It's for the birds

Birdbaths: Whether old-fashioned or splashy, more water sources are available to attract birds, enhance the garden and please the eye

In The Garden

February 20, 2000|By Marty Ross | Marty Ross,Universal Press Syndicate

There was always a birdbath in my grandmother's garden, a simple pottery basin on a pedestal near the hydrangeas that seemed to have been placed there by nature. Gardeners are inclined to decorate their yards more elaborately nowadays, and splashy water features are popular, but old-fashioned birdbaths are quietly coming back into style.

Any time of year is the right time to install a birdbath in the garden. Modern birdbath heaters with thermostats make it possible for gardeners in every climate to enjoy the endless variety of birds attracted to birdbaths year round. Cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees, wrens, blue jays and robins will all come to the clear, shallow water. A birdbath reflects the light and pattern of clouds overhead through every season, and it is a pleasure to launch flower petals across the glassy surface and to admire the soft rings stirred by raindrops on the surface.

"Birds need water for drinking and grooming," says Sharon Dunn of Duncraft, a mail-order company in New Hampshire that specializes in bird-watching supplies. Duncraft and other suppliers have increased their selection of birdbaths to meet rising demand. Surveys consistently rate bird-watching and gardening as America's favorite hobbies, and it is difficult to imagine one without the other.

"People are outfitting their yards with more products to attract birds, and there are more birdbaths out there than ever before," says Dunn.

The simple sculptural form of a birdbath complements gardens of every style and description. A pedestal birdbath is the classic design, but birdbaths have evolved along with everything else in the world of gardening. The styles on the market now include hanging birdbaths, birdbaths that attach to the rail of a deck, and birdbaths with cascading water and separate pools for large and small birds.

Pretty, old-fashioned ceramic birdbaths are turning up again at garden shops, along with fancy copper, blue- or green-glazed, and plain terra-cotta birdbaths on pedestals high and low.

Fine old birdbaths also turn up at antique shops. You might see an elaborate pedestal in the form of a sea horse supporting a basin shaped like a clam shell; or a birdbath designed to look as though it were made from slender tree branches, like rustic twig furniture.

Any gardener who has ever turned on a sprinkler knows that moving water attracts birds. Cardinals and robins are usually among the first to come for a shower in the spray, flying back and forth from a fence or tree branch to a puddle on the garden path or patio. Drippers, the latest thing in birdbath accessories, have a similar effect. A copper spout attaches to the basin and keeps the water in motion. The fine spray from a birdbath mister attachment may be even better. Misters are especially appealing to hummingbirds, which like to dart in and out of the gentle spray.

The best place to put a birdbath is where you can see it -- near a window, for example, so you can keep an eye on it from inside, or not far from the patio or a garden bench. Birds like to fly up to a tree and preen themselves after a bath. The water will stay clear and cool in dappled light; algae tends to build up in a sunny spot. No matter where the birdbath is, it's a good idea to refresh the water every few days.

My grandmother was content with one birdbath, but I have three: a terra-cotta pot saucer on a tall stump near the peonies, where the goldfinches come to dip their beaks; a deep bowl near the patio for the raucous blue jays, which thrash about and throw water in all directions; and a low basin on the lawn near my own hydrangeas, often claimed by a band of starlings shouldering one another aside to take their baths, and only grudgingly sharing the water with robins. Sometimes there is so much action out there, it's easy to forget about the roses and the raking for a little while.

Sources Birdbaths with gently sloping basins are ideal; they provide shallow water for small birds and deeper water for larger ones. If the basin is flat, a few small stones, a handful of pebbles, or a couple of pretty sea shells look nice and give the birds something to stand on.

The following suppliers carry a variety of birdbaths, along with drippers, misters and heaters:


102 Fisherville Road

Concord, NH 03303


Gardener's Supply Co.

128 Intervale Road

Burlington, VT 05401


Smith & Hawken

Two Arbor Lane

Box 6900

Florence, KY 41022


Wild Bird Unlimited is a retail chain with more than 250 stores across the country selling birdbaths and other bird-watching supplies.

To locate the store nearest you, call 800-326-4928 or check www.wbu. com.

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