Did you know that bird poop can carry more than 60 diseases, some of which affect humans? That’s one reason why you need to commit to keeping bird bath water clean if you’re going to have one. But don’t worry – it’s not that hard to clean a bird bath if you avoid letting gunk build up.
Here’s a small sample of what you’re up against:
- Histoplasmosis, a potentially fatal human lung disease
- Salmonellosis or “food poisioning,” which makes birds (and people) very sick
- Candidiasis, or yeast infections
- West Nile Virus, carried by some birds and by mosquitoes, which lay eggs in still water
So let me be really clear: if you’re going to have a bird bath, you’ve got to be absolutely committed to keeping the bird bath water clean. If you’re not, you’re going to find that algae, bird poop, feathers, dead leaves, mosquito eggs and other yucky stuff builds up pretty fast.
This article shows you a few simple tricks to clean a bird bath without scrubbing. Hint: the biggest “trick” is to clean it often.
How to Clean A Bird Bath without Scrubbing
Cleaning your bird bath doesn’t have to be a big chore.
Got a garden hose and running water handy? Put the nozzle on the high pressure setting and hose the bird bath out every day. Keep the bird bath in a sunny place to discourage the growth of a parasite (Trichomonas gallinae) that spreads easily among birds. The sunny location will promote more algae growth, but there are easy ways to deal with that.
Once a week or so, fill the basin with a 10% bleach solution (1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water), then scrub the basin and rim with a stiff bristle brush. (This scrubbing is especially important if your bird bath is made of concrete or a similarly porous material.) Finish by rinsing thoroughly to get rid of chlorine. Let it dry in the sun then fill with fresh water.
If you do this every week, a light scrubbing will keep the nastiness away. It’s easy work, as this video explains.
Don’t like bleach? You can use white vinegar and water for cleaning your bird bath, but it doesn’t kill germs as well as bleach.
You can also use Grapefruit Seed Extract, (GSE) a highly effective, natural, non-toxic and fully biodegradable cleaner for bird baths, bird feeders and pretty much everything else you can think of. (To learn more about GSE, visit this article and scroll to the section on GSE.)
Bird-toxic cleaners: Do not use sanitizers, germicides, ammonia-based cleaners, or cleaners containing phenol, pine oil or any petroleum product. Don’t use veterinary disinfectants either, because most of them are not created with bird safety in mind.
Handy Products for Cleaning Your Bird Bath
To Clean a Bird Bath
If your bird spa hasn’t been regularly cleaned, these products are good for cleaning a bird bath without scrubbing (or with less scrubbing):
CareFree Birdbath and Statuary Cleaner — Enzyme product that removes tough water lines, odors and mineral deposits. Can be used on plastic, concrete, vinyl, stone, glass, ceramic, metal and marble bird baths. Safe for wildlife and the environment.
For Keeping Bird Bath Water Clean
CareFree Birdbath Protector — Biodegradable enzyme-based solution. Breaks down organic contaminants and prevents mineral scale. Safe for birds, pets and wildlife.
Sanco Bird Bath & Fountain Maintenance — Another enzyme product, similar to Care Free.
Healthy Ponds All Purpose Water Cleaner — Naturally occurring bacteria and enzymes keep bird bath clean, clear and free of organic growth. Safe for fish, plants, birds, animals and humans
For Controlling Algae in a Bird Bath
EasyCare FounTec Algaecide and Clarifier — Kills algae and prevents further buildup. Safe for plants, birds and wildlife but NOT SAFE for fish. Consider this if you live near a stream or have an unlined pond with fish in it. One of the most useful products for keeping bird bath water clean.
Do Copper Pennies in the Bird Bath Help?
You may have heard that putting a few copper pennies will help with keeping bird bath water clean, but is this true?
Yes, up to a point. Copper does slow the growth of algae and some bacteria somewhat. But as this photo illustrates, even bird baths that are entirely made of copper still need cleaning.
Don’t use US pennies though – all US pennies are at least 95% zinc, which is highly toxic to birds. Acidic water, oxidation through exposure to air, and harsh cleaning chemicals may expose the zinc core beneath the copper.
(Canadian pennies minted between 1876 and 1996 are at least 95% copper, but mostly zinc and/or steel thereafter.)
A better option would be to use a bit of copper piping or other large-ish copper items that birds can’t swallow if they are attracted to the shiny copper.
Even if you do add some copper, you still need to be cleaning your bird bath at least once a week – twice if you don’t use a fountain or Water Wiggler.
Another reason for keeping bird bath water clean is that the still water in bird baths can be a mosquito breeding ground if it is allowed to rest undisturbed. More mosquitoes are not only bothersome, they increase the risk of spreading of mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, dog heart-worms, malaria and various forms of encephalitis.
Mosquito eggs can hatch in as few as four days, so be sure to change the water in your bird bath at least every three days to give mosquitoes the boot.
If you’d rather go longer between changes, you could try using a Water Wiggler – it’s a quiet little motor that makes constant ripples in your bird bath water. Mosquitoes won’t lay their eggs there, and as a bonus, the moving water will attract more birds!
Products for Mosquito Control
Note: Don’t use chemical insecticides in your bird bath! They may harm pets, birds and other wildlife.
If you can’t empty and refill your birdbath twice a week, or if the mosquitoes have somehow gotten ahead of you, here are some safe, non-toxic products you can use to get rid of them.
Summit 20-Pack Mosquito Dunk — Donut-shaped tablets that release Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, which kills mosquitoes but is not harmful to birds, fish or other wildlife. Each donut covers 100 square feet and lasts for 30 days.
Clarke – Natular DT Mosquito Larvicide — An insecticide based on chemical compounds found in the bacterial species Saccharopolyspora spinosa. Not toxic to fish, plants or birds but causes moderate eye irritation in people and pets.
EcoSMART Organic Mosquito Control Tablets — Contains a blend of essential plant oils that kills insects by blocking specific neural pathways that only insects have. Safe for people, pets and wildlife. Propietary formula kills mosquito larvae for up to three months.
There’s a better way to keep mosquitoes out of your bird bath and attract more birds at the same time: tell mosquitoes to buzz off by adding sound and motion to your birdbath.
There are a lot of methods for keeping bird bath water clean, but the simply cleaning your bird bath “on the regular” is the best option.
Fresh water in your bird bath will attract more birds to drink and bathe. You might even get some birds that don’t come to feeders, such as owls or hawks!
What are your favorite tips to clean a bird bath? Let me know in the comments!
Image credit: The top featured image is a U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Cossaboom.
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