As winter bird feeding ensues, usually around this time of year, ( mid to late November ) when average daily temperatures start to fall and the seeds, masts and fruits in the hedgerows are pretty much eaten up, garden birds will start to return to your feeders. The seed- eaters, like tits, finches, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds etc will visit feeders and will fill up on dry seed. However it is a bit like having toast in the morning without an accompanying cup of tea if you don't also offer them clean drinking water! Most garden birds do need to drink at least twice a day. They lose water through respiration ( breathing) and droppings. Really lucky people have a free flowing stream or river running through their gardens and will notice that birds will find themselves easy-access points where they can drink ( and have a bath ) in relative safety. For us less fortunate, putting out a bird bath (or an upturned metal dustbin lid!) and keeping the supply of water clean, will be gratefully received.
Here are a few water 'top tips' to make winter healthy for your birds and easy for you;
Experiment with the location of your bird bath. Birds need to feel safe when they bathe ( they don't fly well with wet feathers!). If it isn't being used - try moving it to a different spot in the garden.
Try to leave at least 2 meters distance between the bird bath and some cover, like a hedge or tree. This will give them some cover if they feel threatened, and the distance will give them security against predators like sparrowhawks and cats.
Adding stones or pebbles is a really good way to encourage them to use your bird bath. It helps simulate a natural shallow pool. The birds can sip and keep an eye out for trouble. Ideally, the bird bath should have sloping sides and a rough texture ( makes it less slippy) and the water should be about 1-4 inches deep.
Keep on top of your cleaning routine. Chose and use a bird bath which is easy for you to man-handle and made of materials which are easy to scrub clean. I am always going on about how dirty water can be a major factor in the transmission of diseases (such as trichomoniasis and salmonella )- so PLEASE KEEP 'EM CLEAN.
When the weather freezes, the ice in bird baths will be unuseable for them, and if they don't find an alternatives source of water, small garden birds do risk becoming dehydrated. Maintaining hydration is a key factor in staying warm - so not only are they thirsty, they become cold as well. They then need to eat more to keep their body temperature up which compounds the problem.... so please make sure that you break the ice regularly.
We haven't had a very cold winter for a few years now, but we did find floating a couple of ping pong balls a cheap and effective icebreaker. Of course - you can always pour some warm water from a pan/kettle into the bird bath, and re-siting it to a sunny spot in the garden may also help.
Please don't be tempted to use any kind of anti-freeze - these products are mostly toxic to birds.
You can buy a bespoke bird bath in a variety of different sizes, heights and materials, but it is also quite nice to create your own, and I would love to hear from you what kinds of items you have used successfully as bird baths and any top tips you might have for keeping them active and healthy during the winter months.