How to Provide Water for Birds When the Birdbath Freezes

Frozen Birdbath

Wild birds need access to clean water all year round, but when winter temperatures dip into the freezing range, this may be harder to find. Birds can quench their thirst by eating snow, but this requires large amounts of energy which they need to keep themselves warm.

So what’s a caring Ecosystem Gardener to do?

Well, one way is to train your birds by placing a shallow pan of warm water outside at the same time each day. Your resident Chickadees and other birds will learn to come at this schedule. You then bring the pan back inside when it freezes. Some very dedicated folks do this several times a day.

A step up from that is a solar-heated water dish, a plastic dish with a black lid and a small hole for sipping. The black color absorbs the heat of the sun and keeps the water from freezing, but only works until the temperature drops below 20 degrees.

Snow Robin

I use a heated dog bowl, which I’ve filled with a layer of stones to keep the water shallow enough for the birds. It only turns on when the temperature is near freezing, and automatically shuts off when either all the contents evaporate or the temperature rises.

There is a wide assortment of heated bird baths to suit almost any style. These operate on the same principles as my dog bowl, only turning on when the temperature falls.

But in reading Laura Erickson’s new book, the Birdwatching Answer Book, I discovered that there is some concern that birds who bathe in these heated units may suffer from frozen feathers or loss of tail feathers when temperatures drop below 20 degrees. She recommends weaving a layer of sticks over the bath to allow birds to drink, but not to bathe.

How do you provide water for birds in winter? I’d love to hear your ingenious ideas.

© 2009 – 2013, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of EcosystemGardening.com If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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About Carole Sevilla Brown

Carole Sevilla Brown is a Conservation Biologist who firmly believes that wildlife conservation begins in your own back yard. Carole is an author, educator, speaker, and passionate birder, butterfly watcher,  and naturalist who travels around the country teaching people to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, pollinators and other wildlife. She gardens for wildlife in Philadelphia, zone 6b, and created the philosophy of Ecosystem Gardening. Watch for her book Ecosystem Gardening, due out soon. Carole is managing editor of  Beautiful Wildlife Garden, and also  Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. Follow Carole on Facebook and also @CB4wildlife and on Google+

Comments

  1. No ingenious ideas here. I am looking at getting one of the solar sipper water dishes – the ones that only work down to 20F. So far I’ve been putting warm water out, but the birds haven’t really become dependent on my water provision yet so I’ve not been entirely disciplined about it.
    .-= Alison Kerr´s last post ..Fun With Sticks – Build a Shelter =-.

  2. Duncraft says:

    Keep water sources near dense bushes where birds can dry off safely and preen out of the reach of stalking and flying predators. Birds are poor flyers when their feathers are wet. And ice build-up around heated baths is usually a visual cue to birds that it’s too cold out to bathe, but placing rocks in the bath is another way to prevent birds from bathing, but allows them to get a drink.

  3. I went over and read the reviews for the solar sipper and now I’m not sure it’s the solution I want. The heated dog water bowl with rocks in might be better. It’s kind of hard to put the water source next to a bush when it needs an electricity supply nearby to power it, but a good thought to work with. Maybe some shrubs on one side of the deck should be in the landscaping plan.
    .-= Alison Kerr´s last post ..Fun With Sticks – Build a Shelter =-.

  4. Duncraft says:

    Well, heated bird baths and bird bath heaters have very short cords and are meant to be used with a customer-supplied, outdoor rated extension cord. So, you could have the ext. cord as long as you needed it to be. The reason for the short cord on the bath is so the connection between it and your extension will be above the snow-line, and won’t short-out from exposure to water. Heated dog bowls would be fine too, (I use one for my chickens) as long as there aren’t cats around. Cats love to ambush ground-feeding and ground-level bathing birds. We sell the solar sipper and it’s fine if you have a very sunny place to put it during the day and take it in at night. It doesn’t work well in shady yards or if it’s left out to freeze up at night.

  5. We have a pond with a recirculating pump feeding a little waterfall. There’s always some liquid water at that end of the pond…not sure if this would work in much colder climes, but here in DC it does the trick.
    .-= Elizabeth @the Natural Capital´s last post ..Natural Places in the DC Area To Take Your Out-of-Town Visitors =-.

