Bathing Birdies

By Catherine McNulty

August 20, 2015 5 min read

Are you an avian aficionado? Do you lovingly help your fine feathered friends by offering up a birdbath in your yard? That's wonderful! But what happens when the days get short and the temperatures drop? A lot of people store their birdbaths during the fall and winter. But you may not have to -- and the birds certainly would appreciate year-round access to the bath.

Like all animals, birds need daily access to water. When temperatures drop below freezing, it can be hard for them to find drinking water. A birdbath can be an excellent source of water during the winter. But not all birdbaths are created equal.

How do you know whether your birdbath can withstand the winter? If the birdbath in question is delicate -- ceramic or mosaic -- then probably not. Stone, concrete, glass and solar birdbaths are also susceptible to being damaged by winter weather. The freezing and thawing throughout the season can cause the materials to expand and crack.

For extreme cold weather, you should clean, dry and store these types of birdbaths. If the bath in question is too heavy to move out of the elements, make sure you seal the basin so that snow cannot accumulate and melt in it. Many people have boards cut to the exact dimension of the basin and then cover everything securely with a tarp or plastic sheeting.

So what type of birdbath is best for year-round use? Plastic and resin birdbaths work best. Both of these materials are able to withstand harsh winter weather without damage. And while both plastic and resin may conjure up images of things that are ugly and disposable, there are many different types of birdbaths available in these materials. Any home and garden store should have a good selection.

You'll want to start off the season by thoroughly cleaning your birdbath. Algae and other undesirable things can bloom in warm weather. Generally, birds bathe less in the wintertime -- water can freeze to feathers, causing problems -- but the birds will appreciate access to drinking water. This means you won't have to clean the bath as much during the winter, so it is best to start off with a clean bath.

Next, if the bath is light-colored, place dark plastic sheeting or a dark plastic plate at the bottom of the basin. This will help absorb sunshine and keep the water from freezing so the birds will have access to it. If you are using plastic sheeting (industrial garbage bags work well for this), then make sure you weigh it down with rocks or something similar to keep it from blowing away. You should also secure the ends of the sheeting with tape or rope.

You may even want to add a few branches across the birdbath to give the birds additional perches for drinking.

If you live in a place where the weather stays below freezing for most of the winter, there are heated birdbaths and de-icers you can purchase. Just be aware that you will need to supply power to it throughout the season. This doesn't mean the water will be hot -- just kept above freezing. The best -- and more expensive -- of these have a sensor that will only come on when temperatures are below freezing.

So what if you go to all this trouble and then never see any birds taking advantage? Birds can be very particular about where they bathe. You may think a birdbath looks cute nestled in a bush, but for a bird, that's dangerous. Many things can hide and lie in wait for them there. Keeping the bath out in the open is best, as it gives them the ability to watch for predators.

You should never add chemicals to a birdbath -- not even the ones that can keep the water from freezing. This can be harmful, or even deadly, for the birds. If you notice a thin layer of ice forming on the top, break it up. And make sure you are keeping the bath reasonably full. Birds like fresh water. You may not need to clean it as often, but you still need to make sure it's clean.

You can always turn your winter yard into a full-service bird buffet by putting up a bird feeder. This will attract more birds and more variety of birds. Come for the feed; stay for the bath!

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