Water for the birds

Birds need water to drink and to bathe. Water availability is particularly important during the winter when natural sources freeze, but it is much needed during the hot, dry summer months too.

Birds do not have sweat glands so they need less water than mammals like us. However, they lose water when they breath and with their excrements.

Many insect-eating birds provide themselves with water from their prey.

Seed-eating birds, however, need a regular income of water (at least twice daily).

How do birds drink?

Small birds drink at the shallows of water bodies. They can also swallow the droplets of water on the leaves of plants. This strategy is of particular importance for forest-dwelling birds. Swallows and swifts swoop over the surface of water bodies and drink in flight. Impressive, isn’t it!


For birds bathing is as important as drinking water. They bathe even in winter. It is crucial for a bird to maintain its feathers in a good shape – moistened and clean; bathing clears the dirt away more easily.

Birds spend a lot of time cleaning and preening their feathers and applying a protective layer of fat that is produced from a special gland. Thus their plumage becomes water-proof and the inner layer of feathers retains warm air that acts as insulation and prevents the birds from losing body warmth.

Water for the birds in your garden

The easiest way to provide water for the birds in your garden is by installing a bird bath there, or by digging a small pond. A good bird bath must be solid and stable; it should be easy to clean and refill with fresh water.

The most important features of your bird bath:

  • slanted bottom with a gradual increase in depth from 2.5 to 10 cm; this allows every species to bathe at their preferred depth;
  • a rough surface that provides a good grip for the birds.

Ideas for an easy bird bath:

  • a big plant saucer with a stone in the middle for the birds to land on;
  • a bin lid dug into the ground upside down; if the lid has a smooth, slippery surface, put a thin layer of pebbles at the bottom and a small stone in the middle to make it easier for birds to land and to drink;
  • a deeper clay pot;
  • a produced bird bath

How do I keep the water in the bird bath clean?

The water in your bird bath needs to be clean if you want to avoid the spread of diseases. Therefore you have to clean your bath from algae, excrements and other pollutants brought by the birds regularly, at least once a week. Always use gloves for your own safety. You can use any cleaning substance diluted in enough water. Make sure to rinse the bath thoroughly before bringing it back out in the garden.

How do I keep the water in the bird bath from freezing?

Birds need to drink water regularly, regardless of the weather – be it hot or cold.

In winter when temperatures drop and the natural water bodies freeze, the water sources in our gardens become even more important for birds. Here are a few tips on how to keep the water in the bath from freezing:

  • Put a floating ball in the water. Even a light breeze will move it around and it will keep the water from freezing.
  • Pour in hot water to melt the forming ice.
  • Do NOT use antifreeze chemicals!

Bird safety first

As the birds drink or bathe, they are vulnerable and can easily fall victims to cats and dogs. Placing the bird bath close to bushes and trees will provide a safe place where they can hide to preen their feathers. If the bushes are spiny, the spines will keep the cats away.

In times of droughts birds turn to deeper containers filled with water; unfortunately many of them drown there. If you cannot put a lid on such containers, at least put a wooden board on the surface to serve as a landing platform for the birds that want to drink.