If you're looking for a classic cast iron birdbath all you have to do is head to your local garden centre, they have tons of them. But if you want a modern birdbath - for you know, the modern bird - you might to have to DIY it.
I live in a mullet house. What appears in the front is completely different than the back. The front is all original Ontario workman's cottage complete with red brick, a white porch and picket fence. The back however? The back is the party area paved with square cut flagstone, modern planters, a contemporary pond and of course the Restoration Hardware furniture I hacked. This means if I wanted a birdbath that matched my outdoor space I was going to have to make one.
And I wanted one. This story will explain why.
I would like for you to imagine me truckin' along on my way to the corner store. Just walking on the sidewalk, minding my own business. (To make the picture in your mind's eye incredibly realistic you might want to picture me as Christy Turlington. 'Cause we're often mistaken for one another on account of me looking exactly like a supermodel from the 1980's.)
So you have that image in your head? O.K., then imagine my gazelle like legs getting tangled in each other as I do something worse than a face plant. I do an *almost* face plant; which is where you don't completely fall but instead catch yourself in mid-air, give out a little toot and correct yourself before you actually hit the ground. Instead of road rash you end up with a really red face and that gross tingling feeling in your toes that comes from a startling scare. I hate that toe tingling feeling.
All because of a bird. Now, I've been startled by birds before. I have been pooed on. I have ducked behind my steering wheel as they aim right at my windshield before laughing and swerving away, I have had a bird fly out of nowhere to take a single, big peck at my head (definitely not a feathered friend). But this incident was different.
This bird got me tripping all over my (supermodel-like) legs by taking a bath. There he was, hidden behind the hedge in my neighbour's incredibly peaceful looking yard, fluttering his wings and splashing himself quietly in their birdbath. I say "he" because let's face it, only a man would bounce around, bathing, NAKED for all the world to see and not give a crap.
And that was it. I had to have a birdbath in my backyard immediately.
The pickings at my local nurseries and hardware stores were slim in terms of what would match my modern backyard. So I made one. And you can too.
FYI if you want to attract birds to your yard a birdbath is a better bet than a bird feeder. The bath will attract only birds, whereas the feeder will attract everything around that eats. Plus in the summer birds usually have an easier time finding food than they do water.
DIY Modern Birdbath
You just need a shallow dish or bowl and 3 wood dowels.
3 wood dowels @ $3 each (or 3 old wood broom handles if you have them around)
Paint or stain (optional)
Varathane (satin finish)
Shallow dish or bowl
- Paint, stain and varnish your dowels to make them more weather resistant.
- Hammer them into the ground so they're stable.
- Use a level to make sure they're all even so the dish you put on top won't be lopsided.
As you may have noticed I stained my dowels dark brown. You can leave yours natural if you like. Or you can paint them purple. Or green or pink or blue or black or saffron or eggplant or polka dotted.
Your dowels need to be at least 3 or 4 feet long if you want a really elevated birdbath like I have. I like the drama of it, plus it makes the birdbath easier to see from the other end of the backyard where I eat and lounge and daydream. Pfftt. I don't do any of those things.
I went with an organic shaped candle plate from Ikea for my shallow bowl on top but you can use anything that will withstand being outside. It should be able to hold 2" of water.
If the bowl has some sort of edge on the bottom it will help to keep the bowl stable and aligned.
Where to place your birdbath
- It's O.K. to have trees or fences around the birdbath. In fact the birds like a tree or fence nearby because it gives them something to land and sit on before entering the birdbath.
- You have to have at least one clear path to the birdbath. It can't be among a tangle of trees.
- If it can go in the shade, that's the best place for your birdbath because it'll help stop the water from evaporating so quickly plus it'll keep the water a bit cooler those days that it's blindingly hot.
- Wash out and change the water in the bath every couple of days so it doesn't get grungy.
- Birds LOVE running water and they're attracted to the sight of it so one of these little solar powered birdbath sprinklers should help attract more birds. In fact I just ordered one so fingers crossed they actually work.*
- Once they find the birdbath they'll be back with their friends so remember to keep it filled.
- Stick a rock in the centre of the birdbath to give drinking birds a place to stand on when they just want a drink and aren't wanting to get all wet because they just had their hair done.
*I chose this solar fountain as the one to buy because it doesn't just work with solar power, it actually stores it so if there's shade or clouds it will keep running. The one from my local hardware store only works while every single panel is in complete sun. So if there's a cloud or even one of the solar panels on it is shaded by a single leaf it won't work at all.
After a few years my wood dowels rotted away at ground level so keep that in mind. You'll have to replace them every few years. To avoid this you can use metal pipes from your local hardware store.
