Dear Bird Folks,
I’m looking for a little bird bath advice. I’ve heard (probably from you) that water is an excellent way to attract birds. But I’m worried about attracting mosquitos and the diseases that they carry. My local garden center sells “mosquito donuts” that claim to keep mosquitos from breeding in bird baths. Someone else suggested that I put some salad oil into my bath to keep the skeeters away. With all that in mind are bird baths still a good idea?
– Janice, Paterson, NJ
Are you sure you are from Paterson, NJ, and not Paterson, GA? Nobody says “skeeters” in New Jersey, unless they are talking about Skeeter, the creepy guy who drives a tow truck for the city. You aren’t talking about that kind of skeeter are you? If you are I understand your concern.
You are totally correct when you mentioned that offering birds water is an excellent way to attract them. Whoever gave you that advice must have been a total genius, so it probably was me. Only a few species of birds will come to the food that we offer at our feeders, but all birds need to drink and they all need to keep their feathers clean. Just yesterday a lady brought in cool photos of a Red-tailed Hawk that was sitting in the middle of her bird bath. She said the hawk splashed about in her bath for nearly twenty minutes before it flew off in search of some cream rinse.
It is also true that mosquitos carry some nasty old diseases, which they are more than happy to share with us humans. The item that your garden center recommended is probably a product called Mosquito Dunkers, not “donuts.” Mosquito Dunkers are a round donut-shaped product made to be dropped into small pools of water. Dunkers release a larvicide which kills mosquito larvae before they can become those flying adults, which always seem to be buzzing an inch away from my ear. Remember the item is called Mosquito Dunkers, not “mosquito donuts.” Mosquito donuts are not a larvicide but instead are one of the least popular varieties offered at Krispy Kream.
It is generally felt that products similar to Dunkers are fairly harmless to most creatures except for mosquitoes. However, after reading the list precautions and warnings that are listed on the packaging, I’m not so convinced. What I am convinced about however is that salad oil is not a good thing to add to your bird bath. I don’t know what your friend is thinking. Would she wash her hair in water mixed with salad oil? Not even Skeeter would do that. At worst the oil could cause the birds’ feathers to become matted down, and at best, the birds would smell like a kitchen worker at the local Olive Garden. Neither are a good thing.
Mosquitoes need calm water in order to lay their eggs. So instead of adding ingredients to the water, all you need to do is stir the water up a bit and they can’t breed. That is why many manmade ponds and water gardens have waterfalls and fountains. It’s not only about the aesthetics or showing off. The motion created by the falls stirs up the water surface and prevents the mosquitoes from breeding. With that in mind several companies have developed devices that we can place into our bird baths that will stir up the water. One is called a “Water Wiggler” and just like the name suggests, it vibrates the water surface to discourage mosquitoes.
Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret Janice. None of the above things that we’ve just discussed are at all necessary. Neither the oil, the donut, or the wiggler are needed to prevent mosquitoes. And why is that you ask? Because it takes at least a week, and probably longer, for a mosquito to go from an egg to adult. That means all you have to do is change the water in your bird bath once a week and you’ll never, ever have to worry about mosquitos in your bath.
Potted plants can be a much greater source of breeding mosquitoes than any bird bath. Those little saucers that we place under flowerpots, to catch extra water, are a great breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Keep an eye on those. That’s my little gardening tip of the week.
Forget the salad oil Janice. Forget the donuts too. To keep mosquitoes from ever forming in your bird bath all you have to do is change the water once a week. But you had better attend to your bird bath much more than that. I say clean it out every day or two. If you don’t, then your bath will be unhealthy for both you and the birds. The only thing a gross bird bath will attract is Skeeter, the tow truck guy, and you don’t want that.