Bird baths provide an incentive for birds to visit one’s garden. This is because water is not only essential for drinking, but birds also bathe in it and preen themselves afterwards. Bathing is important for the maintenance of bird feathers as it keeps them clean and fluffed: the water helps to remove dust, loose feathers, parasites and other debris from a bird’s plumage

Olive Thrush

While a variety of commercially-produced bird baths are available, any fairly shallow object that holds water can be used. I have used drip trays from large flower pots, pet bowls, and even an upturned dustbin lid for this purpose. The most frequently used bird bath in my garden at the moment is an upturned lid of a garden lamp that ceased working decades ago!

Cape Robin-chat

This might be because it is on the ground, where it is visited by Olive Thrushes, Red-winged Starlings, weavers and doves. Other birds, such as Cape White-eyes, Cape Robin-chats, and the Bronze Manikins prefer the natural stone bath that has plenty of cover nearby for them to escape to if necessary.

Laughing Doves

It is best to place bird baths near natural shelter – even if one placed out in the open may look more attractive from a human perspective. Birds are more likely to use a bird bath regularly if they feel safe. One like this is more likely to attract larger birds such as Red-eyed Doves.

Redeyed Dove

The larger of the two commercially produced bird baths in my garden has plenty of cover only a wing-beat away if birds need to shelter from potential predators. Black-eyed Bulbuls, Olive Thrushes and Cape White-eyes seem to enjoy the extra space available for them to bathe in. I have also noticed a pair of Knysna Turacos drinking from it when they think no-one is watching!

Blackeyed Bulbul

Although the larger bird bath has a sloping rigid lip that birds can perch on, both it and a more recently acquired one are actually too deep for comfort and so I have added smooth stones to provide more footholds. Whatever you use as a bird bath, you are bound to experience a rich dimension to your gardening pleasure. It is both calming and interesting to watch birds drinking, bathing and preening themselves.

Too deep to use as is.

Bird baths also benefit the bees, wasps and butterflies that visit your garden. It is important to keep your bird baths filled with fresh water and to give them a good scrub with a rigid brush every now and then to prevent a build-up of algae. The provision of fresh water will benefit birds visiting your garden throughout the year.


Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing – never more so than during this drought – and so I keep the bird baths in our garden topped up daily. The one featured in the photographs below is an upturned lid from a broken garden light. These three birds visited the bird bath while I was having breakfast. The first is a Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris). It is a regular visitor and, of late, comes to inspect my breakfast or to see what we might be eating with our morning tea.

Directly translated, its Afrikaans name, Fiskaallaksman, means Fiscal Executioner or Butcher-bird. The latter is an appellation which is proving difficult for it to slough off in English and comes about from its habit of sometimes caching large prey on thorn ‘larders’. At one time it was also commonly known as Jackie Hangman for this reason. I also see it referred to as the Southern Fiscal and as a Fiscal Shrike, so take your pick. You can see its heavy hooked bill, typical of shrikes.

The next visitor is a Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra), one of at least two pairs that are nesting in the garden. I enjoy listening to their melodious phrases – often among the first of the dawn chorus – early in the morning and during the latter part of the afternoon. Their alarm calls are both persistent and distinctive and have attracted me to snakes in our garden twice and, more recently, to the presence of a Brown Mongoose.

You might notice a drop of water on its beak as it had just lifted its head when I clicked on the camera. These robins chase each other around the garden from time to time yet are quick to scurry for cover in the undergrowth when alarmed. I think they have become used to me for one or other of them sometimes perches not far away and sings regardless of my presence. Its Afrikaans name  is Gewone Janfrederik – Ordinary Jan Frederik – which relates to rhythmic phrases in the song of the Cape Robin-chat which sounds like ‘Jan Frederik’ if you listen very carefully as the variable short passages of musical notes, always start with low slurred whistle cherooo-weet-weet-weeeet.

The third visitor to this bird bath is a familiar one I have featured before, the Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus), as it is a frequent caller, whether it is to drink or to bathe. This time I am showing you a rear view of one, also with a droplet of water on its beak.

The Afrikaans name is Olyf Lyster – I presume Lyster means Thrush (i.e. Olive Thrush) but it doesn’t appear in my dictionary. The richly melodic song of the Olive Thrushes also form part of the dawn chorus. I cannot resist quoting this stanza from the poem Olyf-Lyster by Evelyn van der Merwe, which not only describes the call, but hints at the familiarity the thrushes develop towards people. This stanza refers to the thrush obviously waiting for the speaker to stand on the veranda (with the implication that she will be bringing food for the thrush):

Elke oggend douvoordag

Trap jy doudruppels met jou fyn toontjies plat

En hoor jou skril twieeet – twieeet roep

En sien jou wag dat ek moet verskyn op die stoep

You can read the poem in its entirety at



With the temperature rising towards 38°C it was not surprising to find the bird baths in our garden being well attended. During one of the quieter moments I watched a Black-eyed Bulbul first considering and then taking the plunge.

The water looks tempting

Perhaps I’ll go in on this side

Nose dive!

What a splash!

Look at me!

That was good!


It is essential to provide a ready supply of water if one wishes to attract birds to one’s garden. Bird baths do not have to be ornate or expensive – our most popular one in fact is the upturned top of an old garden lamp!

A Laughing Dove and a Redwinged Starling contemplating a drink.

This pedestal bird bath is a favourite place for bathing and here we can peep at an Olive Thrush doing just that:

Shall I dive in?

This feels good.

What big splashes I make!

Clean all over.