Offering baths attracts birds, bees to garden

KENNEWICK -- If you're trying to encourage bird and insect wildlife in your garden, providing water in our hot dry climate is an advantage.

While some species of birds get their water from the fruit and other plants they feed on, many species of birds need water for both drinking and taking a bath ... thus the name "birdbath."

I like the decorative aspect of a birdbath with the reflective surface of the water providing a note of tranquility to my patio and garden.

However, large flat pot saucers or even an upturned garbage can lid can be used as alternatives to more expensive metal, stone, and pottery birdbaths, according to Margaret Brittingham, Associate Professor of Wildlife at Penn State University.

Whether manufactured or makeshift, Brittingham indicates that a birdbath should be no deeper than three inches in the center with the sides sloping downwards to the deepest point. She also notes that birds need an edge around the rim of the bath to serve as a perch. Smooth glass or plastic surfaces can be slippery, making it hard for birds to hold on.

The edge should be rough or you can provide footing by placing flat stones near the edge of bath container.

Brittingham also notes that birds are attracted to dripping water, making birdbaths already plumbed and wired as a fountain ideal. Handy gardeners with a drip system can probably devise a little drip emitter for the bird bath.

The presence or absence of cats in your yard is an important factor when considering where to locate a birdbath. A birdbath can be placed on the ground, if cats aren't around. If you have cats on the prowl, a bath should be elevated on a pedestal or stand of some sort. It's good to locate a birdbath near a tree or shrub where branches provide the birds with a place to stop and preen before flying off.

However, if cats are present, don't place a birdbath next to shrubs where the cats could lie in wait.

It's recommended that you keep your birdbath free of algae and prevent it from becoming a breeding zone for mosquitoes. In hot weather, replace the water daily. To prevent the buildup of algae, scrub and rinse the bath basin at least once a week. Don't use chemicals to control the algae. They can be harmful to the birds.

Birds aren't the only backyard visitors that can benefit from providing a refreshing water source.

Honeybees need water too! Experts recommend a large container as a "beebath" since bees find the water by noting the increased humidity above the area. Smaller containers don't raise the humidity enough to get the attention of the bees.

Deep containers like birdbaths can lead to bees drowning. You can prevent this by placing pebbles or small stones in a container and then adding water. The pebbles act as bee perches so the water shouldn't cover the pebbles. An alternative to pebbles is providing floating surfaces, such as twigs or pieces of wood, in the water for the bees to land on. It's also important to keep any "beebath" clean with fresh water and scrubbing.

If you don't have a birdbath or a beebath in your garden, think about adding one. The visits of birds and honey bees are true delights.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.