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Birds need water too

Jim Boxberger
Posted 1/21/22

With the extremely cold weather we are having, many people are feeding the birds to help their feathered friends make it throught the winter, but there is something else they need even more, …

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Garden Guru

Birds need water too

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With the extremely cold weather we are having, many people are feeding the birds to help their feathered friends make it throught the winter, but there is something else they need even more, water.

We as humans can only go a couple of days without water compared to weeks without food. Likewise birds need a steady source of fresh water and by supplying it, you’ll get more birds to your yard. But supplying fresh water in cold weather can be a little tricky.

Frozen water is no help to backyard birds, and allowing ice to accumulate in birdbaths can damage concrete or ceramic birdbaths. I have a garden pond with a de-icer in it so that it won’t freeze over and the birds are near the edge of the hole everyday for a drink.

There are several techniques that can be used to safely keep a birdbath ice-free, depending on how severe the cold. The options include, putting a birdbath in an area where it receives full sun for as long as possible which will help keep the water liquid.

Both morning and evening sun are important, for that is when the air temperatures will drop the most and the water may freeze. Also you can use a darker basin which will absorb more heat.

If the birdbath does not have a dark basin as its design, line the basin with a black trash bag before filling it, or add a dark plastic plate to the bottom of the basin. We carry black rubber tubs, which many of our customers use for water basins in the winter. The black color absorbs the sunlight to keep the water from freezing longer and if it does freeze, they just tip it over and bang the ice out.

Keep your birdbath full. The greater the volume of water, the longer it will take to freeze. Keep the bath full or use a deeper bath in the winter to keep more water free of ice, but be sure the birds have plenty of room to perch along the edges, or on sticks crossing the bath.

Do not use a metal birdbath in winter. Have you ever stuck your tongue to a flagpole on a cold winter day? Bird’s feet can freeze to metal surfaces if there is moisture present.

Toss a tennis ball or ping pong ball into the bath and allow the floating ball to gently break up ice as it forms. Even better is using a dark-colored ball, which will absorb more solar heat to help keep the water warmer. Dark colored dog toy balls work well for this.

Try keeping the water moving, as moving water is much more difficult to freeze, and a fish tank bubbler or small fountain pump can keep a birdbath liquid in colder temperatures. Be sure the fountain pump is protected as cold temperatures may damage delicate components if it is allowed to freeze.

Air pumps that push air through an airstone can be kept safely outside of the birdbath. You can also add a heating element to the birdbath to keep the water liquid. These de-icers are efficient even in the coldest temperatures, but do require a nearby electrical outlet. They are not expensive to operate.

There are fully heated birdbaths as well that have the heating element integrated into the basin where it is protected from corrosion and can most efficiently keep the water liquid. These are the most expensive options but also the longest lasting and the best for very cold temperatures. Due to shipping delays these may be hard to find this winter.

Heated dog bowls can be substituted if a heated birdbath is not available. They are readily available as well as heated poultry waterers. Heated poultry waterers can hold up to five gallons of water and can last for a week or more before needing to be refilled depending on how many birds you have.

Using more than one technique - a dark-basined bath placed in a sunny spot, kept fully filled and accessorized with a couple of bobbing balls - can help keep water liquid for a long time, and depending on the severity of the winter, may be all the help a birdbath needs to stay fresh for the birds.

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