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How to make a bird bath

It's important for birds to have access to a reliable water source for bathing and drinking from all year round.

You could help them out by building a quick and simple bird bath in your garden. 

Watch the video above to find out how to build a bird bath. You can find the step-by-step instructions and some additional guidance below.

For your bird bath you will need:

  • a large terracotta pot
  • a large terracotta saucer
  • stones
  • water

1. Find the perfect spot

Have a look around your garden for an open area to place your bird bath in. There should ideally be plants nearby, such as shrubs, hedges or trees.

Birds like to have clear visibility of their surroundings when drinking and bathing, but they should also have cover if they need to escape.

2. Build the bird bath

To make a base, place the large terracotta pot upside down on the ground.

Put the saucer on top and lay a handful of stones in it. These will act as perches for birds and insects.

Fill the bird bath with clean water. Aim to fill the saucer to between 2.5 and 10 centimetres deep.

A DIY bird bath being filled with water

Make sure the water is shallow enough for small garden birds to bathe safely

3. See what visits your bird bath

Keep an eye out for birds that visit to bathe or to drink. You could record the different species you see in a nature journal or take photos to share with friends.

You will likely see birds using your bird bath year-round. Find out which species you might spot in spring and summer, and in autumn and winter.

4. Maintaining a bird bath

Every few weeks, you should empty your bird bath, clean it and refill it with fresh water to keep it free from bird droppings and garden debris such as leaves. This will help prevent birds from catching and spreading diseases.

Remember to regularly check on the water level in the bath. On hot summer days, the water will evaporate, so the bath may need refilling more frequently.

Birds need access to water year-round, so make sure you keep the bird bath ice-free and topped up in winter, too.  

Ice being removed from a DIY bird bath

Make sure you remove any ice that forms in your bird bath so that birds can still drink and bathe during colder spells

Why should you have a bird bath in your garden?

While you may already have a bird feeder or bird box in your garden, a bird bath is another good way to help birds.

In the peaks of summer and winter, birds' usual water sources may become inaccessible, having either dried up or iced over. Like us, birds need to rehydrate regularly. Providing a constantly accessible supply of drinking water in your garden all year is an easy way to help them do this.

Birds also bathe to keep their feathers in good condition. The water helps them to loosen dirt and makes their feathers easier to preen.

Bird baths don't have to be complicated - it can be quick and simple to make one at home. However, if you're looking for something more stylish, there are plenty of bird baths available online or at garden centres, for example. 

A juvenile blackbird bathing in a bird bath

Birds need access to water to drink and for maintaining their feathers © Keith Hider/Shutterstock

Bird safety

There are a few things you can do to keep the birds visiting your garden bird bath safe.

Watch out for predators

Domestic cats are predators of birds. It is estimated that in the UK, cats catch over 27 million birds throughout spring and summer each year. A bird bath could function as an all-you-can-eat buffet for a wily cat, but there are things you can do to limit this.

By placing a bird bath in an open spot, birds stopping by to drink or bathe will have a clear view of their surroundings and any predators attempting a sneak attack.

Making sure there are also hedges, shrubs or trees nearby gives birds an easy escape route. But don't place the bird bath too close to plant cover as predators may lurk in the shadowy parts of your garden.

A black domestic cat walking through a bird bath

Cats are predators and they may try to take advantage of birds congregating at bird baths © Ralph Daily via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Avoid using chemicals near a bird bath

Some chemicals used in gardens can be harmful to birds, so it is best to avoid using them near your bird bath. If that's not possible, make sure to clean the bird bath thoroughly afterwards so that birds aren't drinking or bathing in contaminated water that could affect their health.

If the bird bath freezes over in winter, don't use chemicals like de-icers or salt to melt the ice, as these will make the water unsafe for birds. Instead, either crack and remove the ice or melt it with some hot water.

Keep the bird bath clean

Make sure to empty and clean your bird bath regularly. Water in a bird bath can become stagnant if it's left to sit for long periods of time, and a build-up of bird droppings, algae and garden debris can turn it into a breeding ground for bacteria and disease.

If you clean the bath with chemicals such as diluted disinfectants, make sure to thoroughly wash these out before refilling your bird bath.

How deep should a bird bath be?

Your garden may be visited by birds of various sizes, and the smallest need to be able to bathe without the risk of drowning in water that's too deep for them. Most garden birds are not proficient swimmers.

When you fill the bird bath, try to keep it between 2.5 and 10 centimetres deep. 

A goldfinch bathes in a bird bath

Keep a look out for which bird species are regular visitors to your garden © scooperdigital/Shutterstock

What bird species visit your garden?

Gardens across the UK play host to a wide variety of birds. A bird bath is a great way to get to know which species visit your area.

To help you identify what you've seen, the RSPB has a complete online guide to UK birds, as well as a bird identifier that allows you zero in on a species by selecting characteristics such as size, colour and behaviour.

You could also try the iNaturalist website and app (available on Apple's App Store and Google Play), which suggests identifications based on your photos.

Alternatively, there are plenty of bird identification guides to choose from, such as ones that cover all species in the UK or those that focus on species seen in gardens or other specific habitats.  

If you're in the UK and are having trouble identifying a bird, you can send your photos to the Museum's Identification and Advisory Service or post your queries in their Facebook group.

Once you've identified the species, you could record what you've seen in a digital nature journal. You could even take part in The Big Garden Bird Watch, which takes place each January.

For keen bird watchers, there's also the BTO's Garden birdwatch, where participants send in lists of garden birds and other wildlife each week. The results from these surveys are then analysed and can contribute to experts' understanding of how wildlife in the UK is faring.