Water: A Guide to the Most Magical Part of Wildlife Gardening

During May, we’re celebrating Garden for Wildlife Month by encouraging people to make wildlife habitat in their backyard, balcony, farm, community, or other garden spot. For every spot that becomes a Certified Wildlife Habitat®, we’ll plant a tree to help another habitat. Enjoy these tips to help you on your way to certify!

One of the best things a wildlife gardener can do for birds and other wild creatures is to provide a dependable source of water in the garden. It is surely important to have food, shelter and some places to rear young (such as trees, shrubs and brush piles) but water is a truly magical ingredient for delivering an amazing garden wildlife show.

Birds in bird bath

Wild creatures can survive for a time without food, but they need water much more frequently. And, many of our favorite creatures simply enjoy a bath.

Bird Baths

The easiest way to provide water for wildlife is likely just to put out a birdbath and to keep it filled. Once the birds figure out it is there, they will be steady visitors for drinking and baths. Some people will place birdbaths or other water vessels on the ground for small mammals and other ground-dwelling garden creatures.

There are wide range of birdbaths, some which we sell in NWF’s online catalog. Apartment dwellers and backyard deck gardening fanatics are particularly fond of deck railing-mounted baths.

Water Drip Feature

One of the most amazing things you can do for attracting birds and other creatures to your yard is to add a water drip feature to your bird bath.  These drip features work so well because birds have weak scent glands but a heightened sense of hearing.  Importantly, during spring and fall migration, drip features and other ways to make water move and bubble will bring in colorful warblers and other long-distance travelers.  You may not pull in an egret or great blue heron, but the smaller birds will thank you.

Some people create a drip feature by hanging a bucket or plastic milk jug with a miniscule hole over the bird bath so that water drips down into the bath throughout the day.  Tip: unscrew the top!

Others hook up a garden hose to specially designed drip tube you can purchase that can be adjusted for a slow steady drip.

In addition to drip lines, there are birdbath” bubblers,” water “wigglers” and other devices that will cause water to move in the birdbath, attract wildlife and also keep mosquitoes from breeding.


Another water feature that gardeners often employ is a “mister.”  These devices spray mists over plants or bird baths.   Birds like them to cool down and pollinators like it because of the tiny water droplets they leave on flowers.  Butterflies and bees will be especially appreciative.  Misters can also be found online.

Bird Waterers

If you are less interested in moving water but still want to help the local wildlife to find a drink, there are also bird “waterers” you can purchase and hang that can hold a couple of gallons of water and are similar to bird feeders.

Ponds and Fountains

Some of the most dedicated gardeners will place a pond or bubbling fountain in their garden and these are likewise a terrific treat for all kinds of wildlife and a great place for frogs and other amphibians.  Incidentally, more than one pond owner has reported an occasional egret or great blue heron making a stop.

Many people who think they do not have enough of a garden to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat® site will find that a simple bird feeder and water feature may be the only missing ingredients.  And, that water is the magic ingredient that can make you wildlife garden a true haven from resident creatures and world travelers alike.

Certify Your Garden as a Wildlife Habitat

Learn more about attracting wildlife to your garden and how to create a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat® >>