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January 11, 2014 / Leslie

Weekend Birding: Winter Birdbaths

Water in the Cold

Birds can survive harsh, below freezing winter weather if they can find food, water and shelter. Last week I talked about coping with the cold and how birds burn calories to generate body heat and therefore need to eat a lot more high fat food. In addition to food they need to find water for drinking and cleaning their feathers.

Below a House Finch and House Sparrow stop for a drink at my heated bird bath. I took this through the window. It was way too cold to open the patio door.

House Finch on Birdbath

Are Heated Bird Baths Beneficial?

There are mixed opinions on the necessity of a heated bath. There is no question that water will attract birds, but does it help them?

In below freezing temperatures birds usually get the water they need from snow and ice. When the air temperature is extremely cold a heated bath will steam like a spa and may tempt a bird to jump in and bathe. On freezing days birds should use the water for drinking only, not bathing. But do the birds know enough not to wade in?

Heated Bird Bath

I have a heated bird bath mounted on my deck railing which I leave up year-round. I’ve had it since 2009 and am very pleased with its performance. Other than having to modify the mounting bracket to keep it from tipping, it was easy to set up and is easy maintain.

So, is it safe for the birds? I think so. On the coldest days, none of the birds tried to go in the water. Of course there is always the danger that one will fall in, but there are many dangers in nature. Finding fresh, clean water is helpful. Who knows what is in the ice, snow and water on the roads and in our backyards.

Starlings Love the Bird Bath

Starlings in Heated Bird Bath

The only birds I saw wading into the water on days when the temps were slightly below freezing were House Sparrows and European Starlings. I see them do this every year. Five or six birds jump in at once and splash around. I guess this says something about the stamina of these birds: Both are non-native species from Europe and both have adapted and prospered in North America.

You Never Know Who Will Show Up

Water attracts many species of birds, even those that don’t come to feeders.

Yellow-rumped Warbler on Heated Bird Bath

In February 2011 Chicago had one of its epic snowstorms that shut down the city for a few days. The morning after the storm a Yellow-rumped Warbler was outside my window taking a drink at the heated bath. Chicago is on the northern edge of their winter range, most of these birds migrate further south, especially in cold winters, so finding one in my yard was a special treat.

Squirrel in Birdbath

And then there are the squirrels and other critters. They could use a drink of fresh, clean water too. There was a possum on my deck last night but as far as I know he didn’t try to get in the bath.

Saturday Snapshot was originated by Alyce at At Home With Books. It is now hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy. Visit her blog to see more great photos or add your own.

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Leave a Comment
  1. BermudaOnion / Jan 11 2014 2:03 pm

    I bet you could spend hours looking out at your deck and all the animals.


    • Leslie / Jan 11 2014 10:11 pm

      Yeah, I have an entertaining yard.


  2. Sue / Jan 11 2014 3:02 pm

    Great post! I’ve wondered whether to keep the bird bath heater going in midwinter to not! but you’ve convinced me it’s OK.


    • Leslie / Jan 11 2014 10:12 pm

      I think the benefits outweigh the risks. The birds are pretty smart.


  3. Suko / Jan 11 2014 3:06 pm

    What exquisite photos! I think your heated birdbath would be beneficial in many ways.


  4. laurelrainsnow / Jan 11 2014 3:37 pm

    You have such a bird-friendly yard…a heated birdbath sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing these great photos, along with the fun facts.


    • Leslie / Jan 11 2014 10:18 pm

      I try to keep the yard natural with lots of native plants but when it gets this cold they need extra help with water and seeds. At one point I had about 40 birds in the yard.


  5. Ginny / Jan 11 2014 4:22 pm

    I haven’t heard of heated birdbaths before, but it seems like an excellent idea. I like the idea of them in their very own jacuzzi.


  6. Louise / Jan 11 2014 4:28 pm

    Oh I’m sure that this is more entertaining that your tv at any time of year. Those starlings thrive anywhere, they’re all over in Australia too.


    • Leslie / Jan 11 2014 10:20 pm

      Sometimes I think the Starlings are indestructible… and clever too. I have a roost box on the garage and every winter it’s the Starlings that claim the box. I was hoping for Chickadees or Finches but no, Starlings!


  7. Brona / Jan 11 2014 5:54 pm

    I bet the birds send out a message to let all their friends know where to go for 5 star service & accommodation!
    Beautiful photos as usual 🙂


    • Leslie / Jan 11 2014 10:21 pm

      Yes, I think they bring their friends and family. The Starlings definitely do.


  8. Gautami Tripathy / Jan 11 2014 9:49 pm

    House sparrows have become so scarce here!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Here is my snapshot post.


    • Leslie / Jan 11 2014 10:23 pm

      I heard that they are in decline in many parts of the world possibly due to environmental decline. Here in Chicago and the suburbs they are still plentiful.


  9. irene / Jan 11 2014 9:50 pm

    We have an ice melter in our pond, and I find birds often drinking from there as well, as well as the other neighborhood animals. Stray cats.. rabbits, squirrels…


  10. Christine Harding / Jan 12 2014 3:19 am

    Beautiful photos, as ever. I know I’ve said this before, but you must have so much patience to get shots like this, My Snapshot is at


  11. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / Jan 12 2014 6:36 pm

    I haven’t looked into heated birdbaths — very cool.


  12. Sheila (Book Journey) / Jan 12 2014 9:47 pm

    Oh love the heated bird bath!


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