Birdbath Drippers: A Complete Guide
You love watching the birds that come to your feeders. Maybe you even recognize a lot of them. But did you know that if you set up a water source in your backyard, you'll likely see a variety of birds that you've never seen before?
If you set up a water source in your backyard, it will attract the largest possible variety of wild birds. That's because not all birds eat seeds, but every species of bird needs a continuous supply of fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing.
Unfortunately, water can become stale and dirty. It can also evaporate in the sun and attract mosquitoes that tend to breed in it.
Moving water stays fresh and clean, and it prevents mosquitoes from breeding. Besides, wild birds can't resist the sound and appearance of moving water. That's why it's a good idea to install some water accessories in your birdbath. Bird Watcher's Digest says that more birds will come to your birdbath if you have moving water rather than still water.
Enter the birdbath dripper. A quality birdbath dripper will make your backyard a haven for all kinds of wild birds. Read on to learn everything you need to know about birdbath drippers.
The Science Behind Birds and Baths
Birds take their baths very seriously. For example, warblers are usually pretty territorial. They threaten other birds and get into fights when they sense that their territory is threatened. But according to bird researcher Joe Smith, many different species of warblers take turns bathing every night at a communal birdbath in the Yucatan Peninsula. That means that birds are willing to set aside their normally aggressive instincts if it ensures that they'll be able to take a bath.
Scientists don't know exactly why bathing is so important to birds, but they think it has to do with the bird's feathers. Birds have to keep their feathers in good condition and clean in order to fly. This is because feathers are essential to a bird's aerodynamics. Without a bath, birds may end up with rumpled feathers and poor flight coordination.
Even though we're not sure exactly why baths are so important to birds, we do know that your backyard birds will be so much happier with a birdbath and a dripper to go along with it!
First, You'll Need a Birdbath
If you're a bird-watching enthusiast, maybe you already have a birdbath. But it's important to make sure you have the right kind of birdbath.
The best birdbaths look like the baths you find in nature—things like puddles or pools of water. These water sources are usually shallow, often with a gentle slope.
You can always make your own birdbath with supplies like an old garbage can lid, a snow sled, or an old pan that you aren't using anymore. These birdbaths function just fine, but they can be an eyesore. For a birdbath with a more elegant appearance, check out this classic garden birdbath.
If you get a stand along with your birdbath, make sure the stand isn't too tall. Birds prefer sources of water that are closer to the ground.
If you can, put your birdbath in the shade so that the water doesn't get too hot. Nearby trees can also help to attract more birds.
It might be a good idea to place stones or small branches into your birdbath. If the birds have a place to stand while they drink, they will be able to keep warm when the weather gets cold.
Be careful not to let the water get too deep. It should be shallow and never any deeper than about 2 inches.
Installing a Birdbath Dripper
Now that you have your birdbath, it's time to add some moving water. A birdbath dripper is basically a curved metal or plastic tube that you can set in your birdbath. You can run the tubing from your backyard spigot to the dripper on your birdbath. Because this tubing is small, you can hide it easily under bark or dirt. But don't bury it too deeply—you want to keep it accessible so that you can clean it every now and then and remove it for the winter in cold climates.
On most commercial birdbath drippers, an adjustable valve means you can set the flow of water to a nice steady drip. Birds like to bathe in a gently trickling stream, not a powerful waterfall. Many drippers also come with an attachment that looks like a "Y." This is so that you can split your faucet. That way, you can run your garden hose and dripper at the same time.
Birdbath drippers keep the bath full and fresh on hot summer days. That means cooler water and no dry baths. The birdbath will be full or close to it at the end of the day because the dripper will slowly replace water that evaporates and gets consumed.
As a good steward of the environment, you'll also want to be careful with how much water you use. If your dripper is continuously running water, you'll end up wasting water needlessly. One way to fix this problem is to turn off your dripper at night when most birds won't be visiting your birdbath anyway. You can also adjust the dripper valve to reduce the flow volume.
You can also get a recirculating birdbath dripper. This will cycle the water through your birdbath, saving water but requiring a pump and energy source. Just be careful—when you're recirculating water, the water will eventually get dirty. Remember to replace the water every other day and clean your birdbath multiple times per week to prevent algal growth and the spread of avian diseases. For more details on cleaning your birdbath, see our blog post and Mondays with Martha #12.
