Help please – seeing red in bird bath

Has anyone else seen water in bird baths/small ponds turn a red colour? I’m guessing this isn’t good and I plan to clean and refresh mine. Perhaps someone can explain why this has happened and what it is? I’ve never seen this until recently. There appears to be a red sediment too. I’m sure there are others interested in this too. I know I won’t be the only one with this problem.

One bird bath is on a pedestal and made of stone. The other is a large plastic plant saucer with a few stones in it and sited on the ground with planting around it. Chatting to a friend with a small pond today, she has this in her recently filled with fresh water.

I guess my next questions are, how do you stop this happening again after cleaning and refreshing the water and can this harm the birds that bathe and drink from it. Could the birds even have brought this in?

Finally, for everyone looking forward to the return of BBC2’s Springwatch tonight I hope you enjoy it. I’m looking forward to it myself especially as my garden has been short on nests to watch this year. Oh yes… and I’m very interested to hear about the Beavers 🙂

UPDATE 2020: There’s some interesting chat and info in a blog by BIRD life on Red Algae In Your Bird Bath? This Is What To Do for further reading.

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2011.

24 thoughts on “Help please – seeing red in bird bath

  1. I clean my birdbath every few days. I keep a veggie scrubber brush close by the clean out the bottom. It seems that bits of anything that fall in the bath turn the water various colours.

  2. Shirl – we have this too – I thought it was because the bird-bath was under a dark leaved tree, but we have moved it cleaned it and it is still the same, looks just like yours – I shall be interested to see what replies you get.

  3. I would use the start of algae/fungus as a gauge as to how often to clean. Birds drink from streams and puddles; you don't have to sterilize. Just scrub well as CG described. Dripping water helps insure fresh, but frequent cleaning prevents 'stuff.' Certain birds tend to drop in things like berries that deteriorate, too.

  4. Hello everyone, thanks for your comments 🙂

    I've just had a new thought now. This bird bath was moved to this location a few weeks ago. It now gets more sunlight. I wonder if this is a factor.

    Crafty, yes I agree regular cleaning is good advice. Interesting, debris causing different colours. I'm sure I've had debris in the past but this is the first time I have seen any colour at all.

    Karen, as I've just said above I was wondering if my bird bath moved to a sunnier location was the problem but clearly light isn't the case with yours. I've added this as a query on the Springwatch Messageboard too so let's see what comes up there 🙂

    Anna, yes I wondered that but I'm leaning more towards fungus.

    Lisa, Yes it does need a good clean but with my bird bath being a soft stone I wouldn't consider bleach. I've been searching on forums and it looks like it isn't a problem for the birds drinking but I've seen some land on the edge and after a closer look fly off again without drinking anyway. Smart birds 🙂

    Nell, thanks, yes I was thinking the fungus route too. However, as Karen says above and I have found too this does just seem to come back. Once again, good advice re regular cleaning. I'm considering moving this bird bath back to where it was before to see if location has influenced anything. Yes, as you say berries in droppings could be another answer.

  5. are you using well water or filtered city water? I've seen rusty well water caused by the iron in it. We use a 'drop' of bleach to clean our bird baths however we rinse them with a lot of water before refilling. Good luck!
    'hugs from afar'

  6. Hi Shirl,

    I know that there can be red algae which is highly dangerous to birds, but I do not know enough to be able to say whether this is it. So I do not want to alarm you, but it is definitely worth having a look around for red algae or maybe rust algae or something?
    I'd have thought the RSPB or BTO would have some information on it??

  7. Have a read here Shirl:

    microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html? microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artjan99/haem.html

    I get exactly the same thing from time to time.

  8. Hi Shirl 🙂 I was brought up short by your photo having never seen or heard of this myself. However I have had a look around and it does (as others have suggested) appear to be a type of algae. I think I would be wary of using bleach myself though. Perhaps Ark Klens would be a better option.

    I scrub any leftover water from my bird bath every day with a good sized nail brush (any stiff bristled brush would do) put a drop of fresh in and have another scrub round then refill, this seems to keep it clean and fresh.

    Hope you get it sorted. Have a good week 🙂

  9. I'm looking forward to springwatch…hoping that Castle Espie is there again this year as I've just been over for a visit and it's better than ever.

