how to give a wild bird water

I didn’t always have over a dozen water sources in my intown (Morningside) Atlanta yard. Back in 2019 when I went through the process to get my yard certified as a Wildlife Sanctuary by the Georgia Audubon Society and learned that in addition to food and shelter, water is one of the main components of a bird habitat, I added two ceramic bird feeders. At the time I had already made my small, urban yard a haven for wildlife and once certified was chosen for the Audubon Sanctury Tour. I’ve since upped the game and completely rewilded my yard and added the additional water options for the birds and other wildlife visitors.

Water was just as vital to wildlife when we had the deep freeze back in December as it is now when we’re having a heat wave. Residential water sources are even more important than bird feeders which are supplemental. Backyard water sources are scarce.

Hopefully, sharing the following information about the multiple kinds of water sources in my yard will generate ideas for your space:

Offering water can be as simple as a pot saucer. I have a large one in a slight opening surrounded by trees and shrubs and a slightly smaller one next to a low bird bath under a nearby maple tree.

Two low, smallish ceramic bird baths seem to be the perfect size for wildlife. The one that gets the most action is in a slightly shady spot with nearby trees, shrubs, and ground cover all around. Its also in a slight opening next to a narrow path and the closest birdbath to the driveway and where my neighbor on the other side of the driveway has a row of non-native but dense, tall shrubs for cover. The other bath is near a maple tree, shrubs and native plants.

I’ve put small metal pet food dishes filled with water next to two of my bird baths. Im not sure what critters other than birds use these because they are not in my sight line from the house, but both are frequently emptied.

The most surprising water sources are the wells of my hummingbird feeders. I refresh them daily for the little birds such as goldfinches, brown-headed nuthatches, tufted titmouses, and Carolina chickadees who routinely visit for a sip. Even after I stop leaving nectar in two of the three feeders when the hummingbirds migrate away in the fall, I continue to refresh the water all year for the small winter birds who need them.

I add water instead of bird food to a cute little glass bowl I thought the more petite birds might use instead of the hummingbird well, yet I noticed different small birds use it such as chipping and song sparrows, and common finches! Go figure. It’s in a shady spot on a three-foot metal pole, next to a tall native Chickasaw plum tree (Prunus angustifolia), surrounded by low growing blueberry and St. John’s wort shrubs, wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) ground cover, and taller native plants. Even though the feeder is not in the open – it’s still somewhat protected because there are opening a few feet away on all sides.

The water source that delights me every time I see it is a small, shallow saucer my daughter who is an artist made for me with a mourning dove design on it. I can see it from my front porch but birds have cover nearby when they use it. It makes me particularly happy when foraging mourning doves stop by to use it!

The most nostalgic and used bird bath I have is from my first home decades ago. It’s a small, metal one that once had a little fountain pump that came up through the center. The fountain part is long gone and the small size doesnt matter to birds of all sizes who like this bath. I think it may also be one of the more ideally placed baths – it’s next to an open path with a long row of hedges and native plants nearby.

I created the branches in a tomato cage structure to replace tall Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) stems next to my small metal bath for birds to perch on before and after bathing and drinking. A couple years ago I wanted to take better photos of the bath from my backdoor kitchen window and broke the stems off without thinking. The second I did it I realized what I did and regretted it! Every time I think about removing the cage, I see a bird on or around the branches – so my little “sculpture” remains!

Water sources that are low-to-the-ground seem to be the most accessible for wildlife. A large metal one I added is a favorite of squirrels, flocks of winter birds, and nighttime critters (maybe passing possums?). It’s one of the baths I have that is not in a clearing, but in a more sheltered area near a fence, low shrubs and trees. My yard is small, so it’s also close to my back deck and near more open areas.

A large, round, hanging bird feeder was too heavy for a pole or any of the small trees I have so Im using it as a ground level bath in the very back of my yard. One night a large animal (maybe a fox, coyote, or raccoon?) was passing through and broke a large branch of a small box elder that continued to grow. Near the bent branch I put the large saucer. where its in a protected open area with plenty of trees, shrubs and native plants nearby for cover. I don’t really get to see what goes on in this bath, yet there’s evidence that it gets used all the time.

A small water container filled with sand, pebbles or rocks gives butterflies a place to puddle and prevents other thirsty insects like bumblebees from drowning. A friend gifted me a beautiful butterfly puddler I have next to native flowers but in an opening in a partially shady area. In Atlanta’s hot weather it seems to dry out quickly, but I’m still game for dribbling a bit of water in it each morning. Not sure about function, but I enjoy its beauty. At some point I may make a larger one to add to my yard and see how it is used.

