilling to use hanging or pedestal-based bird baths, if you have one of these and birds do not use it, try placing the bath, if you can, on the ground or in different areas of the garden.
Hygiene is important with bird baths because there are many diseases that birds carry and transmit to each other and to people, and the water will become dirty quickly with dead leaves, feathers, bird droppings, food and algae.
Unlike a pond or stream, the water in the bath will not be freshened by flora and fauna and so must be kept clean and fresh by changing the water regularly. Clean the bird bath regularly using a scrubbing brush and a cleanser designed for pet bowls, etc., and swill the bath afterwards with boiling water, taking care not to scold your self.
Keeping the bath water ice-free can be difficult.
The simplest way is to pour hot water on to the ice to melt it, but if the weather is very cold it will freeze quickly again.
You could try sitting the bath on bricks and having a lit tea-light underneath, placing the bath in a sheltered position, or using a thermostatically controlled immersion heater.
Never use chemical anti-freezes, such as automotive anti-freeze, salt or alcohol to defrost a bird bath or any water used by wildlife.
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