Wild birds need a fresh source of water year-round for drinking and bathing. Urban and suburban development, however, has reduced their natural supply of ponds, streams and creeks. To create the perfect habitat for wild birds in your backyard, include a water feature year-round for wild birds.

The Importance of Fresh Water for Birds

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, birds can extra some water from food sources but do rely upon fresh running water just as other living beings do in order to survive.
Birds also bathe year-round, and use shallow pools of water to clean their feathers and remove parasites that linger among the feathers. When they find a shallow pool, they splash in the water, thoroughly wetting their feathers. Then they fly to a safe perch in the sun and preen their feather, running their beak from the base of the feather to the tip. Preening helps distribute naturally occurring oils from the base of the tail throughout their bodies, keeping their feathers smooth, shiny and healthy.

Choosing a Birdbath

If you love to garden, it's likely that you also love to watch birds in the garden. Many gardeners feed the birds; a seed feeder, suet feeder, or nectar feeder is often a gardenís only accessory.
In addition to bird feeders, consider adding a birdbath to your garden. When choosing a birdbath for your yard, consider birds' needs over aesthetic appeal. Birds prefer shallow pools for bathing, so look for shallow rather than deep birdbaths. A basin with a smooth surface is easier to keep clean. Birds love running water, so a shallow trickle fountain actually makes a better birdbath than the usual decorative accessory.

Instead of a birdbath, consider creating a year-round water feature to attract birds. A shallow pond dug in a corner of your yard is ideal.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology site recommends digging a shallow pond, lining it with commercial pond liner, and securing the edges with stones. Fill with water and plant ferns and shrubs around the perimeter. Add a few rocks or stones to the middle to provide a perch for birds, and you've created a natural water feature without spending a fortune.

Wintertime Water

One of the most difficult times of year for all wild creatures is the wintertime, when food supplies diminish and temperatures plunge below freezing. This is the time of year when birds benefit the most from a reliable source of fresh water.
There are several options to keep water from freezing in your birdbath during the winter:
  • Electric birdbath heaters: These special heating devices come with thermostat controls that keep water from freezing yet won't raise temperatures so high they harm the birds. Look for electric birdbath heaters with long, sturdy cords and outdoor-use approved cords and plugs. A 10 foot or longer cord ensures you can find a reliable source of electricity for the birdbath heater from your home or garage. Newer birdbath heaters have built-in safety features such as an automatic shut off switch that detects when water levels are low and switches off the thermostat so that the heater wonít turn on when thereís no water in the birdbath.
  • Solar birdbath heaters: Like the electric birdbath heater, solar heaters raise the water temperature above freezing to prevent ice from forming. Like any solar garden device, the solar cell must be placed in full sun. You must remember to remove snow build up from the solar cell or else it wonít be able to charge. Several days of inclement weather may prevent the solar heater from working. Solar heaters are a good choice for gardeners who do not have ready access to an electrical outlet or who wish to have the most nature-friendly garden equipment possible.
  • Heated birdbaths: Instead of adding a heater to an existing birdbath, heated birdbaths have elements built in that maintain a steady, reliable water temperature during cold weather. The most common types are shallow basins that mount on the edge of a deck or porch railing. These can be easily monitored and their close proximity to the house makes them easier to plug into an outlet

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Birdbath Heaters

  • When shopping for heated birdbaths or birdbath de-icers, the following tips will help you choose the best products for your garden:
  • Always read and follow the instructions for birdbath heaters and de-icers.
  • Dark colored birdbaths retain heat longer, so painting an existing bird bath basin a darker color will keep water warmer, requiring less energy to heat the water.
  • Place your birdbath in a sunny location during wintertime to keep water warmer naturally.
  • Fill the basin regularly. With regular use, the water level drops. A full basin freezes more slowly.
  • Use only UL-approved outdoor extension cords when plugging birdbath heaters and de-icing equipment into outlets.
  • Check wires regularly to ensure there are no breaks, cracks, or areas where curious wildlife may have nibbled on them.
  • Add rocks in the center of deep birdbaths to create perches for smaller birds.
By providing wild birds with the food and water they need during the wintertime, youíre not only helping the local wildlife survive, youíre adding color and interest to the garden when thereís not much going on. And who knows? Maybe after visiting your garden during the winter, some of the birds will choose to nest in your garden in the spring and banquet upon the insects that plague your plants. That's a win-win for all!