Within the next couple of weeks, our feathered friends will be returning from their winter vacation down south. No doubt, they will be tired, hungry and thirsty.
Many of you will be putting out various feeders. One of the best things you can do for them is to install a birdbath. Without keeping it clean and clear, however, you could wind up driving off the very birds you're trying to entice to hang around.
Two things can happen to a poorly maintained birdbath. One is mosquitoes and, this far south, those pesky creatures can start breeding pretty much at any time. Various kinds of debris tends to fall into bird baths, along with feathers and bird droppings. The breakdown of this organic material makes the bath an almost perfect environment for development of "wigglers."
The second problem that can occur is algae. The birds might ignore the young mosquitoes, but the presence of slimy green scum will quickly force the birds to find somewhere else to drink and bathe.
Clean water is essential for the health of birds, and regular cleaning will ensure that birds come to your bath. The best way to keep either of these problems from getting a foothold is to drain your bird bath every three days or so. Just refilling the bowl with fresh water is usually all you have to do to keep the birds happy. If your bath somehow becomes infested with algae, there are some simple things you can do to get it under control. Stores sell any number of products to clean bird baths, but you needn't go to such an expense. The only thing you really need is a brush and water.
Start by emptying the bowl, then scrub it with a stiff brush. Rinse it well and replace with fresh water. That's all you have to do. Run through this procedure every few days and you and your visiting birds will be happy.
If you are unable to remove all of the mold or stains with a good brushing, use a mild detergent or a solution of 10 parts water to one part bleach to clean the bath. Be certain to thoroughly rinse the bowl when you're finished. Birds can be very sensitive to chemicals.
Finally, try to put your bird bath in a site where it won't receive more than four to five hours of sunlight per day. Partial shade will reduce the growth of algae and makes its control a lot easier. It also will keep the water cooler and reduce evaporation.
Regular maintenance of your bird bath will help prevent disease among birds and will make your yard a nicer place to be for both you and the birds. A well maintained water feature is one of the best investments you can make to attract birds to your yard.
Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535.