Saturday, November 1, 2008

Birds Need Water

From Shop at Little with permission.

Making water available may be the most effective way to attract birds to the backyard.  The need for and attraction of open water any time of the year is so strong that many species that do not visit seed feeders will show up just for the water.  These could include bluebirds, robins and other thrushes, warblers, tanagers and flycatchers.  

Songbirds need a sizable quantity for drinking and bathing.  They must drink water year-round to avoid dehydration.  And because they do not have salivary glands, birds need water for digesting food.  Their feathers must be clean and efficient so they can regulate a steady body temperature and keep birds warm.

Most birds prefer a water source far enough away from vegetation to allow a clear view of approaching danger, but close enough to seek refuge if it is needed.  Remember, birds that are soaked are no match for the quickness of a cat or the stealth of a hawk.  Locating the bath under the cover of trees or patio roofs will improve security if hawks are present in your neighborhood.

Commonly Asked Questions

Q:  How can I help birds obtain water in the winter?

A:  It is important for the birds to have a dependable water source -- especially in the winter.  A shallow bird bath will provide enough water for drinking.  Keep the water temperature at about 32 degrees.  Heavy duty plant saucers serve well as winter baths; they won't crack if the water in them freezes and they're shallow enough to accommodate small birds.  Submersible or built-in electric heaters will keep winter drinking water ice-free. Heavy duty plant saucers serve well as bird baths; they won't crack if the water in them freezes and they're shallow enough to accommodate small birds.  Locate your birdbath so it's about 10 feet from your feeders.

Q:  What's the proper depth of a birdbath?

A:  The depth of a birdbath shouldn't exceed three or four inches, and if it slopes deeper than that a flat stone should be placed at the bottom as a platform. Rough texture is preferable to a glossy finish for firm footing and a rim around the edge is useful to the birds that use an in-and-out technique when bathing.

Q:  What is the best way to provide drinking water in freezing temperature?

A:  There are some excellent bird bath heaters available, and they don't use much electricity.  Also available are bird baths complete with a built-in, automatic heater.

Consider a dripper!

You will be amazed -- and very entertained -- by the bird antics produced by the addition of a dripper.  Titmice, chickadees and goldfinches will perch right on the dripper spout and lean over to take a drink.  A mister is another option, especially if you have hummingbirds around.  Birds tend to "come running" when they hear the sound of moving water.  And the hummers, along with some other small birds, love to fly through a mist or bathe among wet leaves.

Q:  Are all metals safe for use in birdbaths?

A:  Metal is safe but many do rust, which certainly can make the water unappealing.  Bird baths made of concrete, with or without a glazed surface, work well in moderate climates.  If you live where temperatures fall below freezing, the best solution is a bird bath resistant to cracking.  Add a submersible electric warmer to help keep the water accessible to the birds.

Q:  Is copper toxic to birds?

A:  As long as you put only water in the copper birdbath, there should be no problems. Toxicity could occur only if the copper finish got flaked off by using vinegar or some other abrasive to clean the bath. There are several water resources listed on the National Bird-Feeding Society's web site ( from which you might get more detailed information.

This article is used with permission from Please visit for your birding supplies and more bird information. They have a nice selection of bird baths, heaters and more! Shop at Little

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