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How, Why, & When to Clean Your Birdbath

If you’re like many outdoor enthusiasts, turning your backyard into a friendly place for wildlife is important to you. Watching critters from your kitchen table while you enjoy breakfast is always a delight. For bird lovers, this means installing birdfeeders and some kind of water feature. Most commonly, birdbaths. This installation is very shortly followed by the realization that you have to clean your birdbath.

Walking outdoors to see a green, orange, or just plain grimy birdy bathtub can be intimidating. After all, most of us struggle to clean our own bathtubs frequently enough. Still, if you really love your feathered friends, you’ll take the extra steps to learn why and how to clean your birdbath.

Why You Need To Clean Your Birdbath

Many homeowners have the tendency to think that bird baths do not need much maintenance. After all, if birds swim and drink from outdoor lakes and rivers, then surely your backyard watering hole must measure up? This is a mistake. Unlike these other sources of water, your birdbath does not have the regular movement, food chain, or self regulating support found in the ecosystems of lakes and rivers.

Dirty bird baths are more than just gross places for your feathered friends to splash around and get a drink. They can actually be dangerous! Dirty or polluted water can quickly become a source of disease and contaminants. Infected birds can go on to spread water borne illness to other members of their flocks.

Additionally, murky standing water is an invitation for some of the most dreaded backyard pests. From mosquitos to gnats, still, dirty water is a safe haven for these critters to multiple and conquer your outdoor living space. The more mosquitos you host, the higher the chances you are inviting the diseases they carry as well. Zika and West Nile Virus are both found in mosquito populations in the United States.

Overall, while it may be easier to ignore a dirty birdbath, cleaning it benefits more than just the birds. You are also working to reduce the spread of illness, the concentration of pets, and protect the health of your family.

When To Clean Your Birdbath

Now that we’ve established that cleaning your birdbath really does matter, the question is: how often? This answer is dependent on a few factors. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How often is my birdbath used?

  2. How many kinds of birds use my birdbath?

  3. What is my local climate?

The amount which your birdbath needs to be cleaned is largely dependent on how often it is used. The more high traffic your birdbath, the dirtier it will get. The larger variety of species using your birdbath, the quicker it will soil as well.

Furthermore, homeowners cleaning schedules will be affected by where they live. For those living in year-round warm weather climates, this will likely be a year long process as water will never freeze. Seasonal areas may be subject to seasonal cleaning. Those experiences a surge of migratory birds may need to increase cleaning during early fall months, and then stop once water freezes. Of course, some cold climate bird watchers may invest in heated bird baths which render them usable all year long. 

Generally, keeping an eye on your bath will help you get a feel for how often it needs to be cleaned. During peak seasons, you may need to rinse your bath as often as 2-3 times per week. Lower traffic birdbaths may only need cleaning once or twice a month.

How To Clean Your Birdbath

For all cleaning methods, the process should begin the same way. Safely dump out the old water into a permeable area. Avoid draining water where it will become runoff into local ponds and streams. Then, remove any visible build up of debris, seeds, feathers, and dirt. It is important to wear gloves to avoid contact with bacteria.

Rinse well with a hose, and then proceed to utilizing any of the following cleaning solutions. Most bird enthusiasts recommend using natural cleaning agents and avoiding chemical or synthetic soaps or chemicals. They may be effective in keeping your birdbath clean, but they can also strip essential oils from bird feathers.

Vinegar

White vinegar is one of the safest and most effective ways to clean your birdbath. Mix one part vinegar with nine parts fresh water and scrub the entirety of the birdbath with an agitator or scrubber. Make sure to clean not only the basin, but the surrounding lip as well.

If you are having difficulty getting the results you want, let the vinegar mixture stand for up to several hours before scrubbing. Just be sure to cover or remove the birdbath while soaking to prevent exposing feathered friends to contaminated drinking water.

Once clean, rinse thoroughly, fill with fresh water, and admire your hard work!

Baking Soda

In this method, baking soda is sprinkled over the basin and perimeter of the birdbath. Once rinsed and brushed free of excess debris, sprinkle baking soda generously over the bath. Allow to sit. After a few minutes, scrub and rinse clean. The grit of baking soda may be effective in removing build up or tough to remove staining.

As with vinegar, ensure to monitor your bird bath while being cleaned, and rinse very thoroughly once done. Ingesting treated water can be harmful to backyard birds.

Can You Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Clean Your Birdbath?

Long story short, yes. Hydrogen peroxide is yet another effective way to keep your feathered friend’s splash ground open for business. Like other cleaners on this list, it’s simply important to make sure you are using it correctly.

To clean using hydrogen peroxide, mix one part water to one part hydrogen peroxide. Allow to sit covered or while supervised. Scrub firmly, rinse completely, and refill with fresh water. Though many of us may not think of hydrogen peroxide as a natural substance, it is not harmful to wildlife and can be an effective way to keep your birdbath clean without harsh chemicals.

Chemical Cleaners

Not all chemical cleaners are safe for birds, but not all are dangerous either. It is recommended to avoid synthetic cleaners, but sometimes a birdbath is simply in need of some extra help. In these cases, bleach can be used to remove stubborn dirt, grime, and staining.

Add ½ to 1 ½ cups of bleach to a full birdbath. Cover with a cloth or trash bag, or move to a safe location out of reach of birds. Allow to sit, checking periodically to observe the process. After a suitable amount of time has elapsed, dump water in a safe or low traffic area of your yard. Rinse the birdbath very thoroughly, and fill with clean, fresh water.

While it is always important to prevent birds from consuming treated water, it is especially important when using chemical agents. High chlorine levels from bleach treated water can be fatal to birds. When in doubt, air on the side of caution.

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