Water - The Great Gift
Water - The Great Gift
Sometimes birds suffer more for lack of water than food in winter. While it would seem that winter bathing would put birds at risk, actually they can do it quite safely. This is because the feathers of a healthy bird shed most of the water, preventing it from leaking through to the insulating down and skin below. This is most obvious in ducks which paddle about in freezing water, but it also applies to land birds who can shed and shake water from their plumage. The water helps them clean their feathers of dirt that would otherwise interfere with the feather barbules that act like Velcro to lock out water from penetrating. In nature, wintering land birds typically bathe in shallow water along flowing streams. Of course no chemicals should be added to bird bath water to keep it from freezing.
There are 2 ways to supply water to birds for drinking and bathing in winter. You can place a bird bath heater in an existing bird bath or you can get a heated bird bath that contains the heating element encased between the bowl and a bottom section of the bath. All bird bath heaters are thermostatically controlled, which means that if the outside temperature rises over a certain degree (about 40 degrees), it will not turn the heater on. If the temperature outside drops below 40, the heater will activate and stay on until the outside temperature rises again over 40. When the temperature dips, be sure to add water in the bird bath because it will evaporate faster with the heater on.
Typical commercial bird baths are usually no deeper than 2" in the middle, and often taper from shallow edges into the deeper middle. This depth seems to be ideal for the larger birds -- grackle, cardinal, etc. The smaller birds, however, would prefer an inch deep or so. If you observe birds around streams, you will see that they mostly use very shallow, quiet, pebble- or rocky-bottom pools or very slow-moving shallow streams for bathing. You can make a bird bath more "natural" by placing pieces of slate in the bottom to vary depth, or larger rocks that stick up above the water, but have sloping sides giving birds different depths at which to stand. You can also tip a deeper dish so it is on a slight angle, giving you the gradation of depth.
It is fun watching the birds at the bird bath drinking and bathing. Make sure to place your bird bath so you can see them enjoying the water!