  10. I also get this red stuff in my bird bath. I tend to use my hose on a high jet to blast it off the bird bath and refill with water but it always returns. My bird bath is in shady area too out of the sun.

  11. Hello everyone, thanks for your comments. As John mentions above it seems like this has been Haematococcus which is indeed alga 🙂

    Cher, I have used both collected rainwater and water from my house supply. We get enough rainfall here too. I don’t think I could bring myself to use bleach even if I was to rinse a lot. Previously, to give a good clean (which is done now) I have used sand, added a little water and scrubbed with a brush and rinsed well – it works a treat. It’s gleaming now! I must keep it clean and refreshed 🙂

    Liz, this has now been identified as alga but I don’t know if this is the dangerous one you are thinking about. Yes, perhaps I’ll drop the RSPB and the BTO an email to ask. The bird bath is clean for now 🙂

    John, Thanks for the link John. I’ve had another give the same ID. I’ve never had this before so it has had me curious. My friend who has it in her small pond even wondered if volcanic ash might be a factor. Guessing not now.

    Jan, Yes, this has caught me out. It seemed to happen quite quickly. No, I wouldn’t consider bleach myself but instead used sand as I mention above to cher. Yes, my brush is a good size that is shaped for cleaning plant pots . Thanks, I’m sorted for the moment. Will monitor this from now on. Thanks, wishing you a good week too 🙂

    Gerry, ah yes… enjoy… I’ve only managed to see part of tonight’s programme but it is recorded and I’ll catch up tomorrow. I spent a while today watching the webcams which was fun. My fav is the woodpeckers for now 🙂

    Ruth, thanks for stopping by. It’s late tonight to browse your blog but I look forward to coming back to see it tomorrow. I’ve given this bird bath a good scrub since as I mentioned to Cher above. Perhaps a brushing and high jet would do the trick for yours. I’ve decided to leave my bath where it is for the moment to see if this new location has a part to plan in the problem.

  12. Just dropped in to see what other comments you have got – and I found the link from midmarsh John interesting –

    I think that I am going to try yet another location in the garden after it has had a good clean. I use a product that is especially designed for cleaning the bird feeders, so I will use this on the birdbath!

  13. Don't know about your birdbath, sorry. Isn't Springwatch full of wonderful wildlife (as always). For me the redstarts have been the strs of the show and the buzzards and the red kites. Don't think the re-introduction of beavers will go down well with everyone.

  14. Goodness, I've not seen anything like that before – we get green algae in the bird baths, but never red.

    You could try cleaning with bicarbonate of soda – not sure whether that would work on your red algae, but it's good for general chemical-free cleaning and also (in solution) for getting rid of fungal infections on plants, so might be worth a try.

  15. Hello again everyone 🙂

    Karen, yes, I got another person with more details too. For the moment I’ve left mine in the same ‘new’ location to see what happens to test if light plays a factor. Sounds a good plan re cleaning. Hope it stays away for you 🙂

    Janet, I agree, it has been wonderful to see all the wildlife on Springwatch. I must confess to watching the last woodpeckers to fledge. I liked the redstarts too. Yes, the beavers are a tricky one. I wonder if the live one appearing on Springwatch and all the footage CHJ got has helped or hindered its cause 🙂

    Juliet, I hadn’t seen this before either. I’ve not really a problem with green algae either. Interesting thought on the bicarb – I’ll remember that. It’s looking okay for the moment 🙂

    Joules, funnily enough I thought that too 🙂

  16. This red algae is not necessarily harmful. It grows/feeds off the the suns uv ray’s. Birds can carry it from bath to bath on their feet & legs. I clean my bath every morning with a plastic pot scubbie & refill with clean water. Not just because of the algae but its hard to toilet train a bird if you get my drift…
    I deep clean my bath once a week (Sundays) with vinegar. It works wonders!

  17. Thanks for all this – have scrubbed with vinegar and will re-site my birdbath. I had NO IDEA they needed daily attention.

    1. I have had my bird bath for years and it has never had red algae until it started leaking and I patched it with DryLock. Now it has red algae that has to be scrubbed off. I’m hoping I can scrub the DryLock off and never use it again.

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