Bird baths are vital in a continent like Australia where the birds are under stress. We wanted to know more so we asked thousands of citizen scientists in Australia to collect as much information as possible on how birds use the bird baths.
The Bathing Birds Study began. Researchers at Deakin University, Griffith University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science began this study in 2014. They collected data online from over 2,500 citizen scientists about bathing birds throughout Australia.
So far, the study has shown that bird baths can be much more than ornamental splashing pools for feathered guests. Animals socialise in the bird baths and fierce rivalries are played out. Birds can be affected by human choices, such as where the birdbath is placed and how often the bath is cleaned.
Baths for different birds
Most participants in the Bathing Birds Study observed the traditional pedestal bath or elevated bath, as shown below:
Red-browed Finches in a pedestal birdbath. Sue
Garden birds are at risk from cats, so pedestal or elevated baths can be a good solution. They keep birds away from cats.
The baths should be located near plants to provide a refuge for smaller birds if disturbed. Smaller birds can perch on stones or rocks placed in the middle of the bath.
Don’t assume that birds only visit bird baths during hot summer days. Birds also need baths during the winter. Even some of our citizen scientist have reported birds breaking ice to get to the bath water.
Birds can be slow to discover a new source of water, but they eventually do. Pots and saucers placed on the ground can also be used as baths for wildlife. There are records of foxes and snakes bathing in water, as well as koalas.
The birds bathed in the water. Koala (Tony), Snake (Rosalie), Echidnas (Rosemary), Foxes (Lesley).
Bathing Birds Study revealed that bird baths are dominated by different species of birds depending on the state or region.
Baths are the most common place to find aggressive noisy miners, rainbow lorikeets and other birds. In the cooler states like Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, introduced birds and wattlebirds are more common.
The Bathing Bird Study found that certain birds could act as bullies in baths, and stop other birds from using them by standing guard.
The behaviour is directed at smaller birds and/or birds that are less aggressive. Having a variety of baths (such as pots or saucers on the ground, hanging tubs or multiple elevated baths), in your garden gives all birds somewhere to bathe and drink.
A good bath is one that’s clean
The garden bird bath requires regular cleaning. The bath should be cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of disease. Birds can also become infected if they are gathered at watering stations with many different species.
When parrots bathe or drink together, they can infect other parrots with beak and feather diseases.
A parrot with beak-and-feather disease. Maura
A second risk is that the birds may become too dependent on birdbaths or feeding stations. How will they cope if food and water are removed during certain times or if they are not adjusted according to the current needs of birds?
The Bathing Birds Study showed that people refill their bird baths more often in the summer than they do in the winter, and clean them regularly.
A Silvereye in a birdbath. Glenn Pure.
Is it good to feed birds? Find out!
Many people like to provide food and water for birds. We do not yet know if this is a good or bad thing for birds.
The information about bird feeding from other countries is not applicable in Australia.
Many people find it important to feed wild birds. It is an important way to connect with nature for many.