These Cedar Waxwings want to take a dip in a fresh source of water, not a nasty, mosquito-ridden swamp. Photo: Phyllis Burchett/Audubon Photography Awards

DIY

Why You Should Keep Your Birdbath Clean

Maintaining a fresh bath is a simple, essential way to keep birds hydrated, clean, and disease-free. Just follow these easy steps.

Birds don’t have their own version of Airbnb, but if they did, you can imagine the comments they might leave behind.

“The yard was lovely, with lots of seed and a relaxing vibe . . . until the Sharp-shinned Hawk arrived.” Or maybe: “Post advertised a beautiful, glistening birdbath, but when we got there, we found a mosquito-infested swamp bowl instead.”

Now, there might not be much you can do about a lurking Accipiter in your yard, but taking care of your birdbath is easy and important, especially during fall migration, when birds are relying on your yards to recharge. 

To keep your birdbath fresh, just rinse and scrub it with nine parts water, one part vinegar. Skip the synthetic soaps and cleansers; they can strip the essential oils off of bird feathers. And make sure to refill the water every other day to keep it from bugging up.

Neglecting your birdbath doesn’t just make for a filthy experience for your birds: It could also do more harm than good, Geoffrey LeBaron, director of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count program, says. 

“If you don’t take good care of your birdbath, either it will dry out completely, which is no use for birds, or it’ll get fetid,” LeBaron says. “That’s when mosquitoes might become a problem.”

Nobody wants mosquitoes anytime of the year, but they can be really bad news in the fall. While summer may be prime insect time, autumn is an especially high-risk season for diseases, says John Wenzel, entomologist and director of the Powdermill Nature Reserve. With more birds crowding at your bath during migration, there’s a higher chance of viruses being spread. 

And those pathogens aren’t just dangerous for birds. Earlier this year, with concerns over the Zika virus spreading, the Center for Disease Control issued a notice for people to clean out their birdbaths for this exact reason. And just blocks away from Capitol Hill, a colony of Zika-specialized mosquitoes were found in a quaint garden-side bath. Not good.

So, consider keeping a clean birdbath not just part of being good host for any backyard guests, but also as a service to yourself and the rest of society.

Here are a few more tips on birdbath maintenance:

  • Remember to keep your birdbath close to, but not directly under, woody brush and feeders. Falling debris and seeds can muck up the water quickly.
  • Add a fountain or stream feature to keep the birds happy and the mosquitoes at bay. The insects don’t like to lay their eggs in running water.
  • Update your bath for the winter by adding a heater. You can pick one up for cheap from Home Depot, or DIY it by wiring it up with a solar panel.
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