Keep it Low. The standard birdbath on a pedestal may look good, but it’s not the best way to offer water to birds. Think about it: Most natural sources of water that birds use are on or near the ground. It’s what they look for in nature. You can use the birdbath pedestal for something else—like your bright pink-mirrored lawn globe, or that sasquatch figurine you’ve been meaning to deploy. Place the bath basin on the ground or raised up on a cinder block, but keep it within a foot or so of the ground.
Keep it Shallow. Birds don’t bathe in deep water. Keep the level in your birdbath to about two inches or less. This is perfect for songbirds to wade into and splash around. If your bath basin is deep, place a layer of pea gravel or some large, flat stones in the bottom to offer birds a choice of water levels.
Good Footing. Pea gravel or large stones in the bottom of you bath basin also serve to give bathing birds better footing while using the bath. This is necessary to make the birds feel less vulnerable while they bathe. Many of the bath basins I see for sale are glazed ceramic, which look nice but will be slippery when wet and not at all bird friendly. Check the surface of your birdbath basin when it’s filled. If it’s slippery, add gravel or stones to make it safer and easier for birds to use.
Well Situated. Siting your birdbath is also important. You need to be able to see it from wherever you will be spending much of your time: the living room or kitchen window, the deck or patio. And it needs to be handy to get to for cleaning and refilling. We always place our birdbaths within reach of a garden hose and an electrical outlet. Our primary birdbath has an electric recirculating pump. For outdoor electrical power, always make sure you’re plugging into an outlet that has a ground fault interrupter (GFI) that will prevent electrical shock.
Cover Nearby. Just as you need the bath to be where you can see it, the birds need to have some protective cover nearby (but not too close). This will give the birds a place from which they can approach the bath, and a place to flee to should danger approach.
Shady. One aspect of bathing in summer for birds is to cool off. You can keep your birdbath water temperature cooler by placing the bath in a shady spot in your yard. A bath placed out in the open in direct sunlight will have heated water, which will also cause the bath water to evaporate more quickly.
Staging/Preening Perch. Place a stick adjacent to your birdbath (but not over it!) to give the birds an easy landing place when flying to/from the bath. This will make the bath more “approachable” for secretive woodland birds such as thrushes, warblers, and tanagers, which will use the perch as a place to scan for danger and a place to preen their feathers after bathing. Don’t place the perch directly over the bath because the birds will also use it as a pooping perch.
Keep It Clean. Speaking of poop, some of it—along with leaves, feathers, sticks, insects, and other things—will accumulate in the water of your birdbath. Plan to scrub out your bath basin with a stiff-bristled brush and use an abrasive cleaner on hard-to-remove algae. Truly filthy baths may require some treatment with bleach-water (a capful of bleach in a bucket of water should do the job). Rinse well and refill with clean water. Our birds always go nuts when the birdbath is freshly clean.
Keep It Open. Water is just as vital in cold weather. If you want to keep a supply of drinking water open for birds, consider using a temperature-controlled water heater (used for livestock water vessels). These devices keep the water in your birdbath from freezing solid. Freezing cold winter weather is not a good time for birds to bathe, so you may want to keep just one small part of your bath open for the birds to access for drinking. Remember to use an outlet that is equipped with a GFI (see above).
Add Motion. Nothing makes a birdbath more alluring than moving water. Moving water sparkles in the sunlight and catches the attention of birds. Far more birds began coming to our birdbath after we added motion to the water than had come to the still-water bath. A mister or dripper fastened to your hose (with the spigot turned on low) will add motion to your bath. Even better is a bath with a recirculating pump built into a large-reservoir basin. Such units often have a filter that helps keep the water a bit cleaner. Moving water has the additional benefit of preventing successful reproduction of mosquitoes in it. Mosquitoes need still water for successful reproduction.