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Gardener's Dirt: Birdbaths. ornamental and essential

By Barb Henry - Victoria County Master Gardener
May 12, 2011 at 12:12 a.m.

Animals other than birds appreciate a dependable source of clean water every now and then.  Honey bees are also regular visitors during extended dry spells.

Every year, more of us discover the joy of attracting birds to our gardens. Water is a key element and about the least expensive attraction for birds. Like all living creatures, birds need a good source of fresh water for drinking as well as bathing. Birds bathe to keep their feathers properly cleaned and preened for flight.

Birdbaths come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and mediums. A birdbath, fountain or water feature can add beauty and charm to your landscape without being expensive, and it doesn't take a lot of space to offer this life necessity. Baths are available at many shops around town that sell garden items, or.

Make your own birdbath

A trash can lid turned upside down over a section of large diameter PVC pipe makes a good size bath. Tie a rope to the lid handle and hang a weight of some form into the center of the vertical pipe. This keeps the lid from blowing off and it can be easily removed for cleaning. Paint the outside to blend or contrast with your landscape.

I have a large pot saucer about two inches deep sitting on top of my chimenea. It attracts blue jays, doves and mockingbirds all day. Master Gardeners Jerome and Mary Janak have a bath bowl sitting on a stump which adds utility to the already lovely setting.

Moving water adds magic

Birds are especially attracted to moving water, so a dripper, fountain, solar sprayer or battery operated wiggler will really get their attention. Movement also deters mosquitoes. The sound of moving water adds serenity to the atmosphere of your garden.

Wigglers and floating solar fountains, especially for birdbaths, can be found in many garden and patio shop catalogues. The wigglers work on batteries, but solar fountains need little or no maintenance.

"Clean" is essential

Hose out and fill daily, especially when it is hot and dry. Scrub your bath weekly with a brush and a little vinegar or baking soda. Rinse well before refilling.

You need not be worried about breeding mosquitoes if your bath is cleaned weekly. It is not advisable to use any other additives in the water.

Baths should be 1 to 2 inches deep although large birds do not mind a deeper bath.

Take Care in Placement

The best place to put a birdbath is where you can observe it regularly; such as just out your front or back window or wherever you spend time with it in sight. You'll be constantly enlightened by what you see.

Do not place baths in totally open areas. Just as with your feeders, birds need the security of some cover from above or a nearby bush for safety. Place baths away from feeders to keep them from being contaminated by droppings.

Keep baths at least 10 feet away from shrubs or other hiding places to prevent cats from easily jumping on the birds. They are especially vulnerable to cats when wet and unable to escape as easily. A nearby tree limb is beneficial for a quick get-away for birds. And, of course, place the birdbath near a faucet or water hose so you can clean and fill it frequently.

Keep it available

Once you establish a bath, please keep it available year-round. Some birds suffer more from lack of water than from lack of food. During this last winter's harsh freezing spells, my feathered friends were waiting each morning for me to remove the ice and refill the baths in my garden. Their eager drinking made me hate to think how they would have faired without this reliable source of fresh water. It appears we may face another summer of drought, so a dependable source of clean water is a must for our feathered pals.

Rewards are lively

What are my rewards for keeping birdbaths clean and full year-round? Birdbaths really attract more birds than bird feeders, and water attracts not only local, but migratory birds passing through the area. There are always lovely bird songs in the air and lively flashes of cheerful color, and the birds happily feast on any insects they find in my garden.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@ vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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