I really like the wood in the garden as opposed to metal so I'll just continue to replace the dowels as they rot.
I'm happy to report that since installing birdbaths around my property I haven't been pecked in the head even once.
i absolutely LOVE this DIY! Definitely want to try it!
Elise - It's easy as can be! Seriously one of the easiest DIYs I've ever done here, yet looks GREAT. ~ karen!
I've been watching the birds play at the neighbors house all spring and I needed something to give my yard the edge. I knew a bird bath would do the trick,(it's going to be the only one around.)But finding a sturdy, attractive setup has been a disaster. Finally my search is over, thanks to you and your amazing ability to come up with answers to questions that haunt me in my dreams. Hammer the base into the ground;no gluing, no rocks: so simple and looks fantastic. I'm heading to the thrift store today so I can make 1 or 2 more of these beauties. With all my past failures with this project I was running out of steam, but you've given me new found inspiration. THANK YOU! -Trish
No problem Trish! Make sure your vessel is around 2" deep. The fact that this candle plate also has a rim around the bottom of it is helpful too because it ensures that it'll never fall/get knocked off. Good luck! ~ karen!
I went to the thrift shop and purchased, for $1.00...a frosted ceiling lamp globe about 14 in. in diam and 4 in deep. Put a cork to fill the hole where it was screwed to the ceiling fixture and
sat it on a cast concrete stone in my garden. A couple copper pennies tossed in helps with the algae.
Cat - Wait. I'm confused. Algae? Did you turn it into a pond? Which would be brilliant! ~ karen
LOL...no pond, it's only about 14 in. in diameter...
but my friend told me if you put a couple copper pennies in the water, it helps keep the water and birdbath clean. So far it has :)
Oh! Good idea. I'll give it a shot in! ~ karen
Brilliant! This is my new project having hunted for a contemporary birdbath with no luck (& not prepared to spend what most are asking?!)
My question-how did you attach the dish to the dowelling...?
I'm going to need to attach mine somehow....if the pigeons round here land on the edge of it,& the plate is just balanced,I'm liable to end up picking the dish up from the ground a zillion times if it's not broken by then...but I also need to get it off for cleaning.....
*rubs chin & ponders***
Suzy - There's a rim under the plate so when you put your plate on the dowels it can't slip off. Also the candle plate is quite heavy. Add in the fact that it's also going to be weighed down with water, about 30 pigeons would have to land on one side of it to make it budge. You'll be O.K. Just set the plate on the dowels. No need to attach. :) ~ karen
Try putting a smooth,tumbled looking, rock in the center of the container. It will help weigh it down as well serve as a perch for the birds and the pigeons will, probably like it,too. It sounds good in theory and may work.
My favorite bird bath in all the worl! And Pinterest makes my world pretty darn big.
Hah! That's true isn't it? The Pinterest thing I mean. Not bragging about my bird bath. Tho it is pretty good. ;) ~ karen
Thanks for this FABULOUS tutorial. I was about to spend $$$ on a mediocre bird bath, and then I ran across your tutorial. Your instructions made this project very enjoyable, and now I have a stunning bird bath for 1/3 of the price!
Wow, amazing blog structure! How lengthy have you
ever bedn blogging for? you make blogging glance easy. The
entire glance of your website is fantastic, let alone the
very nice bird bath! however, Ikea doesn't seem to selling the plate any more, if it's called 'candle plate'?
thanks! love your photos.
Hi Diaph! Yes, Ikea is notorious for carrying things then not carrying things. However, the good news is, is sometimes after a year or so they suddenly start carrying them again so keep checking! ~ karen
Hi, thought this was a great idea, but my dowels would have been almost $5 a piece so I bought the $1.60 fencing stakes that have like an arrow like thing on the bottom (to stand on when pushing onto the soil). They are kind of a rusty red color and the stake is kind of twisty like rebar. They worked great, I placed the top (bowl part) from a plastic bird bath that broke of its base last winter. Wist I could post photo.
Karen, I'm glad you are reposting/updating these old ones because I never would have seen this otherwise. I love the idea and it's pretty.
However, I don't believe you live in Canada. I live in Missouri and all my birdbaths, expensive or not, are broken. The tops fall off constantly, whether they are glued, soldered or just sitting on base.
We do have bad weather -- wind, rain, snow, etc. Don't they have bad weather too in canada. Plus critters and dogs are often in my yard and who knows whether they are jostling bird baths or just purposefully knocking over. I just can't believe your plates/bowls don't fall off the base and break. Please respond
Can you post a link to the sprinkler ? Thank you!
