Dorothy is a master gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape and nature photographer.
Birds Need Fresh Water All the Time
Birds know how to forage for food, and they do it very well. If you put out food for them, you have made their life a little easier, and you are rewarded with a variety of birds playing merrily in your yard. Even in the winter months they still forage, but there’s just less food available for them to find. When the temperature drops to below freezing, there is something else they need that is often impossible to find— water.
How to Build a Birdbath
We have had a birdbath ever since we moved into our house. When the winter months arrived, we went outside about 5–6 times a day to put fresh water in it, only to see it freeze quickly. So, we started looking for a solution that required a little less work on our part, and we discovered heated birdbaths. Wow!
We ordered one, wondering if we were being suckers who were simply giving away about $60 that we could have used to buy more birdseed (I’ve often said that our backyard birds eat better than we do). When we received it, we still wondered if we hadn’t made a foolish purchase. Luckily, we were wrong and couldn’t be happier with the birdbath and the large variety of beautiful birds it has attracted to our yard. The temperatures here in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, recently dropped down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and the birdbath has kept nice, cold water that hasn’t turned to ice.
I think of the line in the movie Field of Dreams often: “If you build it, they will come” because it is certainly true when it comes to birds.
You Will Be Rewarded for Assisting the Birds
My desk is positioned right next to the sliding glass doors that lead to our backyard, and as I am writing this article, I am watching a ladder-back woodpecker drinking from the birdbath. Up in the tree above the feeders are song sparrows, house sparrows, doves, and one large, black crow, all of which frequent the feeders and the heated birdbath.
Earlier, a Woodhouse scrub jay came in for his daily supply of peanuts that we put out for him, and he stopped at the birdbath to get a cool drink of water. That is something I had never seen him do before. The juncos are digging in the snow trying to find some seeds that I put out on the ground, and I wonder why they don’t just simply get up on one of the bird feeders hanging nearby, but I guess they have their own way of foraging for food that works for them. They, too, hop up on the birdbath and drink from it.
We have a spotted townee that lives in some thick groundcover just behind the feeding area, and I am patiently waiting for him to hop up and drink from the birdbath. This is something I have yet to see him do.
Birds Are Highly Visible During Winter
The winter months are ideal for bird watching because most of the leaves are gone making them more visible. Unfortunately, there are birds that don’t survive the freezing cold, and many have come to rely on people to help them make it through the months that challenge them.
A bird’s caloric requirement is increased during the colder months at a time when the food they need is scarce. The seeds, fruit, and nuts have usually been used up or covered up by snow, and there are no insects flying around that provide them with a high-protein snack. Hanging out bird feeders full of seeds and nuts and using a heated birdbath will help them during the months when they need help the most.
Dehydration can be an even bigger threat to birds than starvation in the winter. People who have backyard birdbaths usually don’t think about changing the water in them whenever it freezes (it certainly is a tedious job). Birds can eat snow, of course, but it takes much more energy for them to eat it and warm it to body temperature than it does for them to drink the water that you could be providing for them in a heated birdbath.
Water is crucial for hydration and helps the birds preen their feathers, which is also important during the winter months. When they are unable to preen, the feathers won’t stay aligned and in position, which causes them to have gaps in insulation. Those gaps cause the birds to lose their body heat faster.
Sometimes, birds are forced to fly great distances to find sources of water in the winter. They look for unfrozen sections in streams or rivers, but in some areas, there simply are no unfrozen sections for them to find. So, if you can buy a heated birdbath, please do so if you live in an area where temperatures dip below freezing. If you can’t afford a heated birdbath, you could add a heating element to a birdbath that you already have. Most of them turn off and on automatically when temperatures fall below freezing.
Birds (and other non-hibernating wildlife) need a constant source of water in which to bathe and drink.
This Heated Birdbath Works Great
Add a Few Rocks to the Birdbath
How Heated Birdbaths Operate
The heated birdbath that we own is the Allied Precision Industries Model 650. It has a 20-inch diameter bowl, although there are many different varieties available from other manufacturers. Ours has a large basin that doesn’t require us to fill it up as often as some of the others when the water evaporates. It comes with brackets that allow you to attach it to a railing or deck (or, in our case, a tall barstool). The basin is made of plastic and has a built-in thermostat under the surface that prevents water from freezing.
The power cord stores underneath the basin. We bought a green extension cord safety seal in order to cover and protect the connection from the birdbath to the electrical cord and have it positioned underneath the barstool. The 120-volt heater operates at 150 watts. We are fortunate to have an electrical outlet just outside our sliding patio doors, so the birdbath is always in view.
The clamp-on mounting features a hinge that will allow you to dump the basin over whenever you need to clean out the water. We don’t use that feature because we don’t have a railing on which to mount the birdbath and were forced to come up with an alternate solution. So, we bolted the basin to the top of a bar stool and when it is necessary to clean the water out, we simply turn the whole thing over on its side.
© 2019 Mike and Dorothy McKenney
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on January 04, 2019:
Thank you so much Pamela!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 03, 2019:
This is a great idea for cold climates. Your explains everything very well.
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on January 03, 2019:
Ellison, we have been spreading the word on Facebook as well and several of our friends have already bought them. People who love birds need to know the different ways of attracting them and this is a major plus in the winter months. Thanks for reading!
Ellison Hartley from Maryland, USA on January 03, 2019:
Great article and I think that it is really good to get it out there since most people don't know the importance of this.