One of the more relaxing pastimes, at least in my opinion, is sitting on your patio watching wild birds in your garden. Bird watching is now the second most popular hobby in the USA – the first one being gardening!
Now when it comes to attracting birds to your garden I think we can all agree that a bird bath is at the top of the list. Birds need water for drinking and bathing and a bird bath will provide both of those needs. Plus it can also enhance your outdoor space!
However, the problem with having a bird bath, is that the water can get stagnant pretty quickly and it can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. So you can either replace the water regularly (which can get to be a bit of a chore) or you can get a fountain installed to keep the water moving. This can get expensive if you have to get pipes and cabling fitted. However, this is a better and cheaper way to achieve this and that is to get a solar-powered bird bath.
What is a Solar Bird Bath?
A solar bird bath is one that has a solar-powered panel inside it. During the day, the panel collects energy from the sun’s rays and this energy powers a pump which is inside a reservoir in the base of the bird bath. The pump circulates the water around the bird bath (and through an integral fountain, if that is the design you have chosen) which prevents the water from becoming stagnant.
There are essentially two types of solar bird bath:
- Fixed – In this case, the solar components are built into the bird bath itself. Place the bird bath in the sun, add water and the fountain will start working.
- Independent – If your bird bath doesn’t have a built in solar panel you can purchase a solar powered fountain pump that will keep the water moving. These generally float on top of the water and provide a fine spray for the birds to frolic in. These types of solar bird bath can be purchased separately and will work with most existing bird baths. Just put it into the water in your bird bath and it will work straight out of the box…as long as the sun is shining of course.
Are solar bird baths heated?
Some people think that because the baths are solar-powered, the water is heated but this is a misconception. To heat a bird bath you need a water heater and these are also available as a solar option.
Advantages and Disadvantages
- A solar powered bird bath uses the sun’s energy rather than electricity, making it eco-friendly and money saving
- There are no installation or operating costs
- No wiring, extension cords, or outdoor electrical outlets are required
- There is no limitation as to where you can place a solar bird bath in your garden. As long as it has some sun, it will work.
- They are better at attracting birds to your garden because the solar powered pump keeps the water constantly moving. Birds have eyesight which can see changes in motion at great distance but they don’t see still water so well. So they’ll notice your solar bath much more easily!
- You get the pleasure of moving water without the hassle of plumbing or electricity – which also gives you absolute freedom of placement.
- They don’t work at night or when it is overcast. Obviously they need sun to function but there are ways around this as you will see further below.
- The elements can take their toll on the solar panel components so they won’t last forever.
- If you buy a bird bath where the panels are built in, once the panels are no longer viable, it may be difficult to replace the components.
- In winter, there is the potential for ice to break the solar components. If you have a floating style bird bath fountain, then you can easily remove it during the cold months. If you have a fixed style, you may be able to remove the panel depending on the style of bird bath.
Does a solar bird bath need wiring or plumbing in?
No it doesn’t – that’s one of the greatest benefits of a solar-powered bird bath. You can put it anywhere that you like as long as the surface is flat and it has access to sunlight. This really opens up your garden design choices as you don’t need to have it near a power source or plumbing outlet.
And as mentioned previously, solar bird baths are cost effective because they don’t cost anything to run as there is no electricity required and the sun’s rays are free!
What if it’s not sunny?
If the weather in your area is changeable, you may need to look for a model which allows energy from the sun to either go directly to the pump or to charge a battery pack for night time and/or for overcast weather.
Now having the pump stop working when there is no sun wasn’t a real issue for me because where I am at, there is good sun most of the year. Still, it would be nice to have the pump to work on overcast days. The birds seem to like the effect of the spray from the fountain and so I have decided that it’s about time I looked into getting a pump that has a battery back up so that the pump will work even when the sun isn’t shining.
These types of pumps work by storing power in a lithium battery. So when the sun disappears for a bit, the battery will kick in and keep the pump working as normal.
