Being a Bird is Thirsty Work!

Being a bird is thirsty work!

Do birds need a source of water in winter? Before you answer that, eat a handful of crackers or pretzels and take a brisk walk outside. How thirsty are you? Aren’t you glad you have an unfrozen source of water? Just like you, the wild birds need water but in the dead of winter, open water is harder to find than food.

An open source of water makes all the difference

A dependable source of water during the cold winter months will attract birds that you might not normally see at your feeders. In fact, you can enjoy putting out a water source even if you are not able to provide seed or other food. Birds get some moisture from their food; however most still need to drink at least once or twice each day. They also need to bathe regularly to help keep them warm. In cold weather, birds fluff up their feathers to keep warm but when their feathers are dirty and matted, they can’t fluff and they lose that critical insulation.

For drinking water, you can simply put out a small bowl or basin and refill it a few times during the day to keep it from icing up. Alternatively, a product like the Solar Sipper is an easy way to serve up water even when the temperatures dip as low as 20 degrees. Just put the filled sipper in direct sunlight and let the free solar energy keep that water from freezing all day long. For best results bring it in at night and refill with fresh water before putting it back outside the next day.

Birds will use the same water for drinking and bathing, but for bathing it’s important that the water be quite shallow, from 1-1/2 – 3 inches. In general, a bath with a rough, sloping bottom that bird feet can get a grip on is best. Whether you choose a ground, pedestal, deck mounted or hanging bath is a personal choice. The important thing is that you keep your bath clean and full.

So how do you keep your birdbath from turning into an avian skating rink? You can buy heated baths like the All Seasons Scalloped Bath. It only draws 120-watts but the water in mine has not frozen up, even after days of sub-zero weather. You can also try placing a birdbath heater in a regular bath. Be sure to buy one that is thermostatically controlled; ours runs only when the water temperature is below 35 degrees.

If you haven’t already added a winter water source to your yard or deck, I encourage you to try it. It is a fun and easy way to support birds during the harsh winter months, while enjoying a wider range of birds than you would otherwise see.

Make every day a happy bird day!

Heidi Babb

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  • kay phllips February 10, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    very glad to know about water for birds….we are having cold and regular light snow here in PA. Like some others I thought birds ate snow for water….will try a splash in a dish today. Our wild birds are scarce now. Where do they sleep in the cold windy nights?
    Thanks, k

    • Shelby February 12, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      Thank you for your comments! Birds can eat snow, but it costs them less energy to drink warmer water than the frozen snow. I’m glad you asked about where birds sleep in the cold — I just posted an article about how they find shelter in bad weather. I hope it answers some of your questions!