Offering water in a backyard to wild birds

Providing water to backyard birds by Myrna Pearman

July 12, 2022 | Myrna Pearman, Chin Ridge Seeds (en-CA)

Myrna Pearman, Resident Naturalist & Backyard Bird Feeding Expert

This article is part of our "Ask Myrna" Backyard Bird Feeding Series.

Birds, like humans, require water to drink and bathe. In a backyard, they will be readily attracted to any suitable water source. In fact, water will attract more bird species into a backyard than bird feeders will. A great way to learn to identify, and to become familiar with the habits of backyard birds (including those species that pass through your yard on migration) is to spend time watching a busy bird bath.

Water can be provided in a variety of ways—from a simple offering of mud to a large in-ground pond complete with waterfalls and streams. In between these two extremes are a range of options, including simple pedestal bird baths, small containers, larger pre-formed in-ground pools, and even larger in-ground ponds that need to be excavated and fitted with a special liner.

Adding a simple water feature is as easy as buying a commercial bird bath. There are a wide variety of commercial baths and water gardens on the market, some even equipped with heaters to keep water open all winter long.

The ideal bird bath is shallow enough so even small birds can bathe safely. It should be located near shrubbery, which provides protective shelter while the birds slip in to either get a sip of water or to have a quick bath. The sound of running water is a strong attractant, so bird baths equipped with a recirculating pump or drip system will be especially popular. Be sure to clean out your bath regularly and keep it topped up with fresh water.

Nearby perches are important as they will be used by the birds to either await their turn before their bath or to preen on after they’ve completed their ablutions. If you don’t have any perches nearby, try installing a small dead tree. Dead trees not only provide perching spots, but they will also be used by a variety of species to sing from, sally out to grab passing insects, and even feed their young.

If neighbourhood cats are likely to be a problem, encircle the bird bath or water feature with a wire fence to exclude them. Bathing birds are less wary than usual, and thus vulnerable to cat attacks.

If you are interested in installing a large, complicated feature, online resources are available to help with research and design. There are also commercial companies that specialize in consulting, designing, installing and even maintaining larger and more complicated water features.

For information about attracting birds and other wildlife to your backyard, including offering water, I recommend NatureScape Alberta: Creating and Caring for Wildlife Habitat at Home and Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide. Both books are available at

Bohemian waxwings bathing