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How and Why to Have Bird Baths in a Vegetable Garden

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Most of us are very protective of our vegetable gardens as we work tirelessly to grow delicious crops, so we might balk at the idea of attracting flocks of ravenous birds to our plots. Won’t the birds eat all the produce? How can I protect my precious crops?

Attracting birds to our gardens will keep the vegetables healthy and even improve the yield, and bird baths are one of the best ways to bring in large flocks. While the birds are drinking and bathing, they will also eat bugs, clean up weeds, aerate the soil, and pollinate plants. On top of that, bird baths will create a biodiverse environment with countless benefits for your little piece of heaven.

Keep reading to learn why you should put a bird bath amongst your vegetables and how to coexist with our winged friends.

Bird Baths in the Food Garden

Birds are good for a vegetable garden. Naturally, they will eat some seeds and try to ransack the berries, but these problems can be easily mitigated, and the damage they do will be far outweighed by the good they bring.

We do everything we can to encourage birds in our 3/4-acre vegetable garden. We are delighted to see dozens of them at one time. Even starlings and blackbirds, which many consider extremely damaging, will flock with up to 30 at one time amongst the “wild” areas and mostly leave our cultivated plants alone.

How Bird Baths Help Birds

In nature, birds will quite happily bathe in puddles or drink water off of leaves after a rain. Bathing is essential for birds to preen and keep their feathers in peak condition. Getting the feathers wet loosens any dirt and makes them easier to clean. Birds are especially prone to bathing at molting times.

Drinking is even more important, especially in hot weather. Most birds will drink up to three times more often than they will bathe. Due to their dry diet, seed-eating birds typically need more water than insectivores, but both will thank you for the extra water.

As with most wild animals, the search for water is a vital and time consuming part of their existence. While birds get along quite well without our help, we can make their lives a lot easier by giving them a place to bathe and drink.

In many instances, birds will go after our juicy berries because they are thirsty rather than hungry.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

How Bird Baths Help the Vegetable Garden

But bird baths do far more than let birds bathe and drink. Gardens should be rich, diverse places full of a variety of different creatures. Like watering holes in Africa where predators and prey will drink side by side, bird baths will become the main attraction for birds, bugs, snakes, toads, frogs, and more: all of which will help bring balance to the garden and keep any one creature from becoming a “pest”.

Here are all the ways bird baths will benefit your garden:

  • Reduce Problematic Insects: The more birds you have, the more bugs they will eat. Attracting birds will noticeably control infestations of undesirable bugs.
  • Control Weeds: Do weeds sometimes get away from you and go to seed before you get a chance to pull them? Seed-eating birds will help by consuming weed seeds in the soil before they become a problem among your vegetables.
  • Aerate Soil: While birds are digging for worms and weed seeds, they will naturally loosen the topsoil and help aerate the ground.
  • Pollinate: Many birds are pollinators, and they will search for nectar in the blossoms after they have visited the bath.
  • Bring In Reptile and Amphibians: Snakes, frogs, and toads like the damp environment created by bird bath, especially if they are situated on the ground. They will, in turn, eat bugs and small rodents that can become a problem in a vegetable garden.
  • Attract Predatory Insects: While they are not nearly as delightful as birds, wasps and other predatory insects are just as beneficial to your garden at eliminating bad bugs. These killer bugs also need to drink and they will be attracted to your bird bath before hunting down other bugs.
  • Attract Bees and Other Pollinators: While birds are great pollinators, we can’t forget about the bees and other insects that are vital to any garden. Providing a water source will attract more of these good bugs, too.
  • Aesthetically Pleasing: We cannot forget about the fact that bird baths look great in the garden.
  • Enjoyment: It is also a joy to watch all the different kinds of birds and other creatures splashing about.
American Robin catching a worm

American Robin catching a worm

Bird Baths vs. Bird Feeders

Is it better to have a bird bath or hang up a feeder? Most of us are naturally inclined towards feeders before bird baths but providing a water source is often more important than providing food. Food is often far more abundant to birds and other animals, whereas fresh, clean water can be difficult for them to find.

When we feed the birds, they won’t be hungry enough to hunt for insects or weed seeds, but they will still be thirsty so are more likely to go after your fruits and vegetables. It is far better to create a natural habitat in the garden so birds will have a natural food source (TIP: try planting fruit-beating bushes that aren’t fit for human consumption but the birds can eat.)

You will also attract far more diversity with a bath than a feeder since everyone needs water, but the food in feeders is usually species specific. Even raptors and other birds of prey have been seen visiting bird baths, and what better way to eliminate gophers than bringing in a skilled hunter?

Also, seeds drop from feeders which will cause weeds to grow where baths do not. And perhaps the best advantage of bird baths over feeders is that water is free, unlike costly bird seed.

White-breasted Nuthatch on a pine cone feeder

White-breasted Nuthatch on a pine cone feeder

Tips for Using a Bird Bath With Your Vegetables

Putting in a bird bath can be as simple as filling a shallow dish with water and setting it out in the garden. However, here are some tips for making your bird bath as successful as possible:

Choosing the Right Bath

You can either buy a bird bath or make your own, and they can be made out of almost anything. An upside-down garbage can lid is one of the easiest ways to make a bird bath, but you can also use an old pie plate, empty bowl, or saucer.

