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How Thirsty Are Your Wild Birds?

Updated on November 19, 2013
grandmapearl profile image

At a very young age Connie learned from her Grandma Pearl to observe and love backyard birds. She stills feeds and studies them everyday.

Birds use this simple bathing basin a lot.  It's about 2-1/2" deep, and I add a flat stone for smaller birds.
Birds use this simple bathing basin a lot. It's about 2-1/2" deep, and I add a flat stone for smaller birds. | Source

Eight to ten glasses of water a day, every day--that’s the latest recommendation from health officials. After all, the human body is 60% water, and it needs replenishing on a regular basis. That’s simple enough, just go grab a glass and fill it up.

What about the animals, especially in the wintertime? Don’t they need water, too? You bet they do! All animals absolutely have to have a minimum amount of water every day no matter what, and that includes wild birds. Without unfrozen water, birds die. That’s a fact.

When I was much younger, this was my snow sled.  The bottom became flat after one too many hard landings, so now it makes a great bird bath!
When I was much younger, this was my snow sled. The bottom became flat after one too many hard landings, so now it makes a great bird bath! | Source

Can't They Eat Snow?

Yes, they can; but eating snow requires energy to melt it. There’s a major trade-off involved when birds are forced to find water by eating snow.

And what if there is no snow, just frigid temperatures that have frozen over the nearest water source?

Do You Provide Water for Your Birds in the Wintertime?

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How Do You Keep the Water From Freezing?

It’s a simple matter to place a low-voltage bird-safe de-icer in your bird bath. Select one that has a built-in thermostat to conserve energy when it isn’t needed. There are some available that look like stones, and can even be painted to match your bird bath!

Instead of a bird bath de-icer, you can opt for a heated bird bath. Just plug it in to an outdoor-rated extension cord and you’re good to go.

Or, if you receive a lot of winter sunshine, a solar-powered bird bath may work well for you.

Are Bird Bath De-Icers Safe For the Birds?

Yes, bird bath heaters are made to be safely submerged in your bird bath, and can be connected to your outside power source. They provide low voltage, but it is enough to keep the water just above freezing (about 40 degrees). The bird-safe covers ensure no contact can be made with any electricity. If you buy a de-icer without a built-in thermostat, make sure that the water in the bird bath covers the de-icer at all times. Otherwise it will continue to try heating only the surrounding frigid air; and that could lead to a burnt-out de-icer.

By the way, I always place a flat stone on top of my de-icing unit in the bird bath. It serves two purposes: it keeps the unit flat on the bottom, and it covers up the shiny metal so that ‘unnatural’ surface does not intimidate my birds!

Look for the UL symbol when shopping for outdoor-rated electric cords.
Look for the UL symbol when shopping for outdoor-rated electric cords. | Source

What Kind of Electric Cord Is Safe To Use Outside?

Choose a power cord that is rated for outdoor use and has a UL listing.

UL, or Underwriter's Laboratory, establishes safety ratings and tests products to make sure they comply with their standards. Their job is to ensure that the UL label only appears on items that will be safe to use in the specified applications.

It’s a good idea to use a cord protector, which is an inexpensive barrel-shaped device that hides and protects your plug connection. I like to use this product to make sure my connections will not come in contact with snow, ice or rain.

I remember once we had a snowstorm that dumped 12" overnight. When I had finally shoveled my way to the bird bath, I found that the cord connection was buried, but the bird bath de-icer was still working just fine!

Wintertime Bird Bath Fun from CapeCodAlan

White-crowned Sparrow at the concrete bird bath.
White-crowned Sparrow at the concrete bird bath. | Source

What's the Best Bird Bath to Use Year Round?

Metal bird baths withstand extreme cold and heat without any problems. Ceramic, concrete, plastic or other materials tend to crack when temperatures are frigid. However, if you add a birdbath de-icer, and keep your bird bath filled with water, any type of bird bath should be fine in the wintertime. Also, since birds enjoy feeling secure, if you decide you want a ceramic bird bath, add flat stones to the bottom. Ceramic is very slippery underfoot, and birds don‘t like that.

If you purchase a heated bird bath, then any sturdy material will work well. There are also deck-mounted heated bird baths available.

Where Should I Locate My Bird Bath?

Near a water source or hose is best, so you don’t end up carrying water to fill it. Also, an overhanging evergreen or other type of shrub provides a place for birds to check for predators, as well as make an easy getaway if necessary. It also makes a great preening spot. When birds’ feathers are wet, they don’t fly so well. Once they are done cleaning and preening their newly-bathed feathers, they will have no trouble flying away quickly.

Don’t put the bird bath too near the bush. Birds like to have a clearing with some shelter very nearby. They will feel more comfortable and come more often when they can easily see what is happening around the area. On the other hand, if you put your bird bath out in the middle of the yard with nothing close by for birds to perch on, they probably will avoid using it.

Best bird bath placement is near a bush that has an overhanging branch.
Best bird bath placement is near a bush that has an overhanging branch. | Source

Will Birds' Feet Stick to Metal Surfaces When They Are Wet?

No! The scaly surface of a bird’s foot sheds water and WILL NOT freeze to a metal surface, contrary to popular belief. Birds need to clean their feathers on a regular basis, no matter what the temperature. Clean feathers ensure quick escape should predators be about.

How Much Water Do I Need to Put in the Basin?

You need very little water to make a bird happy. I use no more than 1-1/2 to 2 -1/2 inches of water in my bird baths. I add flat stones so birds have a place to wade in safely. If you observe birds in natural settings, you'll see that they choose shallow puddles, and tend to splash around rather than submerge their bodies.

Small birds will not be able to use bird baths that are too deep, and will avoid them. There is a serious risk of drowning if water is too deep!

