Ask a local master gardener: A birdbath —without mosquitos?

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For the Gazette
Published: 6/20/2019 3:43:54 PM
Modified: 6/20/2019 3:43:44 PM

Q: How do I keep mosquitos from breeding in my birdbath while keeping it safe for birds?  —M.O., Whately

 

A:  You raise a common conundrum, M.O. Sitting on my patio in the early evening while being bombarded by mosquitoes and looking over at the birdbath bowl I have under some nearby trees, I used to wonder the same thing. I have a few ideas for you.

Providing water to birds can bring more birds to your yard than offering food. All bird species need water so you will attract even those that do not use feeders. Birds use water for drinking, of course, plus for preening their feathers and staying cool on hot summer days. For us, it is just fun to watch them splash around. Even more than still water, birds are attracted to moving water as it is easier for them to locate while flying. They can hear the sound and see the movement.

Mosquitos, contrarily, are annoying — although they make good dragonfly food — and can harbor disease. It typically takes seven to 10 days for a mosquito to complete its life cycle. Disrupting that life cycle by emptying outdoor water bowls, buckets or other containers holding still water every five days or sooner helps prevent them from completing their life cycle. 

Thus, we have two things going for us: birds are attracted to moving water and mosquitos cannot lay their eggs in moving water. Put those two factors together and — ta-da! — your answer is to provide moving water. So how do you accomplish that? 

One option is to put a water wiggler or jiggler in a birdbath or shallow dish. Yes — it’s a thing. These small, quiet, battery-operated devices create small ripples in the surface of the water, enough to provide the movement we want to attract birds and the surface disruption we want to prevent mosquitoes. 

A hose slowing dripping into a pond or dish will accomplish the same purpose, though you will want to consider water usage and spillage. A water fountain also works.  

Another safe way to prevent mosquitos in birdbaths is using mosquito dunks. They contain bacteria that kills mosquito larvae. No ripple effect, though. Use according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Birdbaths with rough — not sharp — surfaces help birds grip the edges. If you have a smooth-surfaced bath like I do, you can add small rocks or small overturned bowls to create landing pads for birds. Water should only be 2-inches deep at most in a birdbath.

Hummingbirds require a little different approach. They enjoy misters. On a hot day, they will hover in a mister for a refreshing spritz. A combo approach is to position a mister over a birdbath so drips can create the ripple effect below.

Remember to clean birdbath water frequently for bird health and mosquito prevention. Never add harsh chemicals to the water and keep the water source away from pesticide or herbicide usage or drift. Birds are very sensitive to chemicals. 

Good question, M.O.  Thanks for asking a (local) Master Gardener.

Have a gardening dilemma? Please send questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at AskAMasterGardener@wmmga.org. One question will be answered per week. wmmga.org




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