Bird baths are as important as bird feeders as birds can almost always find sources of food but sometimes, especially in the winter when water sources are frozen, water is hard to come by. Aside from the obvious reason that birds use water for their metabolism, but they also need it to preen their feathers, important for keeping them in good shape for flight, display, and insulation. But of course birds need water in the summer as well, especially in very hot and dry areas.
Only some birds visit feeders – mainly seedeaters- but all kinds of birds visit bird baths. So if you watch birds out of your kitchen window, you will increase your list of sighted bird species by installing a bird bath. Birds particularly like bird baths with dripping or running water, but almost any kind will do. You can purchase one or make one out of almost any container. Birds are not fussy about the container, but they do pay attention to water quality, so whatever the container and source of water, cleanliness is important.
OK, what do you want in a bird bath? First, it should not be too deep – three inches is about right. The surface should be rough so that birds can get a good hold and not slip. You can rig up some sort of drip system with a hose and garden drip nozzle or you can buy a solar-powered bird bath that produces a small spray or trickle. There are many choices on the internet and your local garden stores.
It would be nice to place the birdbath somewhere you can see it from your house, but there are other considerations. Put it a few feet off the ground as wet birds cannot escape as quickly as dry ones so you don’t want to make it easy for predators, like cats, to sneak up on the bathers. Put it at least 10 feet from the house and not near a window so as birds fly off they have no obstructions.
I get questions about painting or repainting a bird bath. Almost any paint suitable for the material the bath is made of is suitable. After the paint dries and the flushed every day for a week or so, there will be little leaching of chemicals. Marine paint, used for boats and docks, is durable.
One minor problem with bird baths is that they turn green with algae fairly quickly. Won’t hurt the birds but it is unattractive. If it gets bad, scrub the bath with a stiff brush. You can also use chlorine bleach to kill the algae, but flush the bath thoroughly after that. Enjoy.