Is It Okay to Use a Hanging Bird Bath in the Wintertime?

If you live in a warmer climate, you can use a hanging bird bath. But remember to keep it filled, especially when high winds make the bird bath swing, and the water sloshes out and evaporates sooner. I would not recommend a hanging bird bath in the wintertime up north because of the difficulty in securing a de-icer so that it stays inside the hanging bird bath.

What About Bubblers and Solar Bird Baths?

Bubblers are devises that help to attract birds to the water source. The sound of running water is irresistible to them. They also help to keep the water open when it isn’t too very cold out.

Solar bird baths don’t work very well for me. I find that there is a serious lack of sunshine during the winter months here in the northeast. However, if you are in a region that receives ample winter sun, then by all means ‘go green’ with solar!

Remember to Provide Water for Your Birds!

Providing an open water source for your birds is a life saver when frigid temperatures invade your environment. Explore the many options and choose the one that works best for you. Your birds will thank you for it!

Grandma Pearl (a/k/a Connie Smith)
Grandma Pearl (a/k/a Connie Smith) | Source

'You can create yard and garden habitats that Help Birds Survive and Thrive'

Read more by visiting; and

Join me at GrandmaPearlsBackporch to discover more about wildlife in general, and birds in particular.

Do You Enjoy Watching Birds Splashing Around?

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    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Jatinder Joshi, thank you for your kind words. I am very glad that there are many products in the marketplace that keep water from freezing when temperatures dip. And I'm sure our backyard birds are very appreciative of those gadgets as well!

      I'm always pleased when you stop by for a visit ;) Pearl

    • Jatinder Joshi profile image

      Jatinder Joshi 

      4 years ago from Whitby, Ontario, Canada

      There is so much useful information out there.... only an ardent bird lover like you could go to such length to ensure that our avian friends get water to drink during the frozen months. Thank you for sharing, grandmapearl.

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hi pstraubie, I strongly suspect that the outdoor kitty is the reason your birds are not using the bird bath. Don't give up, though, as they may just surprise you one day! I'm always happy when you stop by to see me. Thanks so much for the Thanksgiving wishes and the awesome Angels. I wish you a lovely holiday as well, my friend ;) Pearl

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      4 years ago from sunny Florida

      hi Connie

      I put water in my bird bath for them but I never see birdies in there. I have an outside kitty so that may be the reason.

      Thanks for sharing

      Angels are on the way and wishing you a lovely Thanksgiving with your family ps

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Dear Eddy, time has certainly flown by this fall! I am behind on a lot of things, and one of them is viewing your hubs. But I will be there directly. Thank you as always for your sweet support and love, my wonderful friend from Wales ;) Pearl

    • Eiddwen profile image


      4 years ago from Wales

      Interesting and useful as always pearl. Each of your gems I love and not one has disappointed. here's to so many more for us both to share on here. Lots of love from Wales.


    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hi bravewarrior! Keeping the water clean is always a challenge. We had so many leaves this fall that my bird baths were inundated on a daily basis. I made it a point to clear them away so the birds could find the water! Then today it never got over 38 degrees, so I'm glad I had my water warmer in place.

      It's always a pleasure to see you, my friend ;) Pearl

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Pearl, I love that you turned your circular 'sled' into a bird bath. Talk about repurposing! Fortunately, I don't have to worry about the water in my bird bath freezing. I do, however, have to worry about keeping it clean and filled!

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      bac2basics, Hello to you in Spain! I am so pleased you enjoyed the video. I loved seeing the red-bellied woodpecker taking some drinks. My red-bellies have not made an appearance yet this year. They usually come when it gets colder. Our fall has been surprisingly mild this year!

      So glad this article served as a reminder to keep your bird bath filled. Having it closer to your house should give you a good view of some very pretty birds. Thanks so much for your interesting comments. I always love reading them. Have a wonderful day ;) Connie

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Flourish Anyway, I'm pleased you stopped by for a visit! My bird baths get a lot of use from not only birds, but squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons! It's amazing what wildlife you can see when you provide water. Thanks for your lovely comments, and have a great day ;) Pearl

    • bac2basics profile image


      5 years ago from Spain

      Hi Conny.

      Another lovely hub and I really enjoyed the video too. I am amazed at the colours of the birds in America, the Robins are so different to European ones and seem not to be so territorial. All the birds featured in this video are so striking in colour I am amazed.

      I have a little bird bath in my pool garden but never think to fill it up in the winter, I will bring it up nearer to the house where I can see it now and then be reminded to fill it. I used to have a simple plastic bowl with a big rock in it perched on a post near the house but this must have burned when we had the forest fire and I hadn´t realised it was gone until I read this hub, I am now in search of one to replace it. Even though there is quite a lot of water near where I live, it would be a fair flight for a thirsty bird so thanks for the reminder. :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      This is a good reminder to provide much-needed water for our feathered friends. I enjoy watching them so much. The squirrels have taken to drinking out of the bird bath too which I did not expect.

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Billy, my friend, I can always count on you to be there for me!

      I am pleased and not at all surprised that you and Bev take very good care of your wild friends. Mother Nature seems to be making sure your bird baths are filled for you, and that's amazing. We often experience freezing rain or sleet in February. In fact, I remember having to sit down and slide all the way to the bottom of our driveway one year to get to my truck! I have since purchased 'Yaktraks'!

      Thank you as always for your much-appreciated support of me and my writing endeavors. Your comments mean a great deal to me and my ego!

      Enjoy your day ;) Pearl

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Connie, we have an advantage in the rainy northwest. Very few major freezes occur here, and rainwater keeps the bird baths filled most of the winter. Still, we are vigilante and make sure it always has water in it.

      Great pointers my friend. Well done as always and written from your heart.


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