DIY: A solar drip for the birds

Turn a bird bath dripper into a solar-powered fountain birds will love

Birds love moving water and a drip, drop is about as good as it gets for them.

So, when I saw a nice copper bird bath dripper on Kijiji this spring, I jumped on it. The dripper was very high quality and I couldn’t pass it up. A copper drip tube attached to a lovely piece of slate with brass hose fittings.

It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Fast forward to this fall. Back on Kijiji looking for a cheap plastic bird bath to use this winter with an electric heater to provide water for our winged visitors throughout the freezing Southern Ontario winter, and … there it was. A magnificent copper bird bath for a very reasonable price. I remember saying to my wife that “someone in Toronto was going to get a great deal on a used copper bird bath.”

The converted dripper that operates as a solar-powered recirculating pump is certainly a treat for the Goldfinches in the garden.

The converted dripper that operates as a solar-powered recirculating pump is certainly a treat for the Goldfinches in the garden.

The cheap plastic bird bath turned out to be an expensive copper one but I couldn’t be happier. The next morning I was on my way to Toronto (about a one-hour drive) to pick up the birdbath. To help justifiy the two-hour return trip, I combined it with a grocery delivery to my daughter who, it turned out, lived just 10 minutes from my prized bird bath.

Keeping an eye open for bird baths, bird houses and bird feeders on your favourite on-line used marketplace sites like Kijiji or Craigslist is a good way to get started with backyard birding or just to upgrade or add to your baths, houses and feeders.

Besides scoring the copper bird bath, I decided to do a slight hack on my already converted dripper to use it with the new bird bath.

For more suggestions and some of my favourite garden things, be sure to check out my Favourite Things post.

Although birds love drippers, the units need to be hooked up to a hose that needs to be left on while the amount of water is controlled to the point where just a drip at a time falls into the birdbath. Eventually, though, if left on and unattended, the bird bath overfills and drips over the edge potentially flooding an area.

My Evergreen

I tried to make it work. I really did. Set up a nice deep bird bath that actually had a small leak. So it could handle the constant dripping without really overflowing. Trying to get the right flow was a pain and remembering to turn it off added to my frustration.

If only I could convert it to a recirculating dripper or even use it like a fountain.

Once I got the idea, it didn’t take long to convert the dripper to a solar powered unit. It’s no longer a “dripper” but that doesn’t matter because it is recirculating the water in the birdbath rather than adding to it.

The original dripper unit came with a very long, thin rubber hose that connected to the hose faucet. By cutting that into a short (maybe 6-inch) hose and connecting that to the pump’s outlet via one of the alternative fountain heads provided by the solar pump, the unit works even better than expected.

A robin takes a drink from the bird bath with the solar-powered fountain.

A robin takes a drink from the bird bath with the solar-powered fountain.

When the sun was out, it provided birds with a gentle flow of water recirculated from the bath itself.

This approach worked well but a small problem emerged. Trying to keep water levels high enough so that the small solar pump stayed below water became a daily concern.

The combination of birds using the bird bath, evaporation and some splashing caused by the fountain, created a daily water loss that meant constant monitoring of water levels. Everyday the water had to be topped up for fear of the bird bath running too low on water and potentially ruining the pump.

So, a small change to the original dripper conversion should work well with the new bird bath and its new location. By hiding a large bucket of water near the copper bird bath and sinking the solar pump to the bottom of the bucket, there is no fear of running the pump dry. On sunny days the bird bath will likely overflow a little but it’s placed in an area that does not get a full day of sun and will benefit from access water. A little overflow on sunny days will help to keep the water fresh and the bird bath full. In addition, I can’t help but think that it might be the perfect place to grow a thick carpet of moss around the birdbath where the access water will fall.

We set up the new bird bath and dripper/fountain right outside our family room French door to give us a window into the woodland and our keep an eye on the action at the bird bath. I’ll report back on how it’s working and how much the birds are loving it. It’s always a good idea to place feeders and bird baths so that you can watch them from inside your home. Read my blog on “A window into your woodland,” here.

I want to put a real plug in for these small, inexpensive solar-powered recirculating water pumps. This will be the third solar pump I’m using in the garden and I expect to put an order in for another one. There are so many uses for these small pumps. They come with a number of different fountain heads from a single stream of water to a gentle multi-stream fountain that would be perfect for hummingbirds who like to play in gentle streaming fountains.

A quick look on YouTube under “small solar fountain” turns up numerous DIY projects.

Definitely worth trying out.

For more on Building your Garden on a Budget, check out my earlier in-depth article here.

Consider installing a high-end, off-grid solar power system

If you are like me and don’t have electricity in your garden, or at least don’t have it in the far reaches of the garden, consider installing a complete off-grid solar-powered electrical system like the American-based Shop Solar Kit company.

Maybe you have a pergola in the back of the garden, or even a she-shed that you would like to have full power running a small refrigerator, sound system or full-size lamps and lighting. If you need to run pumps and lighting to a garden pond, you can do it with one of these highly capable systems that, once installed, operate at no cost to you at all.

There are complete DIY kits available for approximately $1,500 and up.

Goldfinch on dripper.jpg

Gardening on a budget links

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Proven Winners Idea Book

Ten money-saving tips for the weekend gardener

Window boxes on a budget

DIY Bark Butter feeder for Woodpeckers

DIY reflection pond for photography

Click & Grow is ideal for Native Plants from seed

Nature’s DIY garden art

Remove your turf and save money

DIY succulent planter

Hiring students to get your garden in shape

If you are interested in backyard birds, please consider signing up for my backyard birds newsletter. The sign-up page is at the bottom of my homepage. Not only will the newsletter provide in-depth articles on attracting, feeding and photographing backyard birds, I am also working with local artisans to provide discounts on incredible bird-related feeders, houses and other goodies backyard birders will love. In addition there will be regular giveaways , including gardening books and birding items.

Vic MacBournie

Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.

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