When hunting for a good commercial birdbath dripper, look for a universal birdbath dripper. Universal drippers, like this one, will fit any birdbath, no matter what size it is.
Why Do Drippers Work?
Birds are attracted to the sight and sound of water. That's because, in the wild, birds find natural water sources by looking for sparkle or movement. From the air, birds detect the movement of running streams or rippling ponds, and they know where to land. They also find water sources by listening for the sound of running water. In their natural habitat, birds listen for the sound of falling, rushing, or gurgling water. The wild birds then follow the water noises to a natural water source.
We suspect that birds know that moving water means fresh, clean water that will keep them healthy. Drippers mimic the natural sights and sounds of moving water. Your dripper splashes water droplets into the basin and sends ripples through the water. Birds see and hear the moving water and fly down to visit your birdbath.
DIY Birdbath Drippers
Of course, you can always go the DIY route and make your own birdbath dripper. To make your own birdbath dripper, start by finding a clean plastic jug. Orange juice jugs work well—just make sure that you clean it really well before reusing it.
Now, punch two tiny holes in the jug. Use a pin or needle to make the smallest holes possible. Don't use a thumbtack because the holes will be too big. If you're having trouble punching the holes, try heating the pin first. It will slide easily through the plastic.
Next, fill the jug with water and hang it over your birdbath with string or wire. There you go! A DIY birdbath dripper. If you want, you can get creative and decorate the jug, but just like with DIY birdbaths, the results can be visually underwhelming.
If you want a clean, elegant dripper that's easy to maintain, you're probably better off purchasing a commercial dripper.
Common Myths about Birdbaths
Still hesitant about installing a birdbath and dripper in your back yard? You may have fallen for some of these myths about birds and bathing.
Myth #1: Many Birds Don’t Use Birdbaths
All kinds of birds use birdbaths because all birds need fresh, clean sources of water for drinking and bathing.
A good birdbath and dripper will attract small birds like warblers and hummingbirds, but it will also attract large birds like hawks and owls. In fact, a quality water source will also attract other woodland creatures like squirrels, toads, and even butterflies.
Myth #2: All Quality Birdbath Accessories Require Electricity
This simply isn't true.
As we've already seen, many accessories run on batteries and even solar power. Some, like the avian dripper and avian mister, require only water pressure to operate. It's completely up to you what kinds of accessories you install and what kinds of power sources those accessories use.
Just keep in mind that if you live somewhere that doesn't get much sun, you may want to skip the solar power and opt for battery power instead.
Myth #3: Birdbath Heaters are Dangerous Because Birds Will Freeze
This myth is tricky. The logic goes like this: If you have a heated birdbath in the winter, birds will submerge themselves in the warm water, get wet, and then freeze when they fly back into the cold.
But the truth is that birds are smart. A healthy bird will stand and drink the water rather than submerging itself in the water. Plus, wild birds still need clean drinking water during the winter months.
Just remember that if birds are going to be able to drink water from your birdbath during the winter without freezing, they'll need something to stand on. Don't forget to set up some rocks or small branches in the birdbath.
Myth #4: It's Okay for Birds to Bathe in Dirty Water
The idea behind this myth is that birds bathe in dirty puddles all the time in their natural habitat.
But this isn't true. Birds are attracted to moving water because moving water is relatively clean and free of debris. Birds know instinctively that stagnant, dirty water can give them diseases.
Installing a dripper will help keep your water clean and your birds healthy.
Myth #5: You Need a Birdbath to Install a Dripper
It may surprise you to learn that you do not need a birdbath to install a dripper!
Wild birds will treat a stand-alone dripper like a shower instead of a bath. A stand-alone dripper will attract birds to your backyard in the same way that a birdbath does.
You can also install a mister by itself. In fact, setting up a mister by your flower garden will keep both your birds and your plants happy.
Tips for Enjoying Your Birdbath Dripper
Now that you've installed your birdbath dripper (and/or other water accessories), here are some tips for maintaining your bird sanctuary so that your birds will stay happy for years to come.
Keep Your Tubing Clean
The tubing can get clogged by leaves, dirt, and debris from the birds. Every now and then, remove the tubing from your birdbath and run a weak bleach solution through it. Be careful—no more than 9 parts water to 1 part bleach.
