Friday, November 1, 2019

Why you should put stones in your bird bath

Adding a bird bath to your bird feeding station is one of the simple things you can do to quickly attract more birds to your backyard. 

Birds will love having a reliable source of clean drinking water. Many birds will seek out your bird bath to drink and bathe. And bird baths can provide an attractive yet functional centerpiece to your yard.

When you are setting up your bird bath you have lots of choices as to styles and designs. While you are doing so, don't for get to add a stone or two. "Why should I put rocks in my bird bath?" you ask.

Putting stones or rocks in your bird bath will provide a shallow and non-slippery perch to more readily attract small birds.

Whether they come to your bird bath for a drink or a bath they may enjoy some strategically placed stones in your bird bath. I recently set up a bird bath in my yard and immediately began enjoying birds coming to drink. Why did I place rocks in my bird bath? Read on!

Photo of a stone in a bird bath
Why does my recent homemade bird bath include a rock?

Put stones in your bird bath to prevent slipping while drinking

Many metal, plastic, or ceramic birdbaths have slippery sides and bottoms. Birds don't like to slip in the water, and may give up on a bird bath that is too slippery. A rough texture gives a more firm grip to the birds' feet. But you can add a rough stone to provide a firm landing place instead.

It may work well if the stone you provide is wedge-shaped. Birds can land on the dry upper portion of the rock and then walk down to the water's edge for a drink. Make sure that the rock is stable and doesn't wobble.

As you observe birds drinking at your bird bath you may note that most birds dip forward. They fill their beak with water then lift their bill high in the air and allow the water to drain back into their throat.

Some birds, such as pigeons, actually suck water and can keep their head lowered the entire time while drinking. Either way, having a sloping stone to help them get to the water's edge will be appreciated.

Most birds drink water. Only a few birds get enough hydration simply from the foods they eat. Thus your bird bath will attract many birds for a drink that you would otherwise not be able to attract with foods.

You may think that birds need more water in summer, when the weather is hot and natural water sources may have dried up. That is true. But birds especially need drinking water in winter when water sources may be frozen for days at a time. Yes, birds need water for drinking all year round.

Put rocks in your bird baths that are too deep for bathing

Another reason you should put rocks in your bird bath is too provide a shallow shelf for smaller birds. If water is too deep the birds will not get in for a bath. Many commercial bird baths may look attractive yet not be the easiest for birds to use. For smaller birds the bath edge should only be 1/2 an inch in depth and sloping out to no more than 2 inches deep.

Notice that in the home made bird bath I created (photo above) that I used a slippery glazed ceramic saucer. It is the saucer that sits under a large clay pot planter. Note also that its sides are rather straight up and down, not sloping. It is also rather deep. 

The saucer by itself is not an ideal bird bath. But I added a large rock that slopes into the water and another flat stone just under the surface. Now the birds can use it safely. And they do! Of course, the House Finches found it first, as I have a small hanging feeder set up nearby. But even a Black Phoebe came for a bath one evening. If I paid more attention I might even see more birds!

When bathing, birds generally wade belly-deep. Then they dip their head under the surface and quickly raise it. Water flows over the head and down onto the back. The bird flutters its wings and water flies everywhere! At the same time the bird often fans its tail and holds it down in the water, shaking it from side to side. An invigorating bath!

To allow a small bird to bathe in a bird bath that is too deep, add a flat stone just below the surface. Or have a wedge-shaped stone that slopes gently into the water.

Birds bathe in order to keep their plumage clean. After bathing birds often sit on a nearby branch and preen. Birds that are wet from bathing need some time to dry out before they can fly well. Thus they are in more danger from predators after taking a bath. 

So having a nearby branch on which to preen and dry, up away from any cats is good. Consider placing the bird bath near a dense bush that small birds can hide in after their bath to protect them from certain hawks, too.

Create a fountain in your bird bath with carefully selected stones

Birds need water for drinking and bathing. 

They are really attracted, though, to the sound of gurgling or dripping water. You may really enjoy setting up a recirculating pump to create a small cascading waterfall down an artfully designed grouping of rocks. Or you can buy such a set up. 

Make sure that the water flow is not too strong, though. Birds will likely prefer a smaller trickle than an strong flow of water.

If that is too much effort or cost, try a home made dripper. 

Poke a hole in the bottom of a plastic gallon jug with screw-on lid. Fill the jug with water. Screw on the lid. Hang it hidden (for esthetics) above a small pool or bowl of water, such that it slowly drips into the water. One drip every two or three seconds is fine and will last at least a couple of hours.

Some birds may prefer a mister or tiny sprayer rather than a waterfall. These may be aimed to splash up on a strategically placed large stone. 

Some of these misters are solar powered and float in your bird bath. They need a half hour of sun before they start up, generally. So be sure you place any solar powered fountains or misters so they receive sunlight first thing in the morning or in the evening when birds also visit bird baths before heading off to their night roost.

Please read my related article: How high off the ground should a bird bath be?


  1. I really appreciate your information. I'm a casual birdwatcher (is that the term for someone who wants to see birds with their morning coffee) but I do want to make my yard more friendly and helpful to them, particularly as they suffered very much from the heat and wildfires in my area last summer. This gives me a good starting point to make my plans so all of us can enjoy the backyard. Happy birdwatching!

    1. Bird watcher is a more inclusive term.

      The term birder often (not always) is used more for those who go out seeking birds more actively.

      A lister is a bird watcher who are concentrating on finding birds they haven't seen before, or seen yet each year, in a specified area (could be county, state, country, or world).

      I'm glad you enjoy the information I have provided.

      Heat and wildfires has been a frequent theme for many in recent years, including me!

  2. Thanks for the advice. I just set up a bird bath and could see that it was too deep. Now I'm off to hunt rocks!

  3. Can I use polished river rocks in my bird bath. They are black but probably not dyed

  4. Would love some links to good misters/sprayers. I’m not finding any.

    1. Good idea. But I haven't done any research on them yet.

      I keep seeing YouTube videos on homemade hummingbird bird baths and fountains with DOZENS of hummingbirds on them. Helps to be on the major hummingbird flyway (coastal California). Something I've GOT to try!

  5. Thanks for the good advice! Is gravel too rough on a bird’s feet? Wondering if I should switch to polished stones to line my birdbath. Thank you!

    1. I would actually think the rough surface is easier to grip--especially as some slippery algae will start to grow.


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