Helping Birds Through The Winter: Water

By B J Clyde

Many of us have birdfeeders to help birds get through the winter, but we sometimes forget another very important item that birds need – water. Bird baths can help to attract a larger variety of birds to your yard. Only certain birds eat seed or suet but all birds need water to drink and bath in.

Birds need water for hydration but they also need water to maintain their feathers. A bird’s bath removes dust, dirt and parasites. After the feathers have been cleaned, then birds preen their feathers. Preening involves cleaning, lubricating and arranging feathers. Birds preen at least once a day and sometimes several times a day. In the winter preening is very important because bird arrange their feathers to provide a layer of insulation. Water is as essential to a bird’s life as food.

In winter, water can become scarce especially in colder areas of the USA. Depending on your region of the country you may need to take certain precautions to make water available to the birds in your area.

If you live in the southern most region of the United States, you don’t need to change your birding routine. Remember to fill the birdbath. If that is a problem for you, there are automatic fillers for birdbaths that will keep your birdbath full with little or no attention from you. These fillers generally attach to an outside faucet and fill the bird bath when the water gets low. A Y connector will allow you to use your faucet to fill the bird bath and to connect to a hose or sprinkler. It doesn’t take much water pressure to run the automatic filler.


If you live in an area of the country where you have freezing weather only occasionally, then you need to be aware of when your birdbath may freeze. There are several things you can do if it do when it does freeze in your region.

1. Keep the water moving during the below freezing weather and this may prevent the water from icing. Moving water does not freeze as quickly as still water. In the summer, these water jigglers may also keep mosquitoes from laying eggs in your birdbath. So jiggling water can be beneficial both winter and summer. Moving water is also very attractive to birds.

2. If your area tends to have several days in a row of below freezing weather, then you may want to purchase a birdbath deicer. Birdbath deicers are electric appliances that will keep the water in the bird bath above freezing so that it stays clear and available for the birds. Many of the deicers are thermostatically controlled so you can set the temperature of the water. Deicer could stay in your birdbath all winter or just when there is a cold spell. Once the deicer is set you don’t need to think about thawing the water. Be certain to use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) when plugging in your deicer.

3. Finally, you can thaw the water by pouring hot (not boiling) or warm water into the birdbath. This method will work for a short time or until the temperature rises above freezing. If the temperature stays below freezing you will need to add hot/warm water again and again. You also risk causing your birdbath to split or crack due to the difference in temperature between the hot/warm water and the frozen water and cold birdbath. This method is useful only if the temperature stays below freezing for a very short period of time.

If you live in the northern area of the country you may have long stretches of time when the temperature is below freezing and the water in your bird bath could be frozen for several days or even weeks. In this case you may want to purchase a heated birdbath. A heated birdbath plugs into an outside receptacle. Be certain to use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) plug to eliminate the danger of electrical shock. In general the electrical cord can be buried in the ground if you wish. The heat unit is generally located in the base of the birdbath. This heat unit will keep the birdbath water from freezing. These birdbaths cost just pennies a day to operate. In milder weather you can unplug the birdbath and use it as a regular birdbath.

Do not consider using either glycerin or anti-freeze as a method of keeping water ice free. Both glycerin and anti-freeze are toxic and even fatal to birds.

Provide clean water from birds and they will come in any season. In the winter they will come very frequently because you may have one of the reliable sources of water. Even in cold weather birds need to drink and to bathe.

About the Author: Beverly Clyde is an avid birdwatcher. She established

to make the best bird houses, bird feeders and bird baths available to other lovers of birds.


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