Keep Your Bath Clean
The basin itself can get dirty, even with all that moving water. At least every other day, drain and replace the water. Several times per week, clean your birdbath thoroughly, including rocks and accessories that sit inside the bath and are used for perching by the birds. Just make sure to rinse everything well afterward and let it dry before you refill it. For more details on cleaning your birdbath, see our blog post and Mondays with Martha #12.
Put it in a Visible Location
Moving water is irresistible to wild birds, so you should see a variety of birds that don't normally visit your backyard. Don't miss out on the show! Put your birdbath somewhere where you can watch the birds from your window or your porch. You work hard for these birds—let them entertain you! Remember for their safety and to reduce the chance of window strikes, place your birdbath within 3 feet of a wall with windows or more than 30 feet away.
Additionally, remember that wild birds will often come to your birdbath because they spot it from the air. Make sure that the birdbath isn't covered with too many trees; otherwise, the birds won't be able to see it.
At the same time, the birdbath should have some kind of shading so that the birds aren't exposed to the blazing sun during the summer and have vegetation nearby for protective cover when a predator comes along. The trick is to keep your birdbath in partial shade but make sure it remains visible to birds flying overhead.
Make Sure the Location is Accessible
If you're going to install water accessories that require electricity or a water hose connection, make sure you place the birdbath close to an outlet or spigot. You should also make sure that you can clean the birdbath easily without moving it if it is large and heavy.
The location should also be easily accessible to birds. If it's too crowded by trees or bushes or too close to scary moving yard ornaments, the birds won't be able to access the water or will be too spooked to attempt it.
Add a Perch
Perches are a little different from the small rocks and branches that you should put in your birdbath.
A perch is a horizontal rod that you can set up adjacent to the birdbath. Birds can easily land on the perch when they fly up to the birdbath, and they can preen on the perch after they're done bathing.
A perch is especially helpful for birds who are shy, like thrushes or tanagers. These birds will often land on the perch to check for threats and then fly in to enjoy the birdbath, once they determine it is safe to do so.
Other Water Accessories
Now that you've installed your birdbath dripper, here are some other ideas for water accessories that your local birds will love.
Mister Birdbath Attachment
Your birds will absolutely love a mister. A mister is an attachment that you can hook up to your garden hose with small plastic tubing. The mister creates a continual mist of water that birds love to fly through and bathe themselves in. It's basically an adorable bird shower.
Most misters can be attached directly to the birdbath, while some misters are attached to tree branches. They can also be attached to the shepherd's pole along with your bird feeders--just be sure they are pointed away from the feeders and aren’t getting the seed constantly wet.
Misters tend to attract smaller birds, like hummingbirds. Misters also tend to create a sparkle that's visible from above. When birds fly overhead and see the sparkling mist, they'll fly down and visit your backyard oasis.
Unfortunately, there isn't a good DIY option for misters, but here's a commercial mister that will bring many wild birds to the yard.
Water wigglers work a little bit like a dripper or a mister. They agitate the water to create continuous ripples, which attract more birds to your birdbath.
The best wigglers are silent, and they usually run on D batteries or are solar-powered. Because they disrupt the surface of the water, they help keep mosquitoes from laying their eggs in your birdbath.
You can find a beautiful solar-powered water wiggler here.
If you live in a location where it gets really cold during the winter, you might want to think about picking up a birdbath heater for the colder months.
When natural water sources are frozen, it can be hard for birds to find good sources of fresh, clean water. A heated birdbath can bring additional species of birds to your back yard during the winter.
There are two different ways to heat your birdbath. You could find a birdbath that has a heater built-in, or you could get an extra de-icing accessory to place submerged in your regular birdbath. According to The Spruce, immersion heaters are slightly less effective than fully integrated heated baths, because immersion heaters don't usually have enough power to warm the entire birdbath.
Take Care of Your Birds
As a lover of nature, you recognize how important it is to be a good steward of the environment. You want your local birds to be happy and healthy. But that's not your only goal. You love seeing birds in your back yard, and you want to see as many different species of birds as possible, right? That means you need to take steps to attract lots of different kinds of birds—not just birds who eat seeds, but birds who are looking for a fresh, clean source of water.
If you set up a beautiful birdbath and install a birdbath dripper, you'll be amazed at how many new kinds of birds show up in your backyard habitat.Still not sure where to start? Check out our collection of birdbaths and accessories to learn more about how to make your landscape a wild bird paradise!