How to Clean Your Outdoor Bird Bath

Cleaning a birdbath is a dirty job, but one that must be done. Your feathered friends will definitely thank you for it. Not to mention a clean birdbath will attract many more birds than a dirty one. Plus your feathered friends will appreciate the clean water free of gunk and debris to drink and bathe in. There’s not much to keep a birdbath clean, you just need to do a little bit of periodic maintenance to keep the birds flocking in all year round.

Before I get into how to clean your birdbath, it might be worth noting that you can reduce the amount of time you spend cleaning it by placing your birdbath in an area where leaves and other debris aren’t likely to fall into it.

Also keep in mind that the smaller the birdbath and the larger the numbers of birds that visit your birdbath, the quicker it will get dirty and contaminated.

The best way to keep your birdbath clean is to carry out regular cleaning and maintenance.

  • Make sure you wear rubber gloves when cleaning the bird bath.
  • Tip out the stagnant water, then use a rough sponge and some water, remove any debris such as feathers, leaves, bird poop, bird seed husks.
  • Scrub away any built-up scum and refill the birdbath with fresh, clean water.

Continue reading for more in-depth ideas on cleaning your bird bath.

Tips on How to Clean a Bird Bath

  • Wear a pair of rubber gloves. If you don’t wear gloves then make sure to wash your hands thoroughly when you have finished cleaning the birdbath.
  • Now, you need to empty out all the old water in the bath. If your bird bath is like mine, then you may be able to tip it to one side and let all the old stale water run out onto the ground. Some birdbaths may need more than one person to tilt them. Take care as you don’t want to cause yourself an injury.
Washing out my bird bath
  • If there’s just a little bit of dirt in the bottom of the birdbath you can just blast it out with a garden hose. This will remove any loose debris and you’re back in business.
  • However, if there is some built-up scum in the bottom or up the sides, take an old rough kitchen sponge, scrub brush or cloth and using a bit of elbow grease, give the bath a bit of a scrub to loosen the scum.
  • Then rinse with clean water. So far, the steps above are all I have ever had to do with my bird bath but this is because I do this regularly.
  • If on the odd occasion, I leave my bird bath for too long, I get mold or mildew growing in the bottom of the bowl. If this happens, you can always use a commercial mold killer, diluted bleach or other bird bath cleaner to attack it.
  • If you are like me however, and prefer not to use bleach or other chemicals, you can use 1 part vinegar diluted with 9 parts water. In fact the National Audubon Society recommends the use of vinegar rather than bleach to clean a bird bath as bleach strips the natural oil from bird feathers.
  • Use a spray bottle and soak the entire interior of the bowl with the cleaning solution. Let it sit for a couple of minutes to kill the mold and then rinse out.
  • If there is still mildew in the bowl repeat the process but use a scrub pad or scrub brush while wearing gloves to scrub out any scum.  Then hose the birdbath off to make sure there’s no residue that may harm the birds.
  • Stand the birdbath back up and let it dry in the sunshine for a short time. You can carry out any routine maintenance that may be needed around the base of the bird bath and surrounding area, while it dries.
  • Fill the birdbath with fresh clean water. 
  • There is a theory that placing a piece of copper in the bottom of the birdbath with make it more difficult for mildew to get a purchase and flourish. There is no evidence that copper with cause damage to the birds but personally I would rather not take the risk.

You will find that your bird bath is easier to keep clean if you do it on a regular basis, say once or twice a week. If the bird bath doesn’t see a lot of action you can leave it longer. I find that once a week is fine but I do keep a close eye on what is happening.

Just lately I have had a lot more birds coming into the garden to feed so I just know that eventually I will need to clean the bird bath more often. Not that I mind, as I find it quite relaxing, especially as some of the birds tend to hang around while I carry out this task. In fact, some of the sparrows and finches will even play in the water from the hose, especially if I turn it to ‘mist’ before filling the bird bath.

Ash Sparrows Frolicking in a Bird Bath

You may find that you need to refill your birdbath every day or so during the summer months as the water may evaporate. Just keep an eye on it and you will know when it needs to be cleaned and/or refilled.

During the migration season you may find more birds visit you backyard and if so, the bird bath may require more frequent cleaning.

Honestly, I have found my bird bath to be so easy to maintain that the slight inconvenience of having to regularly clean it is far outweighed by the sheer pleasure of having such a diverse range and number of birds visiting my backyard.

What About Mosquitoes – Keep the Water Moving

By taking good care of your bird bath and not letting it dry out completely, which of course renders it completely useless for the wild birds, you will ensure that the water doesn’t become fetid and encourage mosquitoes.

If you are concerned about mosquitoes laying their eggs in the still water, then you might consider purchasing a water wiggler. These are readily available from Amazon at a reasonable price and the one pictured below is particularly attractive while it does the job of keeping the water moving.

Mosquitoes can spread the Zika virus , so we definitely need to ensure that our bird baths are kept well maintained and cleaned so that mosquitoes don’t breed in them.

These colorful wigglers are available from Amazon

I used to use a cheap solar fountain in mine. To be honest they only really last about a year before the elements get to them but for less than $20 I figure it’s still a pretty good deal. You can see in the image below the type I mean. You can purchase one on Amazon here.

What are the Dangers of Not Keeping Your Bird Bath Clean?

Birds are susceptible to diseases and harmful bacteria which can be spread from stagnant, dirty water and as mentioned above mosquitoes can breed in standing water.

What is the Red Algae in Your Bird Bath?

You may notice red algae in your bird bath. This is caused by a micro-organism called Haematococcus Pluvialis. It’s not harmful to birds, which is good to know.

And although it is not harmful, it doesn’t look very attractive. The algae ‘s red color is caused by an active pigment which forms in the bird bath to reflect the harsh sunlight.

The best thing you can do if this happens is to clean the bird bath thoroughly as described above, give it a good scrub and fill with fresh water. You may even consider moving the bird bath into a shady area out of the bright sunlight.

Don’t use chemicals to remove the algae, it’s not necessary and chemicals can be harmful to the birds.

Bird Watch HQ

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands" - Douglas Adams

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