Photo © jefferyw

Water: The Universal Need

All living things need water to survive! Providing this habitat necessity is one of the quickest ways to attract birds to your property. If there is a water source in your yard, like a pond, creek, birdbath, or even a puddle, you’ve probably noticed birds using it. If you don’t have a water feature yet, a birdbath is an easy way to provide this habitat need. Of course, some birds spend almost all of their time in water—swimming, eating, and nesting in it. We’ll show you how to provide water at home and give you some practical ways that you can improve the cleanliness of the wetland habitats in your watershed.

Blue Grosbeak in the water in S. Texas

Photo © Stephen Pollard


A simple birdbath is a low-cost, low-maintenance solution for providing clean water. Take the time to keep it free of algae, bacteria, and pests (like mosquito larva), and clean it with a mild soap once a week.

Here are some things to consider when choosing a birdbath for your yard:

  • Select one that is no deeper than 2-3″, with a gentle, sloping incline.
  • Choose a textured surface or place stones in the bath for perching. Avoid plastic or other smooth surfaces, which make it hard for birds to gain footing.
  • If stray cats are present, choose a bath with a 3′ pedestal, and place it in an open area at least 15′ from shrubs.
  • Year-round access to water is important, so provide fresh water in winter, too, especially in places where precipitation is locked in snow or ice. Birdbath heaters are available online and at gardening supply retailers.
  • You can make or purchase a drip attachment for a slow, steady dripping action, which is very attractive to birds.
  • Provide a consistent supply of water, especially on hot days.
Blue Jay in a birdbath

Photo © Michaela Fotheringham

Water Bodies

If you have a natural creek or pond on your property, or if you’ve taken the time to dig and maintain one, you can attract additional water-loving birds to your property when landscaped to good effect. Many birds forage in larger bodies of water, others prefer to nest over water, and still others need to be able to fully submerge themselves in order to bathe. Leaving some vegetation along the edges of your pond or creek will encourage birds to nest and rest there. Allowing vegetation to grow around your pond or creek also reduces erosion and helps filter pollutants out of the surface water before it can reach your pond.

Considering installing a pond? There are infinite variations on the backyard pond, but a well-designed one can make all the difference. Some carefully-designed installations have been observed to attract birds like Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and even Great Blue Heron! Constructed ponds can be surrounded with native vegetation for a natural look, while floating plants and submerged aquatic plants will improve water clarity. You will need to filter water with a pump, preferably through a plant-based bio filtration system, in order to keep the water clean. In arid or warm climates, be sure to frequently add water to the pond. If possible, provide a shallow area at one edge for smaller birds to bathe and drink, and avoid mowing to the edge of the water. Tall vegetation, like cattails or irises, will help provide a visual screen from household activity and give your pond a natural privacy fence.

Tip: Keep your swimming pool covered when not in use to avoid wildlife (not to mention children) falling in accidentally or aquatic creatures trying to take up residence.

I make my living on the water

Photo © Kevin Bolton

Your Watershed

Did you know that everyone lives in a watershed? What is that exactly? A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that lies beneath it or drains off of it goes into the same place. Watersheds can cross political boundaries and can be any size or shape. There are 2,110 watersheds in the continental United States, and you’re in one right now! [Enter your ZIP code here to find out which one.]

Agricultural and urban runoff don’t just affect our drinking water; birds live in watersheds, too. And while we may be able to obtain clean, safe water from our taps, birds cannot. Our individual actions can, however, improve the quality of the water that we share with wildlife. Here are some things you can do around your house to help the watershed:

  • Catch and reuse water that runs off your roof with a rain barrel. Using this “gray water” to water your plants will help clean the water rather than letting it run straight into the sewer.
  • Plant a rain garden to absorb excess water. When water runs over pavement or treated lawns, it picks up pesticides, fertilizers, and trash along the way, carrying them to our rivers and streams.
  • Reduce the amount of impervious surfaces around your home. Consider adding a green roof or replacing your driveway with pervious pavement to avoid getting those flooded areas of the yard.
  • Practice natural lawn care, and reduce or eliminate the amount of chemicals applied to your lawn.

Add it to your Map

Tell us about your water features.

If you have a birdbath, add it as an object to your map.

Make sure to complete the info window under the characteristics for your individual water habitats and objects.