Thursday, October 10, 2019

How high off the ground should a bird bath be?

Birds need water every day for drinking and bathing. One easy way to provide water is with a bird bath. One question that comes up frequently is how high off the ground that the bird bath should be placed.

Bird baths may be placed on the ground, on pedestals 2-3 feet high, or even hung quite high. Each height has advantages. Each height has some drawbacks. This article discusses the pros and cons of placing bird baths at various heights above the ground. It also talks about things to keep in mind that may be more important for positioning your bird bath than just the height.

Why do birds need water?


Birds don't need to drink as much water as most mammals. This is because they don't have sweat glands so they don't perspire. They can get moisture from eating insects and plant buds. Still, birds may need to drink water at least twice a day. (source)

Birds also need to bathe regularly to keep their plumage clean. Clean plumage is necessary for warmth in winter. But clean feathers are especially necessary for flight. Birds fly to travel from place-to-place, of course. But even more necessary, birds fly to escape danger and predators.

Even birds that would not normally come to your bird feeder will still come to your bird bath to drink and bathe. The best bird baths have rough texture that birds can grip firmly without slipping. They are 1-2 inches deep at most. They may perhaps have an added rock or branch leading to the water, so birds can get a drink without actually getting in the water if they so wish. Many birds may not want to fly directly to a bird bath. Instead, they may want a staging perch where they land first, then walk or hop to the water's edge.

But how high should your bird bath be? To answer that, let's next think about how birds find water without our help.

Natural bird baths


Birds drink and bathe in rain puddles. They also do so at the shallow edges of streams, lakes and ponds.

Birds may drink droplets of dew, or raindrops on vegetation.

But think about this. These methods and locations are primarily all on the ground. Most birds know naturally to seek water for drinking and bathing on the ground. Of course, they are capable of learning from experience to find water in other situations. But their first instinct is to seek water near the ground.

How high off the ground can bird baths be placed?


A bird bath is an excellent way to provide birds with the water they need daily. Bird baths may be easily purchased and can be added attractively to your landscaping. Alternatively, bird baths can be a fun do-it-yourself (diy) project as simple or as complicated as you can design.

In this section we'll look at where bird baths can be placed--how far off the ground they can be. We'll also consider both the pros and cons of each elevation.

Photo of an Evening Grosbeak drinking from a ground-level bird bath
Evening Grosbeak getting a drink from a ground-level bird bath.
Photo by Greg Gillson

Bird baths on the ground


Perhaps the simplest bird bath is just to place a shallow bowl of water directly on the ground. Larger basins may even be dug into the ground. One could even create an artificial rock stream bed with plastic-lined catch basin to act as a "natural" bird bath.

Even if you have a traditional bird bath, you might consider placing a ground-level bird bath inconspicuously off to one side of your backyard.

Pros- Since birds naturally drink and bathe from puddles on the ground, they may more readily use bird baths placed on the ground than anywhere else. These will especially be favored by sparrows, doves, quails, and other ground feeding birds.

Cons- Bird baths on the ground may collect more dirt and leaf litter and need to be cleaned more often. Other pests may be attracted to this easy-to-reach water source.

Bird baths within 1 foot of the ground


Birder Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watchers Digest (source), recommends keeping bird baths within 1 foot of the ground. How would you do this?

You could place a water dish on a low platform of bricks. You may find a tree stump to use as the perfect natural platform for a homemade bird bath such as a terra cotta saucer normally used under a flower pot.

Pros- This is perhaps an ideal height. Such a height will appeal to a large variety of birds. It should be very stable and unlikely to tip over easily.

Cons- Other critters may use your bird bath. Depending upon what they are, though, this could also be a pro.

White-throated Sparrow on a bird bath.
Photo by Greg Gillson

Traditional pedestal bird baths 26-32 inches above the ground


Of course, there's nothing wrong with the traditional concrete pedestal bird bath. Plastic is cheaper, with a weighted bottom, and perhaps easier to clean. Other materials are possible, including copper or ceramic.

Pros- Pedestal bird baths can be very decorative and attractive.

Cons- Decorative doesn't mean the birds will like them. The water level in many decorative bird baths is actually deeper than many small birds would like. Many decorative bird baths have too slippery of a surface and birds may not like them. These bird baths can topple over in strong winds or if larger animals or a pet tries to get up in them for a drink.

Hanging bird baths


Terra cotta bird baths can hang from hooks on your porch or patio like hanging plants. They can hang from a shepherds hook next to your other feeders.

Pros- You can place them for better viewing near patio or kitchen windows. They are much less likely to attract unwanted pests.

Cons- May be used primarily by finches and less likely by other birds. May sway too much in the wind. May be hard to refill and clean if too high. Glass or decorative basins are too slippery for birds to grip, so they may not use them.

Other considerations for bird bath placement


Birds will drink and bathe in bird baths of various heights. Other considerations of bath placement may actually be more important for attracting birds than how high it is off the ground.

Here are some other things to think about for locating your bird bath:
  • predators
  • cleanliness
  • viewing
  • windows
  • shade
  • nearby cover
  • dripping water

Cats and other predators may try to prey upon bathing birds. Birds with wet feathers may not be able to fly as well. Thus, keep low concealing vegetation (where a cat may hide and pounce) at least 10 feet away from low or ground-level bird baths.

Whether low or high, you want to be able to easily reach your bird bath with a hose to refill and clean. Bird droppings can cause illnesses; consider children when planning where to place your bird baths, and how high. Don't put a bird bath under a feeder where food and droppings can contaminate the bath. Regularly clean your bird bath with a stiff bristle brush and bleach, or other means.

Carefully choose a location where you'll be able to look out your window and watch the birds at your bird bath. However, bird baths and feeders should be closer than 3 feet or farther than 30 feet from a window to avoid window collision bird fatalities.

Placing the bird bath so it receives shade will keep the water cooler and slow down the growth of algae. This may make it easier to clean.

Birds are more likely to use a bird bath if their is a nearby shrub to escape to, perhaps within 10 feet. They may sit in a nearby low tree or tall bush to dry and preen, or wait for their turn at the water. Make sure that it any shrub is open at the ground so cats can't hide.

There's nothing like the sound of dripping or gurgling water to attract birds! Consider a bubbler, dripper, fountain, or wiggler to add to your bird bath.

Now that you have this information, go out and add water to attract even more birds to your yard!

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