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Winter Water for Birds

How do birds get water when it's freezing outside? My birdbath is a miniature ice skating rink. I just don't see how the birds survive. — Minnie P., Minox ND

Bluebirds and Cardinal

Birds need water every day, even when all the water is frozen. They can get it from snow or food such as insects and wild fruits.

But they appreciate open, available water. Especially when ponds and streams are frozen. They will seek it out if it's available. And that's an opportunity for backyard bird watchers.

Kozy Spa BathMy favorites are birdbaths with heating elements built into the bowl, like the Kozy Spa bath at right. I have found that this kind of heating system is the easiest to keep clean, full, and unfrozen.

In extremely cold weather, some ice may form around the edges, but there always seem to be some open water at least in the middle. And the birds go right for it. This one is nice because the cord is concealed in the pedestal.

If there is not much danger from cats, you can use a ground level birdbath.

Four-Season BathSome birds prefer a low birdbath. The Four-Season Bath is pretty nice after a snowstorm, when it's completely concealed by snow except for the open water. The heater is built in to the underside of the bath. Click the picture (taken  in  my back yard) to see what the birdbath looks like when it's not covered in snow.

The advantages of built-in heater include the fact that the heater cannot fall out of the bath and let the water freeze.

De-icerIf you already have a birdbath that you like, but it doesn't keep the water from freezing in winter, you can add a de-icer, a heating element that sits down in the basin. It's not quite as convenient as a bath with a built-in heater, but it is an economical way to tranform your present bath into something that will function in winter.

The best ones are thermostatically controlled, so the heat is on only when necessary to keep the water from freezing.

Copyright 2011 Diane Porter

Pictures that include birds © 1999-2011 Michael and Diane Porter

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