I'm aware that your original post was ten years ago, so I'm going to assume you have experienced birds using your beautiful birdbath. So -- is the stone you placed in the middle working for those who want to just stand to drink? I'm a lifelong birder who has all kinds of bird-related crap all around our property, and my experience has been a somewhat flatter stone that doesn't rise too far out of the water seems to appeal to the guys we have around my California backyard.
Also, after more than forty years living in this house, we've given up completely on trying to keep a birdbath because neighbor's cats prey on the birds we've so nicely lured for them. About 25 years ago I had to remove my favorite birdbath right outside my sewing room window because one day I came home from work and found out the cat next door had killed several birds in one day and left them (or parts of them) lying around my yard near the birdbath. She was still sitting behind a nearby shrub waiting for another victim when I drove up.
So, I had and enjoyed birdbaths for years but finally had to give up on them because of other people's cats. But if I could still have one, I'd copy yours. It's exquisite. And I hope other birds in other places have enjoyed people using your DIY instructions to make a birdbath fit for a modern-day prince.
Here is a hilarious anecdote to the birdbath post. I have recently installed a birdbath that has attracted more birds than I have EVER seen before. It is busy all day long with birds in and out, drinking and splashing. It is a stainless steel bowl that I put outside my garden gate for dogs to drink from as they walk by.😂 Not a word of a lie. It's down on the ground in a spot no bird should want to be and they LOVE it. ~ karen!
That is hilarious! But when you think about it, most natural bodies of water where birds would bathe and cool off are at ground level -- puddles, streams, ponds, etc. Seems the more unusual thing would be to find water a few feet above ground level. Also, some birds will flock to seed on the ground but don't go to hanging feeders (like mourning doves) so they'll pretty much always find whatever is within easy reach.
I think the birdbaths are more for our enjoyment than the birds. Whenever a neighbor near my house doesn't watch their lawn sprinklers and water flows down the gutters, all manner of birds come down and drink and splash and strut back and forth like opening day at the public pool.
It's nice that you put a bowl out for local dogs, too. Everybody wins!
place higher up to protect birds from predators (cats
Love the look. If you wanted to replace the dowels you could use copper pipes. They would patina nicely if you didn’t seal them.
Yes! ~ karen
Good Morning Karen,
About how big circumference wise is your "bowl"? And will you have a rock and the little fountain in the same bowl? I just trying to gauge how big of a bowl I need. We had a birdbath and it broke (it was OLD) and just couldn't be fixed and I love the style of these better than anything I have found. Plus I like the cost of a DIY not to mention this is a great reason to venture to Ikea!!!
To fit the fountain you'll need a fairly large bowl. The fountain itself is around 8" in diameter. I actually ordered it for the birdbath in my front yard but then realized that it has a little bird statue in the centre so the fountain won't fit. :/ So into the backyard it will go. ~ karen!
One picture with a bird in it. ONE! You’re hilarious. I hope traffic picks up. Cuz naked man-birds are a great addition to any backyard.
Laura, just reading this column for the first time, and I'm still giggling about all the hilarity in your response!
I always follow your recommendations- Well, a lot of the time I dream of following your recommendations and then I get too busy with life, but admire your projects nonetheless.
SO- I bought that fabulous solar birdbath and I just loved it for about a week. Actual birds seemed to love it too! Then, it stopped working- just stopped. Now what? How long did yours last?
Ellen in Buffalo, NY
Hi Ellen! I haven't set mine up yet. Check to see if your fountain has a filter! If it does, clean it and that *should* get it working again. ~ karen!
Where did you put the solar pump at ?
I'm new to your site. Like this topic.
I just wanted to offer 2 suggestions: 1. a way to "join" the birdbath dish to the legs and to a way to "attract" more birds to the bath.
When I say join, what I really mean is to "glue" plastic fittings/pipe to the underside of the dish. The plastic should be sized so it would slip over the tops of the legs.
As far as attracting more birds, I read somewhere that birds are attracted to splashing water. This can be done using parts of a drip irrigation system. The parts would connect to the end of a garden hose, then to a tube, then to a spray unit you clip to the edge of the "dish."
All of this is hard for me to explain, but I hope you can understand what I have in mind. Let me know what parts I need to clarify
Believe me when I say, that a thirsty bird will find the water without doing anyhing but having it available. No need for anything else.
Not just wanting them to drink, wanting them to enjoy it. Birdbath.
My son accidentally broke a platter of mine with a small edge similiar to your plate. I glued it back together but it just doesn't look good for serving. I am going to seal it again and see if the local fowl want to hang out in it. I am going to paint pvc pipe to match. Thank you for the inspiration
If possible, stay away from PVC. It is toxic, polluting, and there are better alternatives.
Skip the PVC - the polyvinyl chloride. Why use something that is so toxic.