yellow-breasted bird at bird bath

If you want warblers, sparrows, robins, and other feathered friends swooping into your yard, offer them fresh water. It’s simple. It’s inexpensive — especially with DIY birdbaths using upcycled household items. And it’s definitely worthwhile. With a set-up that’s alluring to birds, you’ll be rewarded with a delightful reality show that’s truly wet and wild.

Birdbaths pair nicely with other alluring features for wildlife, such as bird feeders and appropriate native plants. They also work well on their own.

“It’s one of the easiest and least expensive things (to do) to attract birds for your own enjoyment,” says Robert Mulvihill, an ornithologist with National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Perhaps you’ll entice a parade of birds who perch on the rim, savoring a refreshing sip. Some might wade into the water, dunking, wriggling, and flapping. “They really soak themselves,” Mulvihill says.

Eastern bluebird at a bird bath
A bird-attracting bath will reward you with a delightful reality show. Photo: John Atkinson, Audubon Photography Awards

DIY Birdbaths: What You Need

Use a shallow dish or pan, no more than two inches deep, such as the tray from a flower pot, recommends The National Audubon Society. A page on the organization’s website entitled, How to Make a Birdbath, offers step-by-step instructions.

Mulvihill recommends avoiding materials with slick, slippery surfaces. Also, avoid light, flimsy containers, which would blow over easily in wind or when a bird lands. A hefty rock with a natural depression to hold water works nicely, he says.

Add a few rocks to provide extra perching surfaces within the pool of water — even if you’re using a store-bought birdbath. Mulvihill recommends flat, sloping rocks — partially sticking out of the water — to provide a gradual ramp so feathered friends can tip-toe to the level they prefer.

An internet search for DIY birdbaths offers plenty of variations and ideas, such as a stone and garbage can lid version from wikiHow. For a more advanced DIY project, check out Instructables’ guidance on making your own solar-powered birdbath fountain.

green bird enjoying a bath
Some birds are attracted to moving water, which you can accomplish with a birdbath dripper or agitator. Photo: Lindsay Donald, Audubon Photography Awards

Placement Is Important

Pick a place that’s visible from a window or from your patio so you can enjoy the show. But not so close to windows that birds might accidentally fly into the glass and injure themselves.

Also, think about the birds’ safety, especially from potential predators. The water should be within easy flying distance to trees and shrubbery, Mulvihill says. Birds often want to hang out and assess the scene before approaching the water. And, once in the water, they want to be able to zip back to the safety of trees or shrubs, if necessary.

Extra Enhancements

Some birds are attracted to the appearance and sound of rippling water, Mulvihill says. That’s easily accomplished with a birdbath dripper, which is an accessory that you can purchase or make yourself.

For a homemade version, Mulvihill suggests poking a teeny pinhole in a plastic jug. Fill the jug with water and leave the cap loose to allow air to escape. Suspend the jug over the birdbath to achieve a steady dripping effect.

Agitators, such as solar-powered Water Wigglers, are another accessory that adds movement in the water. In addition to attracting birds, a bath with moving water may be less likely to double as breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

To make your own agitator, Instructables has step-by-step instructions using wire hangers, an upcycled plastic container, and other materials.

Tips & Resources

Rinse and scrub your birdbath regularly.

Audubon recommends scrubbing with nine parts water, one part vinegar. “Skip the synthetic soaps and cleansers; they can strip the essential oils off of bird feathers. And make sure to refill the water every other day to keep it from bugging up,” the Audubon website states.

Other resources from Audubon:

Feature image by Geraldine Rose from Pixabay. This article was originally published on April 26, 2019.

By Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.