Saturday, August 11, 2001

Birdbaths by the flock

Style, cost determined by whether they're for feathered friends or a focal point

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In choosing a birdbath for a yard or garden, it's easy to get caught up in the ornamentation: classic Roman granite columns; glazed ceramic bowls; copper pans that glint in the sun; modern resins shaped like tree bark with squirrels peeking around the pedestal.

        It's easy to forget what they're for — attracting and watering the birds.

        “The practical function is to get the bird out of a predator's way,” says Jim Goetzel, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Montgomery.

        “A bird is most vulnerable when it's sick or wet. The birdbath lets it shake off and take off.”

        That's why most birdbaths sit on bowls 2 to 3 feet off the ground, trying to be out of reach of feline hunters.

        “A lot of it is personal choice,” says Erik Bertelson of Wild Bird's Nest in Maineville. “People are either looking for something to be the focal point of a garden or they are looking for something functional. Those looking for the focal point tend to pick something more artistic,” like the traditional bath on a stand. Others come in for the less-expensive iron stand with plastic bowl.

Bruce Mullins copper tank-style fountain, $550
        Whatever style you choose, look for a birdbath that will hold no more than 3 inches of water. And styles with rough surfaces are recommended; they make it easier for for small birds, such as chickadees and finches, to cling. One Web site we consulted mentioned that smaller birds won't stop at a slippery bath.

        A dripper or small fountain is fine, too. “Birds are attracted to the sound of running water,” Mr. Goetzel says. But too much of a fountain will scare them away, according to Mark Blanton of Fountain Specialists in Milford. It's supposed to be a bath, not a drenching.

        The only care birdbaths require is an occasional washing. Birds like fresh water. And in winter, unless you buy a bowl with a heater, empty the bowl and flip it upside down on the base or store the bowl inside.

        Many bird stores sell birdbath heaters on double-plastic bowls for $69.99-$84.99.

Concrete, granite, terra cotta

        The traditional birdbath has been a granite, poured concrete or clay pedestal with a shallow bowl on top in natural colors. Granted, they are difficult for animals to knock over, but they are heavy to lug around and fall prey to cracking in winter's cold.

Poured cement cat birthbath, B&B Supply and Amish Furniture, $25
        “Concrete is the most popular by far,” at Burger's Farm & Garden Center in Newtown, says Bart Rowland, assistant manager. “The clay doesn't hold up as well. And it's more likely to be knocked over by a storm or an animal.” Buying concrete that is sealed is best to prevent cracking.

        “You might get a year or more out of a terra-cotta bath,” Mr. Blanton says. “We're just a too wet and too cold an environment with too many fluctuations for clay.”

        “Granite, which is mined, then lasered or drilled into a shape, is the longest-lasting,” says Jim Sparnall of Aquatic Garden & Decor in Pisgah. “It's about two to four times more expensive than concrete. You don't have to take the top off in winter, but we advise people to anyway.”

        “The Berry Patch Co. does a really nice fiberglass reinforced concrete for us,” Mr. Blanton says. Some companies make a copper chloride stain that is absorbed in the concrete if you want color. That way you get some color, but the grain and texture show through. And you get the strength of the concrete.”

        Several garden and bird stores we shopped sold painted concrete, but Mr. Blanton has reservations. “If you buy painted concrete, it eventually chips off. I don't recommend it,” he says.

        If you must buy painted concrete, look for a baked-on finish, says Mr. Rowland, because “some outdoor latex doesn't last.”

Black cast iron birbbath, Wooden Nickel Antiques, $295
        We noticed some painted concrete birdbaths already chipping from outside summer exposure.

        Most of the stores we visited had terra-cotta stands and dishes for about $12.99-$25 each. You can get a concrete bath starting at about $35. Price is determined by size and design. We saw stands with sea horses, turtles, racoons, ivy vines and cactus designs. Stained concrete baths start at about $80. Granite is most expensive, more than $100.


Plastic resin        

        Plastic resins are shaped into faux tree trunks, mushrooms and rocks. Plastic looks and feels like granite. You can't tell a birdbath is plastic until you lift its.

        At Wild Birds Unlimited, most birdbaths are plastic, including one designed to sit on a porch or deck that looked like two stacked rocks ($59.99).

        Those looking for convenience and practicality pick plastic on an iron base.

        “Sometimes, you can leave concrete out for years and it's fine. Other times, it freezes and may crack the first year,” Mr. Goetzel says.

        “Most of the plastic resin baths have a hollow base. To prevent them from tipping or blowing in the wind, you can pound a stick in the ground and anchor the base on that so it doesn't blow over.”

        Resin birdbaths are lightweight and easy to move. A basic 14-inch bowl with an iron base is $30 and up.

        Bird supply stores are the best source of birdbaths for those without yards and gardens.

Hanging birdbath with copper ivy leaves, Wild Birds Unlimited, $69.99
        Wild Bird's Nest and Wild Birds Unlimited have plastic bowls on iron stands that mount on decks ($22 and up) and iron clamp-on brace bath sets for porch rails ($25 and up).

        Wild Birds Unlimited also had a bowl sunk in a cedar frame for hanging ($20-$30).

        For those really cramped for space, B/B Supply Inc. in Miamiville, which specializes in outdoor Amish Furniture, has a tabletop birdbath shaped like a cat ($25) that's perfect for a deck, up and away from the real felines.

        You can make an artistic statement as well as provide bath water for birds. Mountain Laurel Nursery in Anderson Township carries glazed ceramic birdbath dishes on metal stands ($36), and garden stores are good spots to get big pottery saucers that can be set out on stands.

        Those on a bigger budget should check the summer arts and crafts festivals for the work of artists such as Bruce Mullins of Point Isabel, who specializes in fountains and birdbaths. Mr. Mullins, who displays his works at the Appalachian Festival in May, handcrafts iron and copper into single-, double- and triple-tier creations with heaters for $400 and up. He has a studio at 799 Roundbottom Road, Union Township (Clermont County), 831-0118.


- Birdbaths by the flock
Panels of fiberglass finish off basements
Feedings keep amaryllis coming back
Greenhouses pitch in to grow 'Miracle Mile'
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