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It's spring here in the Northeastern United States, and we're getting a large influx of the wonderful birds who will spend the summer and fall with us. Although we feed and water birds, and any other hungry outdoor creatures, throughout the year, we increase their options during the busier months.

This is also the season when merchants heavily advertise many varieties of birdbaths.

I've read a number of articles saying that birdbaths with moving water are better. They suggest that moving water increases attendance, and keeps the birds, and birdbaths, healthier. For instance, this says

Birds find water sources by sight and sound. Adding movement to your birdbath creates visual and audio cues that birds will hone in on, allowing you to draw more birds to your bath. Properly agitated water can also deter mosquitoes from visiting your bath, as well.

This site also claims that adding motion to water attracts more birds.

Water is essential for birds and while a simple bird bath can provide refreshment, more elaborate arrangements like bird bath fountains have many benefits and can attract more birds to any birder's backyard.

I'm seeing a lot of ads for birdbaths with features that keep the water moving. Some examples are water wigglers, bird bath misters, agitators, and fountains.

The problem is that most of the sites I found that recommend these devices also sell them.

I'm seeking evidence that birds prefer moving, rather than stagnant, water, from reliable sources that don't make money from their recommendations. It would be even better if they specify which type of water-moving method is preferred.

Anecdotal answers through your own experience are fine too, and would be helpful.

My birds are the American versions, and include swallows (many varieties), sparrows (many varieties), cardinals, blue jays, grackles, robins, crows, finches, thrushes, titmice, woodpeckers, red-winged blackbirds, grosbeaks, mourning doves, canaries, and others in related families.

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I doubt there is a specific answer; I think different species have different preferences. In the Piney woods of east Texas , I have a couple traditional baths and a small pond with a 30 ft stream of recycled water ; 2 " deep 24 " wide. the birds use both.

But while they go to the baths one at a time , several go to the stream at one time. The migrating Robins ( thousands in a loose flock) are notable because there will be one every 18 " the length of the stream . They splash around so much that it makes the pond cloudy with mud for a day. On a hot summer day I put a small fogger nozzle high in a tree; The birds find it in a couple minutes. So I think the birds will take any water they can get ( and don't care if it is muddy ).

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I found a paper from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Providing Water for Birds

While it does mention the usage of a pump or circulating water, it doesn't suggest it to attract birds. However, it says:

The key to attracting a large number of birds is to keep your bath full of water at all times.

Another article, Attracting Birds With Water states that:

Standing water features such as bird baths and dishes should be cleaned daily, while moving and flowing water will naturally stay fresher and can be cleaned less frequently.

Since birds use water to clean up their feathers, it makes sense to keep the water clean at all times.

But nothing to support the claims that birds prefer running water or that they'd locate water by sound. If you keep the bath full and clean at all times, it'll attract birds and they quickly learn it's the cleanest and most dependable source in the neighborhood. Once you have birds in your yard, they probably make enough sounds to attract others. Making the potential water sound a negligible factor.

  • @Sue I guess there are no studies out there that would be conclusive. Even if moving water would attract more birds, it's hard to know whether this could be accredited to smell, visual or audible cues. Or if the birds simply prefer clean water and by chance, moving water usually is cleaner in nature than standing water. One could also think that audible water could make birds more susceptible to predator attacks as their approach could be concealed in ambient noise. It would be really interesting though to see some real trials and conclusive results on the subject. – Jani Hyytiäinen May 16 '17 at 6:49
  • @Sue I actually thought of some loudspeaker / TFT setups that could conclude this but couldn't figure out a way to come around the effect of actual presence of the birds. All I could come up with was that birds would prefer clean water. It's a tough nut to crack scientifically :) – Jani Hyytiäinen Jun 27 '17 at 2:08
  • Hi Jani! I looked more closely at your links, and both suggest that moving water can be more attractive: From your first: "One of the best ways to make your birdbath more attractive is to provide some motion on the water’s surface. Water dripping into the basin catches the attention of birds." From your second: "Moving water will attract more birds because the motion catches their eye and they can hear any dripping, sprinkles or splashes." – Sue Feb 28 '18 at 20:51
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My experience is that birds prefer still water, even though it causes the need for more cleaning of a birdbath. I base my answer on much observation of our 2 acre pond at the bottom of my front yard. The pond has a natural supply of water flowing into it and, therefore, a constant exiting of water through a drainpipe.

The flow in and out is slow, no current to worry about. The birds always choose to bathe in an area far away from the flowing water. I find it interesting, also, that I see them bathing much more often when outside temps are between 30 & 35 degrees F, give or take. During summer, I see many taking dirt baths instead of water baths. So I do not think they care if the water is clean.

Also, I often see birds choosing mud puddles to take their bath rather than any other water source, especially Robins and smaller size birds for the most part. Twice I've observed American crows teaching their young how to take a bath. One juvenile was a slow learner. Mom had to demonstrate several times before youngster got a good feel for it!

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