Do keep in mind that the solar panel will be exposed in your garden setting and may ditract from the look you are wanting to achieve. You can see what I mean in the images below.
Some of these solar fountain pumps also have LED lights which is a nice touch at night time.
Here are a few that have good reviews on Amazon
If you live in an area where you get minimal sunlight hours, especially in winter, you may need to opt for a regular bird bath with a pump that plugs into an electrical outlet to circulate the water, such as the one shown below which is available from Amazon.
Popular Solar Bird Bath Fountain Pumps
Over the years I have purchased a couple of very cheap solar bird bath pumps on ebay. They did the job of moving the water around and had some interchangeable fountain nozzles so that I could select the type of spray I wanted.
They lasted about a year each, and they wouldn’t work when the sun wasn’t shining or when it was overcast or dull. However, these type of solar fountains are easy to use, they don’t need any electricity and they are very easy to assemble. Plus they are super cheap – usually less than $20. Just add the nozzle you want to use and pop the unit in the bird bath. After a short time the fountain will start to work.
Here are some examples that you can find on Amazon.
What sort of maintenance does a solar bird bath pump need?
Solar bird bath fountains are fairly low maintenance. However the pump can become clogged with bird droppings, leaves and other organic matter.
Like all bird baths, it is recommended that you clean it regularly. You may choose to use natural enzyme treatments – such as those used in fish tanks- to keep the water fresher for longer. This won’t harm the birds and will stop nasty slime from growing on your lovely bird bath.
Personally, I am not a fan of adding chemicals, natural or not, to my bird bath. I prefer to clean it regularly with water, and a scrubbing brush if required.
You can get more detailed information on how to clean your bird bath on my post here but here are a few specific tips for solar bird baths:
- Most solar pumps have a plastic sponge like filter that can be cleaned with a blast from your hose.
- However, if it has a build up of scum you can try cleaning it with a weak bleach or vinegar solution. Use 1 part bleach or vinegar to 9 parts water. Rinse it well in clean water and leave to air dry.
- Clean the pump housing with a damp cloth to keep it clean.
- Doing a regular clean up will keep the pump free of gunk and keep the water flowing as it should.
A solar fountain may be damaged by cold weather so the solar panel should be taken out and replaced with a regular insert during the winter. This is quick and easy to do and only takes a matter of minutes.
Maintain Water Levels
- Don’t let the water level in the bird bath get too low or dry out. Solar pumps that dry out will burn out and need to be replaced.
- In most cases, the water needs to fully cover the pump. If you have a floating style fountain then as long as it has water in the bird bath, it will work.
Keep in mind that running a fountain will cause the water to evaporate more quickly than still water. So make sure the bird bath is deep enough to hold a reasonable amount of water.
If you choose a regular bath with no pump, it is essential that you clean it out regularly, about every 3-5 days. Water that stands still for any longer than that can become a breeding place for mosquitoes which can carry West Nile Virus. This could be very dangerous for you and the birds that come to your garden.
What is the West Nile Virus?
It can cause fever, headache, tiredness, and body aches, sometimes with a skin rash (on the trunk of the body) and swollen lymph glands. The illness can be as short as a few days or it can go on for longer. Even previously fit and healthy people have reported being sick for several weeks. In extreme cases, it can be fatal. In 2008, 44 in the USA died from it. If you would like to learn more about this, take a look at the Center for Disease Control’s West Nile Website. While you can use DEET based repellents to stop mosquitoes from biting you, birds are not able to do this and so they are a risk. It’s virtually impossible to know how many birds in the wild have died from this but some tracking has been undertaken and it is known that tens of thousands have died in many states.
A solar bird bath prevents standing water and so the mosquitoes have nowhere to breed.
So to quickly sum up the advantages of a Solar Bird Bath
- You have no running costs,
- You have ease of maintenance,
- You have freedom of positioning,
- It’s a good way to attract birds
- You have safety for yourself and your feathered friends.
- You’re helping the environment.