Backyard Chirper

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Finding the Ideal Depth of a Bird Bath

Birds use bird baths for a range of activities—preening feathers, drinking, frolicking—which is why people love having these water features all over their yard.

Last week, I wrote about the different types of bird baths you could buy, but we’ve gotten some questions on the ideal depth of a bird bath. Should it be deep or should it be shallow? The easy answer: it depends.

Finding the ideal depth of a bird bath is kind of like trying to figure out whether Coke or Pepsi is better. Some birds prefer it one way and other birds prefer it another way. Most common backyard bird baths have a depth at less than 2 inches at its lowest point (usually the middle), which works for many species.

If you’ve watched birds in waters around streams and lakes, you’ll notice many of them staying in very shallow waters. Small birds are frightened by deep water and will refuse to go in while larger birds prefer water with more depth.

A good rule of thumb to follow, as laid out by the National Audubon Society, is that a bird bath with a 2-inch depth is ideal for larger species like Northern Cardinals, Grackles and Blue Jays. Smaller songbirds will go in depths at about 1 inch. Many bird baths give some flexibility because they aren’t the same depth throughout the entire bowl. Larger bowls have slopes that give the bath various depths. This would be able to accommodate larger and smaller birds.

If you happen to get a bird bath that’s much too deep and you’re noticing not many birds are using it for more than drinking, you could add large rocks to mimic the natural setting of lakes. The bird bath in the image above is likely much too deep for many birds, so having stones will help them see the bottom and be more comfortable preening in it. So even if you have a bird bath that’s too deep, you could easily fix it.

After you buy a bird bath, you should monitor it to see whether birds are actually using it for drinking and preening and make improvements based on your observations.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


  1. I really need a bird bath like this one with a deep bowl. I want to turn it into a planter. Do you happen to know where I can get one like this? I am looking for one deep, wide and inexpensive. Thanks!

  2. Places like Home Depot sell concrete bird baths. You might want to check there.

  3. I think natural stone designs bird baths is ideal for garden decor. Thanks!

  4. I am looking for a wide and deep birdbath, because I’d like to put both a deicer (7 in x 3-inch) and a water autofill (1.25 or 2.75 inches deep and 10.5-inch diameter).
    We need both of these items because we take 3-4 day road trips often. Our many birds frequent our yard for seed and water all year round. It sounds like this might work if I put small rocks/pebbles in the bottom of the bath. We will be taking a 3-day trip in November, so I’m a bit pressed for a solution.
    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  5. […] your bath has a shallow and a deeper end, however, somewhat like many human pools. If the bath is too deep, birds will drink in it but not use it to bathe. One way to create variances in the depth is to add […]

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