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 spring and fall migration, when birds are relying on your yards to recharge. 

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 summer, when the insects are at their most abundant, and in the fall, which 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, including house finch eye disease, salmonellosis, and avian pox. 

Some of the potential pathogens present at a dirty birdbath aren’t just dangerous for birds, either. The increased spread of Zika virus and avian flu in recent years also poses a risk to humans and other wildlife. 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.

Follow these tips for good birdbath maintenance:

  • 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.
  • Refill the water every other day to keep it from bugging up.
  • 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.