Whichever bird bath you choose, here are some important features they should have:

  • Gently Sloped Sides: Shallow sides allow the birds to walk down into the water and, more importantly, let them be able to walk out again. If the sides are too steep, the sodden birds could get trapped and drown.
  • Shallow Bowl: The water in bird baths should be shallow to prevent drowning. Even large birds are suspicious of water more than 10cm (4 inches) deep. Fill your bird baths with around 5cm to 6cm (2-2.5 inches) of water, though in some cases even 1cm (1/2 inch) is sufficient. Remember, shallow is always better than too deep.
  • Rough Texture: Birds have a hard time walking on smooth surfaces, so they might prefer if you make the basin out of a rough material.
  • Add Motion: Birds are attracted to the sound and motion of trickling water, so consider adding a pump or a bubble maker. For a free option: hang a can of water with a small hole in the bottom over the bath, and the water will slowly drip into the water.

Of course, you can always go all out and put in a pond to create a natural wetland environment that everyone will enjoy!

Create a Safe Environment for the Birds

A very important factor in putting in a bird bath is to make sure that it is safe for the visiting birds (and other creatures). Here are some things to watch for:

  • No Cats: We love cats but hate it when they eat birds, and they will also hunt frogs, toads, and other beneficial critters that come for water. It seems cruel to attract birds only to line them up for your cat to pick off. This is especially a problem when birds are wet since they cannot fly that well.
  • Not Near Windows: Birds can suffer serious injury or death from flying into windows. Birds cannot “see” the glass and think the impenetrable barrier is open to them. In many cases, windows reflect the trees in your yard, and the birds smash into the glass, trying to perch. Try and keep your bird bath far away from any windows, especially large ones. If you can’t move your bath far enough away, hang streamers or other objects on the glass to stop the birds from trying to fly through.
  • Avoid Heated Bird Baths in Winter: This is a topic of great contention since most sources say to provide a heater to keep the water free. While this might be acceptable in more temperate climates, you should never heat a bird bath in cold climates. Wild birds are naturally adapted to eating snow or finding natural water sources in the winter. When the birds see artificially open water in winter, they assume that it is warm enough to bathe, but the water will freeze on the birds’ feathers and bodies and can prove fatal in cold climates. Birds will actively bathe when the temperature is around -5°C (23°F), but they will quickly freeze to death when the temperature drops much below that.
  • Fresh Water: Make sure the water in the bird bath is always clean and fresh. Birds can be quite messy, so make sure to clean it out regularly and scrub away any algae that forms. Avoid using cleaners in the bird bath as these can harm the birds.
A Black-capped Chickadee in winter

A Black-capped Chickadee in winter

Positioning a Bird Bath in Your Food Garden

A quick search online with turn up countless ways to position bird baths around your garden. An ideal setup will make the garden look beautiful while providing a safe, comfortable place for the birds to rest.

Setting bird baths on the ground is possibly the easiest place to position your bird bath: simply put a shallow bowl on the ground and fill it with water. This is also one of the most natural ways, as birds usually flock to shallow pools or ponds in the wild. Raising the bath up on a pedestal, however, is also a good option, and it helps keep the baths cleaner.

Nestle the bird bath in amongst your plants so they are in a sheltered environment that provides protection, but still open enough that they can fly unobstructed and watch for predators. Consider putting bushes, trees, or a trellis nearby so the birds can perch on it to preen their feathers and rest. Also, make sure the bird bath has some shade, especially during the hottest part of the day, to keep the water at a reasonable temperature and protect the birds from the scorching sun.

Coexisting With Birds in Your Garden

Birds don’t mean to eat your food, and no matter how much water we give, they will still eat from our gardens. After all, it is not their fault that we grew delicious food and left it unattended in their natural habitat.

Even so, there are some simple ways to mitigate the damage they can do to your vegetable garden.

bird-bath-in-the-vegetable-garden

Will Birds Eat Your Vegetables?

Whether or not birds will eat your garden depends on what kind of bird they are. Some will eat the seeds before they germinate, others will eat mostly bugs, while others prefer plump juicy fruits and vegetables.

Other factors play a role, too, such as the size of your garden, what kind of vegetables you grow, where you live, and how often you get out into the garden.

Protecting Your Vegetables

A garden should be a symbiotic relationship with nature where your vegetables and wildlife thrive together. And yes, the wildlife will try and eat your garden, so it helps to be proactive and protect your food.

Remember, in many cases, birds eat vegetables because they are thirsty and seek food with a high water content. Providing bird baths can eliminate a lot of these issues. In our experience, however, a strong bird net is a must around vulnerable crops. See our article on building a bird net teepee to protect your plants.

Even with the best protection, it is safe to assume that birds will cause some damage to your food garden, so you will not be too disappointed when they eat something.

If netting is not practical, there are other deterrents to try, such as:

  • Turning on a radio (check with your neighbours first)
  • Hanging CDs, aluminum pie plates, or other flashy objects
  • Put up fake predators
  • Noise machines
  • Motion sensor sprinklers (make sure they just spray where the vegetables are and not near the bird bath)
Barn swallows on the fence

Barn swallows on the fence

Water: The Source of Biodiversity in the Vegetable Garden

When we first bought our farm, there were no birds. The previous owners had abused and pillaged the land until there was nothing left of its natural vitality that only a few ravens dared set foot. As the years passed, and we turned to natural and holistic practices, the land started to recover, and only then did the beasts of the air begin to make a comeback.

It has been over a decade, and we now have seen dozens of different species stop by our fields and our garden. It is amazing how fast nature will repair itself when people stop interfering, so just think what can happen when we give the land a helping hand.

Something as simple as putting out a small dish of water can have a huge impact, and we should be awed by the diversity created by this little bowl of water.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Bellwether Farming