Bird baths can play a very important role in the health and well-being of any bird. While it can be fun to watch them splashing in the water, preening and looking after their feathers is an important factor for any bird’s health. They also need a supply of drinking water and if kept clean a bird bath can supply this for them too.
Bird baths are available in all shapes and sizes so no matter how large or small your yard is, there will be one to fit. Most bird baths cater for small to medium size birds who would usually frequent a garden, and the size and shape of bird baths is designed to attract birds to use them. They can come with optional heaters, water misters and water pumps, but just how are bird baths good for birds?
Bird baths have two main benefits for birds, and the first thing they do is provide a place for all birds to keep themselves clean and preen their feathers. When we see them splashing in the water, they’re not actually taking a bath: they’re using the water to keep their feathers in good condition.
Birds need to take great care of their feathers as without them they will not be able to fly, to nest, find food or keep warm. Most birds replace their feathers twice a year but in the meantime they need to keep them in the best condition.
Here’s how a bird bath can help a bird keep their feathers waterproof and healthy.
- A bird bath will help release any dirt which has become stuck to or trapped inside the feathers. As you can imagine, rummaging in shrubs and plants and on the ground for food can create a lot of dirt in their feathers. If dirt is allowed to build up then this could affect the bird’s aerodynamics and ability to fly. Removing the dirt also helps make it easier for the birds to preen.
- Feathers can also become home to bugs and bacteria which can damage the feathers. Flying means they will pick up bugs along the way and some of these can be harmful to birds. Bathing will help remove these and kill them off so they cannot damage the feathers any further.
- Bird’s feathers are waterproof so they don’t actually wash them but the water does make it easier to preen them and keep them in good condition. As a bird preens it will use oil from the preen gland and spread this over the feathers to help keep them waterproof and keep the birds nice and warm. Removing the dirt means the bird can spread the oil evenly over all of their feathers.
During the winter it can be very difficult for birds to preen properly, particularly in areas where there is ice and snow. If they cannot get access to enough water then they will not be able to bathe. An easy solution to this is to install a bird bath heater (check out the best ones here) which will stop the water from freezing but will not make it too warm for the birds.
Breaking the ice on the bird bath can help, but if it’s still cold, it will soon freeze over again. Some people suggest adding things to the water to stop it from freezing, such as glycerine, but this is not recommended as this can affect the waterproof abilities of the feathers.
As with all creatures, birds need water to drink. They don’t need to drink constantly as they don’t have sweat glands and they only lose water through respiration and waste. They generally need to drink a couple of times a day to keep themselves hydrated, as they do get water from their food. Berries and insects will provide them with water, but if they live solely on seeds, then they will need to find a source of drinking water.
Birds will drink wherever they can find water. Smaller birds will not like to go into the middle of ponds, streams and rivers as these will be too deep for them. They will stay on the shallow side so they feel safe standing in the water. A bird bath, although not specifically designed for drinking water, is often a place where smaller birds can feel comfortable going to drink. For this reason:
- Keep the water as clean as you can so they have a good supply of clean drinking water.
- Don’t use strong detergents to clean the bird bath.
- Placing it close to shade will stop the water from evaporating away under hot sun.
- Change the water as soon as you see any algae form on the top.
In the winter, birds can usually get the fluids they need from the snow on the ground so providing them with drinking water is not as important as providing water to preen. If you can prevent the water from freezing though, they can still drink if they need to.
In summer drinking water may not be so easily available, particularly in drought conditions or on very hot days. The sun can evaporate the water in a bird bath very quickly, so make sure it is kept topped up throughout the day so the birds know they can come to drink when they need to.