Keep it clean
What to do to make sure your birdbath attracts birds, not fines
Published: June 22, 2012
|Water is one of every living creature’s most critical needs. In summer, people are more likely to provide their backyard birds with water than food. But as communities struggle to protect their citizens from mosquito-borne illnesses, they’re looking for ways to reduce mosquito populations and passing ordinances that ban sources of stagnant and standing water, including birdbaths. |
New York City, where the American outbreak of West Nile virus began in 1999, passed a regulation more than a decade ago that subjects landlords to a fine if stagnant water is found on their property. The rule was amended last year, expanding its scope to include standing water. For the most part, the health department is enforcing the article in cases of poorly maintained swimming pools, stagnant water at construction sites, and similar egregious situations. But according to an April New York Times article, four New Yorkers were fined in the past year for having birdbaths.
A city spokesperson stated that the health department would issue a notice of violation for standing water in a birdbath only if the water was stagnant, not simply for having water in a birdbath. “The decomposed organic matter found in stagnant water is the food for mosquito larvae,” explained the spokesperson. “The department recommends replacing the water in the birdbath every two to three days to prevent mosquito breeding.”
Changing birdbath water on such a schedule is important for birds as well as for us. West Nile virus is far more lethal to many species of birds than it is to humans, and mosquitoes transfer other dangerous pathogens to and among birds as well as humans.
It’s also important to remember that more birds drink from birdbaths than bathe in them, so water should be kept clean enough for drinking. Bathers often leave the water messy, and some birds, such as Common Grackles, seek out birdbaths for disposing of nestlings’ fecal sacs, so birdbaths may need more frequent cleaning. Keeping the water sparkling will benefit our whole community — avian and human.
5 ways to keep your birdbath healthy
Change the water every two or three days. This is less than the time it takes for a newly laid mosquito egg to hatch and develop into an emerging adult.
2. Swipe the bowl with a sturdy scrub brush occasionally when you change the water. If you do this every week, more thorough cleaning will seldom be necessary.
3. If you use soaps or detergents to clean a birdbath, make sure you rinse thoroughly.
4. Bleach is seldom necessary and often causes more harm than good, but if you do use it to disinfect your birdbath, let it air out at least overnight before refilling.
5. Products are sold to kill mosquito larvae in birdbaths. Products whose only active ingredient is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) may be safe for birds, but it’s safer, more economical, and healthier for birds simply to change the water every two or three days.