    • Duncraft: thanks for sharing such valuable knowledge! I actually did not know that’s why the heater cords were so short. I set the heated dog dish right on top of the birdbath which I run a cord out to.

      Elizabeth: you are lucky to live where a recirculating pump works through the winter!

      Alison: Now is definitely the time to plan your Ecosystem Garden. I love this time of year as I sit with the catalogs and my garden map spread out in front of me trying to fit more plants in. Have fun!

  6. Carole, I struggle with this since I am not home when it is light out to put out a bowl and I am not sure the dog dish will work…have to remove the pump in winter from the pond…may look into the solar dish…for now most days there is some water at the ponds edge for birds to sip and not bath and that is what I have watched them do…

  7. katie says:

    What about putting a heated brick or stones in the birdbath? It could warm the water, I’m assuming for a couple hours, and also give a perch?

  8. Barbara Trueheart says:

    This article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology also addresses birds, water and birdbaths in freezing weather: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/notes/BirdNote09_ProvideWater.pdf

  9. Thanks for tip on heated dog dish, I’ll do!

  10. I’ve used a heated dog dish for many years. My backyard habitat is filled with life and a joy to watch from the window or sitting in the yard. . Actually I use the dog dish in the summer too but unplug it. There is a bird bath and a fountain. The sound brings in the wildlife. I also have a wildlife pond. its about 2 foot by 1 foot and 2 foot deep. No fish please. There are toads and dragonflies and wasps and others using that water. Fun to watch all that goes on in my yard. Check out the albino robin on my site, it the first Ive ever seen,

Trackbacks

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  2. [...] Water is one of the main elements for attracting Chickadees to your wildlife habitat garden. As you can see in the photo above, they are very creative in how they obtain water. This one learned to drink from the antwell in my hummingbird feeder. Water in winter is especially important. [...]

  3. [...] in your birdbath so bees can also drink. And if your birdbath freezes in the winter, check out these tips for providing year-round water to [...]

  4. [...] water. Even during the winter when there was over 4 feet of snow on the ground, the Robins were lined up at the heated dog water bowl I keep for the birds to drink from. It is not unusual for 10 or more Robins to be bathing in my wildlife pond at the same [...]

  5. [...] How to Provide Water for Birds When the Birdbath Freezes [...]

  6. [...] Water is one of the most important elements to provide for birds in the wildlife garden in winter. While birds are able to melt snow to drink, this consumes a lot of energy. Providing clean unfrozen water will help them conserve their energy. I use a heated dog dish in which I place a brick to allow the birds to drink, but not bathe. [...]

  7. [...] bird baths, solar heated bowls, carrying a pot of fresh water outside every few hours,  but I use a heated dog water bowl, with a brick or a layer of stones in it to keep the water level right for [...]

  8. [...] Birdbaths, shallow dishes, or butterfly puddling areas are simple  to create and needn’t take much time or money. Shallow dishes can be a great spot for birds to bathe and honeybees to drink (set a few rough-textured stones of varying sizes inside so honeybees can drink without falling in), while butterfly puddling areas, basically a shallow tray with some sand and stones set inside, can be a great place for them to pick up minerals and nutrients while drinking. [...]

  9. [...] Use a shallow heated dog bowl with stones or a brick inside to keep the water at the right level for birds. [...]

  10. [...] heated birdbaths, solar sippers, putting out a fresh pan of warm water every few hours, and more. I use a heated dog bowl in which I place a brick so that the water is very shallow, and the Robins, Mockingbirds, and [...]

  11. [...] have a heated dog bowl that I use to keep fresh water available for my birds throughout the coldest winter days. Because [...]

  12. [...] heated birdbaths, solar sippers, putting out a fresh pan of warm water every few hours, and more. I use a heated dog bowl in which I place a brick so that the water is very shallow, and the Robins, Mockingbirds, and [...]

  13. [...] 71. How to Provide Water for Birds When the Birdbath Freezes–Wild birds need access to clean water all year round, but when winter temperatures dip into the freezing range, this may be harder to find. Birds can quench their thirst by eating snow, but this requires large amounts of energy which they need to keep themselves warm. So what’s a caring Ecosystem Gardener to do? ~Carole Sevilla Brown [...]

  14. Winter Birds says:

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  16. […] access to clean water even in winter when everything is frozen. There are several strategies for providing water for winter birds, but I use a heated dog […]

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