One of the best ways to attract birds to your yard is to offer water. Most of us don’t have a yard with a pond or stream to naturally provide water, so we need to find another way. While you could of course purchase a birdbath designed for the purpose, my homemade birdbaths cost less than $10 each and the birds are as happy with them as if I’d spent $300 each.
I got this 17 ½” diameter plastic plant saucer from Lowes Home Improvement store last fall. Checking today on their website, it looks like they still carry it. This one is a little over 2” deep, weighs just under a pound and can hold twenty ounces of water. It comes in tan or black.
Here’s What I Like About it:
* Inexpensive. At the time I write this, according to the Lowes website, it still costs $9.98. (I splurged and bought two so I can offer water in both my front and back yards.)
* Durable. Unlike terracotta saucers or concrete birdbaths, plastic doesn’t crack if the water ifn it freezes and thaws during colder months. These should probably last me a good long time.
* Easy to Clean. During warmer months, cleaning the birdbath usually just involves a stiff brush and water from the hose. If you need a more intense cleaning, simply dump the water and take the saucer inside to clean in the sink, something you couldn’t easily do with a heavy concrete pedestal birdbath. In the winter when the hoses are turned off, I use a large pitcher of water to re-fill them.
* Works for all birds. While this doesn’t have the sloped surface of a typical purchased birdbath, it isn’t very deep. Small birds like to sit on the edge or on branches that I put over and around it to drink. Larger birds have plenty of room to hop in to take a bath. You’ll also find that other neighborhood critters will stop for a drink too. In my yard that means squirrels, cats and a ground hog.
* Can easily heat it. Add a de-icer and you’ve got a heated birdbath for winter months as I described in a previous blog post.
* Easy to move. Because it is so light-weight, you can easily move it around as needed. So if for example you need to mow the grass and it is in the way, you can quickly move it (something that requires more muscle strength if you’ve instead got a heavy concrete birdbath.)
* Ground level water. In nature, most birds get their water from puddles or other ground level water sources, so they are quite comfortable if you set this on the ground. I have a very small older metal pedestal birdbath near this one. I found that the plastic birdbath on the ground didn’t freeze as quickly (before I got the de-icer) as the higher metal one. I think the ground kept it a little warmer.
* Big enough to stay put. When I first got this one, I put it on a raised surface but I worried that it would blow in the wind if the water got low, so I weighed it down with a rock in it. Putting it instead on the ground in a bit of a hollow made it quite secure even on windy days.
* Blends in. I got a black one (really more of a dark grey) to sit in a bed that has dark mulch and a tan one to sit on the ground in the backyard. Put a branch or two around them and they blend in well.
* Tends to fill with leaves on windy days and grass clippings on lawn mowing days, probably more-so than a raised bath would. But it is easy to dump and re-fill so this isn’t a big deal.
* More risk from cats. My neighborhood is full of free-ranging cats, both people’s pets and feral cats. A favorite hunting strategy of all of these cats is to sit right next to a ground level birdbath or feeder and hope that an incautious bird will fly up quickly without noticing them sitting there. Unfortunately that strategy is sometimes successful. I try to offset this by placing birdbaths and ground feeders within a few feet of an escape perch but not right next to a thick bush where a cat can hide.
If you decide to give this a try, look for a large shallow plastic saucer with no drainage holes that can hold an inch or two of water. The saucers I bought are flat on the bottom without any raised areas designed to hold pots off the surface. I suspect that it probably doesn’t make a difference.
I’ve read suggestions that small stones be added to a homemade birdbath so birds can gauge the depth better. I tried this but didn’t find this to be necessary as even birds new to the yard can figure it out by watching other birds using it. And frankly, stones just get mucky and are one more thing you need to clean.
You could alternatively use a large shallow terracotta saucer. I have a slightly smaller one that I put out last summer and it was actually preferred by the smaller birds because it was shallower with lower sides. But terracotta can crack if water is allowed to freeze and thaw in it, so it isn’t the best year-round choice. (If you put a de-icer in it during the colder months to keep the water from freezing, I’m not sure if that would avoid this problem. You could always try it and if it did crack, replace it with a plastic one during the winter months.)
Give this a try. It doesn’t cost much so it isn’t much of a financial gamble. If you do offer water, realize that you need to keep an eye on it, keep it clean and keep it full of fresh water. I add water most days, dumping and giving it a quick scrub every two or three days. It’s a five minute job. It draws so many birds, even birds that don’t normally come to the feeders, that I find that it is well worth the time.