Water is an essential ingredient in any bird garden. It will attract a wide range of species throughout the year, including birds that feed elsewhere but need fresh water for drinking and bathing. The simplest way to provide water is in a bird-bath, but garden ponds with shallow edges provide the same facilities, with the added benefit of giving a home to aquatic animals.
The importance of water
Small birds, particularly those that feed on dry seeds, need to drink regularly (at least twice a day) to replace the fluids lost through respiration and in their droppings. Water is also essential for bathing and feather maintenance; dampening the feathers loosens the dirt and makes the feathers easier to preen.
The easiest way to provide water in the garden is in a bird-bath or a pond. A good bath is simple and sturdy but light enough to clean and refill. It must have sloping sides and a depth range between 2.5 and 10 cm (1 – 4 in) to allow every species to bathe at its ideal depth. The surface should be rough so birds can grip it with their claws, and it should be large enough to hold sufficient water to withstand a vigorous bathing session by a flock of starlings. The simplest bird bath is a large plant saucer with a stone in the middle to serve as a perch, or an inverted dustbin lid sunk into the ground; custom-made bird-baths are available from garden centres or specialist bird care suppliers. All types should be cleaned weekly to remove algae and droppings. Use dilute non-toxic disinfectant rinse thoroughly.
Birds are distracted while bathing, making them vulnerable to predator attack. Siting the bath near bushes or trees, where the birds can retreat, perch, and preen, will attract more visitors, and planting thorny shrubs will keep cats away from the birds’ cover.
During periods of drought, birds may try to use water barrels or troughs for drinking, and sadly many drown. If these containers cannot be covered, make them safer by floating a plank of wood on the water surface, so that birds can land and drink.
From Robert Burton’s The Pocket Birdfeeder Guide