Water is essential for birds to drink, bathe and preen, and despite deep snowfall and abundant ice, water can be scarce in the winter. Birders who provide heated bird baths give their backyard birds an abundant source of liquid water so they do not have to expend extra energy melting snow, and a heated bird bath will also attract other winter birds that may not be interested in feeders. These tips can help you keep your winter bird bath attractive and refreshing for all backyard birds.
Tips for Heated Bird Baths
To make your heated bird bath attract as many winter birds as possible and to give them adequate water…
- Choose a dark colored heated bird bath so it can absorb solar radiation and work with less electricity. A dark basin will also be more visible to birds when the ground is white.
- Read all the instructions for your heated bird bath or external heating element before use, and follow the instructions carefully.
- Put out a heated bird bath at the first sign of autumn frost and leave it out until all danger of frost has passed in the spring. When the weather is warm enough the thermostat in the bath will shut off, and when it is cold, it will activate to keep the water liquid.
- Place the heated bath in a sunny area where solar radiation will help the heater work more efficiently with less electricity.
- Keep the basin filled appropriately, checking daily for evaporation and splashing that can drain the water.
- Add stones to the basin or place sticks over the top of the bath so birds will not be tempted to bathe when it is too cold. Most birds will not bathe in below freezing temperatures, but it is easy to ensure they do not.
- Clean the bird bath regularly so the water is fresh and does not harbor mineral deposits that may prevent the heater from working properly. Soaking the bath or heater in vinegar can help remove deposits.
- Protect the outdoor electrical outlet with an appropriate cover so moisture cannot enter the outlet and cause a short circuit.
- Use only outdoor extension cords to connect a heated bird bath or heating element; many heated baths have short cords so the connection will be above the snow line. Adding electrical tape over the connection will help prevent moisture from short circuiting the cord.
- Clear off the edge of the bird bath after heavy snowfall to give birds a place to perch in reach of the water's surface. The snow can be brushed into the water to refill the basin as it melts.
Mistakes to Avoid
A heated bird bath can be easily damaged if is not used appropriately. To avoid damaging the bath and endangering the birds…
- Do not run a heated bird bath without water – the heating element can malfunction and wear out more quickly if misused.
- Do not put external heating elements in concrete bird baths. Concrete will slowly absorb water and as that water freezes and thaws, it can crack the concrete and make the bird bath useless.
- Never add salt, antifreeze or other chemicals to the bird bath to keep the water from freezing – these chemicals can be fatal to the birds, even in small doses.
By using a heated bird bath appropriately, it's easy to supply backyard birds with enough liquid water for drinking, bathing and preening all winter long.
Photo – Heated Bird Bath © Melissa Mayntz