Birdbaths are big draws for feathered visitors in every season. Set out a saucer of fresh water and you’ll soon have an avian party in your backyard. Birds need water not only for hydration, but also to clean their feathers for optimal insulation and flight. I used to store my birdbaths in the garage in winter. Now I know that providing birds with fresh water can be even more important than food handouts during cold months. Around my home in central Iowa, most natural drinking sources for wildlife—puddles, creeks, and pond edges—have been frozen solid for weeks. Birds will resort to eating bits of snow when they’re thirsty, but they prefer to wash down their meals of seeds with water. Wouldn’t you rather drink a glass of cool water than chomp on ice cubes?
To keep water in a birdbath ice-free, purchase one of the many heated birdbaths available. I use one that I found at my local Wild Birds Unlimited store. Mounted to my deck railing, the 20-inch-diameter plastic bowl features a built-in, 150-watt grounded heater that keeps water at 40-50 degrees F. The bowl tilts for easy dumping and cleaning. In warm months, the chord coils out of sight inside the base. If you already have a birdbath, you can augment it in winter months with a commercial water heater, available at many garden centers and wild bird supply shops. Use a heavy-gauge outdoor power cord plugged into an outdoor power source. Because water heaters increase the rate of evaporation, check your birdbath daily and add fresh water as necessary.
Birds will flock to your yard in winter if you serve both food and beverages. Before we know it, nature will release its icy grip, making life easier for all of us. I’ll drink to that!