Even in a small yard, larger water sources are possible. I’m exploring the idea of the best way to have a wildlife container pond where we had our firepit. It’s still new and in process. A friend is giving me floating native plants to add and I need to find native plants to anchor on the bottom. For now, I have two large pots of native plants that I’m testing out in the pond to see what thrives. This winter if my sweet husband is game, Im thinking I might see if hell dig out underneath where the container is now to make the pond ground level. Wildlife container ponds are different from less wildlife friendly water features such as fountains. The idea is to have a water source that is naturally sustainable and attracts wildlife like frogs, not a place to put non-native plants and fish then put up netting to harm native birds and wildlife who might eat them – something that has little to do with restoring nature where we live.

Ive noticed lots of bird and wildlife activity in the grey water puddling from my neighbor’s HVAC system on the side of their house next to our driveway. I have a rain garden of native plants where our AC water comes out of a pipe, so we don’t have puddling, but for someone looking for a no maintenance wildlife water source, this seems like a possibility. (The water may need to be diverted a little bit more away from the house than my neighbor’s though.)

I know dogs are not wildlife – but the well-received water station I maintain for dogs being walked in my neighborhood also attracts a variety of wildlife. I’ve seen birds and squirrels sipping from it and sometimes I’ll find it empty in the morning and wonder what large, thirsty, night wandering urban critter stopped by!

Any water source you add is beneficial to wildlife and hope this helps make it easier to just add one where you live.

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Providing water for drinking and bathing is a great way to attract beautiful and interesting birds to your yard. A clean water source is one of the components of habitat that all wildlife need to survive and one of the requirements for those seeking Certified Wildlife Habitat status for their yards and gardens through our Garden for Wildlife program.

This birdbath has three different mounting options. It can be attached to a post and placed up off the ground. It can be clamped to a deck railing, which is great if you have limited space or live in an urban area and don’t have a yard. It also has short legs to place it right on the ground. Like our other birdbaths, this one also has a thermostatically controlled heater to offer clean, fresh water year-round.

The plastic basin on our pedestal birdbath is colored like terracotta and is lightweight, easy to empty, and maintain. It includes an attractive metal pedestal that fits into the ground firmly. Additionally, it has a 60-watt heater that is concealed beneath the surface and is tested to -20°F. It is thermostatically controlled to only run when necessary. The power cord can be tucked beneath the bowl during warm weather.

2780_nwf2836zmNot all birds will visit a birdbath. Hummingbirds in particular enjoy flying through a mist of water. Watch and enjoy your backyard as it becomes a community of hummingbirds and other birds as they fly through and bathe in this mister. The small white mister nozzle will easily attach to any garden hose and spray out a fine mist of water for your feathered friends to enjoy.

Sustainably managed wildlife gardens should have food, water, cover, and areas for raising young.

Although dogs are not considered wildlife, a variety of wildlife is drawn to the well-liked water station I keep for dogs walking in my neighborhood. It’s been observed that squirrels and birds drink from it, and occasionally I find it empty in the morning, wondering what big, hungry, nighttime wandering urban creature stopped by!

Next to my tiny metal bath, I built the branches in a tomato cage structure to replace the tall Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) stems so that birds could perch there before and after drinking and bathing. A few years ago, I broke the stems off of the bath without thinking because I wanted to take better pictures of it from my kitchen window that faces my back door. Every time I consider taking down the cage, I see a bird on or near the branches, so my little “sculpture” stays in place! I realized what I had done and regretted it the moment it was done!

The wells in my hummingbird feeders are the most unexpected sources of water. Every day, I replenish them to cater to the small avian visitors like Carolina chickadees, tufted titmouses, brown-headed nuthatches, and goldfinches. I keep the water fresh for the small winter birds all year long, even after I stop adding nectar to two of the three feeders when the hummingbirds leave in the fall.

A small water container filled with sand, pebbles or rocks gives butterflies a place to puddle and prevents other thirsty insects like bumblebees from drowning. A friend gifted me a beautiful butterfly puddler I have next to native flowers but in an opening in a partially shady area. In Atlanta’s hot weather it seems to dry out quickly, but I’m still game for dribbling a bit of water in it each morning. Not sure about function, but I enjoy its beauty. At some point I may make a larger one to add to my yard and see how it is used.

My first house from decades ago is where I have the most sentimental and well-used bird bath. It’s a tiny, metal one that formerly had a tiny fountain pump rising through the middle. The fountain portion is no longer present, but birds of all sizes still enjoy this bath despite its diminutive size. It’s next to an open path with a lengthy row of hedges and native plants nearby, so I believe it may also be one of the better locations for baths.