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Written by Terry Spraque   
Jan 01, 2018 at 09:00 AM


NOTE: "Mouse over" the photos for their identification

Yes – birds do bathe in the winter. They need to in order to keep their feather clean.  Photo by Barry KantThis month we will look at one item in the menu at bird feeders that all too many people neglect to include - water. Most of us think of bird baths as a summer amenity, and come fall, we take it all down and store it in the garden shed until next spring rolls around. However, birds require water in the winter just as much as they do in the summer, perhaps even more so. Also, birds bathe in the winter to keep warm! While this may sound ridiculous, birds need to bathe in winter as it is crucial to their survival that their feathers be kept clean and well-groomed during the winter months.
Feathers contain interlocking webs known as barbules. When barbules are in place they insulate the bird from the harsh winds and snows of winter. Birds spend considerable time grooming their feathers, anointing them with oil from a special gland located at the base of the tail. It is important that these feathers be clean so they can be manipulated into place to maintain that insulation.
Providing water during sub-zero temperatures is a problem unless one is dedicated to replacing the water frequently before it has a chance to freeze. One of my first attempts at providing water for birds resulted from an advertisement I saw in a newspaper from Griggsville, Illinois. A device was manufactured by Nature House Inc., the same manufacturer responsible for This basin has been set up without the pedestal. As with summer bird baths, it is essential that winter bird baths also be kept clean. Photo by Terry Spraguethe incredibly successful Trio line of aluminum purple martin houses. The unit was a “duplex” aluminum feeder with a conventional hopper style feeder at one end and a covered heated water tray at the other end. The water was kept from freezing by means of a small heating element under the tray which was thermostatically controlled to keep the water barely above freezing, and consumed as much electricity as an average light bulb. I purchased the unit sometime around 1974 and it gave me close to 25 years of service before I replaced it with the unit I have now, shown in the accompanying photo.
The new bird bath costs in excess of $100.00 if one buys the complete unit. However, if you have an existing pedestal that can be used, the basin is available separately and can be attached to a sun deck railing by means of a fully adjustable bracket that comes with the unit. Assembled as a complete unit, the basin is easily removed for cleaning by simply rotating it off the pedestal. My bird bath is extremely busy every day with blue jays drinking from it regularly as well as house finches, goldfinches and mourning doves making up the bulk of the clientele, and even the squirrels visiting on a regular basis.  As you can see in the photo, I simply made a frame out of 2 X 4s and attached it to the end of my garden bench. It is easy to scrub clean every other day or so, then empty it without even having to unplug it. It is not advisable though to continue using this particular model through the summer months as the material will eventually break down under the hot summer sun.
Nothing like a good winter splash in the heated pool. Photo by Barry KantLess expensive ways of providing water are also available. Most bird specialty stores and even farm feed mills that offer bird feed and feeders, now stock immersion water de-icers which sell for about $40.00. These can be inserted into your existing bird bath to keep the water free of ice all winter. Innovative minds have come up with even cheaper ways to provide water for birds during the winter months. A simple and actually quite successful way of providing water for birds in the winter can be accomplished by investing a few dollars in a small plastic garbage container, available in most hardware stores. Fill the container with household insulation, place a light socket and bulb near the top of the insulation. Turn the lid upside down, fill with water and a small rock for additional weight and place it back on the garbage can and presto, you have an inexpensive bird bath. A little experimenting will determine which size bulb is best suited for the job. However, with today’s electricity prices in Ontario (highest in North America), the cost of operating a commercially made bird bath de-icer might very well be less expensive than a homemade device since it is thermostatically controlled.
Whatever method you decide to use, as in the care and maintenance of bird feeders, cleanliness is important. Wash the bird bath frequently to prevent the spread of disease organisms. In the years we have maintained a winter bird bath, we have seen all species use it regularly, especially house finches, mourning doves, goldfinches and black-capped chickadees. Our squirrels also use it regularly.
While birds can certainly obtain water elsewhere and the lack of a bird bath won’t adversely affect your clients, the presence of water in the winter in your bird feeder operation is just one more feature that serves to attract additional birds to your premises. In addition, watching birds from the comfort of your home as they bathe in the winter is just plain entertaining, and that’s what bird feeding is all about.


(Photo credits and descriptions of photos can be seen by "mousing over" each photo. )

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Last Updated ( Jan 03, 2018 at 02:13 PM )
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February 24, 2018 2:52 am