Jan 22
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Tufted Titmouse visiting a heated bird bath

Tufted Titmouse visiting a heated bird bath

If water sources are frozen, it can be very difficult for birds to find a drink. They may have to travel a long way to an open source or resort to eating snow (if there is any).

Birds need drinking water to maintain a healthy metabolism to stay warm and hydrated.

They need it for bathing to keep their feathers in top insulating condition and keep them waterproof.

Do you have nights with hard frosts or any freezing weather? Use a heated bird bath or add a heater to your existing plastic, metal or stone bird bath to keep open water available for the birds.

Jul 16
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American Robin in bird bath with dripper

House Finches on bird bath

It may just be a puddle in your driveway, a half full bird bath or some standing water in a ditch to you, but it could be a matter of life or death for the bird life in your neighborhood. Water is one of the most important external requirements that birds need to survive.

You may ask…why is water so important to birds?

Feather Maintenance. As you know, birds are dependent on their feathers to fly and dirty, messy feathers can mean that a bird can not get to their food source or flee from predators. Just watch your own birdbath, and pay special attention to birds after they first leave the bath. They will sit on their perch and carefully preen and smooth their feathers to ensure that they are in place and in perfect condition. They run their feathers through their beaks, smoothing them out, reconnecting the barbs that hold the feathers together and keep them in tip-top shape. Without water, most birds could not maintain their feathers and keep them in such great condition… ready to fly off at a moment’s notice.

Metabolic Rate. Compared to mammals, birds have a higher metabolic rate, higher heart rate, higher body temperature and a faster (and more efficient) respiration rate. All of these play into the fact that birds need external water. These higher rates of metabolism are required so that birds have the energy to fly, which takes a lot of energy and more water to support.

Higher, and more efficient, respiration. Birds also have a very different respiratory system than mammals. While most of the oxygen exchange occurs in the lungs of mammals, birds have air sacs located throughout their bodies which are much more efficient at transferring oxygen than lungs. While this has the advantage of improving oxygen intake, it has the disadvantage of increased water loss during the respiration process. This, again, requires birds to be more dependent on water intake than mammals.

Birds are also very adept at conserving water too. Just a few of the ways that they keep the water that they have are:

No sweat glands. Unlike mammals, birds not have sweat glands. This is why you may see birds panting heavily on hot summer days. Panting is one of the few ways that birds have to lower their body temperature since they do not sweat.

A different way to rid themselves of body waste. Unlike mammals, birds release urinary waste as uric acid, which they are able to concentrate in their bodies without having to dilute it with water. Some birds are also able to reabsorb much of the water that they would otherwise lose in their feces, creating much drier droppings.

One last cool story about water and birds is the tale of the Sandgrouse. Now, you won’t see a Sandgrouse here in North America, they live in the deserts and dry grasslands of Africa and Eurasia. There is very little natural water found in their habitats, so when they have young, the parents fly to their local watering hole, wade in, and carry water back to their young in specially adapted belly feathers which are designed to soak up water so that the parents can fly up to 19 miles back to their brood with water in tow. How cool is that!

So, providing water to your backyard birds is not just a fun way to see your birds up close as they splash around in your bird bath, drink from your pond, or shower in your mister/dripper, it is also a great way to provide a necessary element of their survival. For more information, visit our education resource page or call your local Wild Birds Unlimited store. For the store closes to you, visit our web site.

Mar 04
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Eastern Bluebirds

I heard our office’s first bluebird of the season this week. He was singing in a Honey Locust tree at the edge of the parking lot overlooking a field (a rare commodity in suburban office parks).

But even more exciting than this…my bluebird experiences at home this winter. I originally posted about the first bluebirds to ever visit my yard with the Rare Dinner Guest article in December and then wrote a follow up with Rare Dinner Guest Returns (with the much requested pictures).

Well, the excitement has continued. You can see that with the small winter flock of five bluebirds that regularly stop by my bird bath for drinks and an occasional bath.

Unfortunately, the bluebirds haven’t been spotted for the last few weeks. As winter’s grip is loosening, I wonder if the small winter flock has moved on or dispersed into breeding pairs.

I was really hoping to get a pair of them to raise a brood in my nest box. It’s the right style and mounted at the right height. Perhaps they don’t like the location. I better move it soon and see what happens.

Wherever they are, I am not discouraged. In fact, if anything, I am more encouraged by this winter flock finding my yard, food and water. I will continue wooing the bluebirds and hope they agree that my yard’s micro-habitat is a desirable place to raise a family. I’ll post updates if or, hopefully, when they return.

Jan 26
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You know, bottled water ads like to draw us in with romanticized images of rushing creeks swollen with fresh, tasty glacial melt water. Now, I’ve crossed icy-cold mountain streams before, and I’ve used them for a life-giving water source in the wilderness (yes, they are tasty). I have even been known to use that frigid water for bathing. Brrr!

But, birds drinking and bathing in freezing winter weather? It’s not just the few birds who dare but is essential for all birds.

Birds eat a lot of seeds and fruits in winter; even if they don’t normally do so in summer. They also burn a lot of calories to keep warm in winter. These combined factors make them very thirsty. They must drink to maintain their metabolism and to keep their internal heater working properly. Birds will look for open water, eat snow, or even catch snowflakes on-the-wing.

I have noticed that down coats and vests are really making a come back in fashion outerwear. There is a reason for that; it’s warm. Birds use their down feathers as their prime insulator. The outer feathers then act as a zippered coat to lock in the insulated heat. But, without proper feather care, their ‘winter coat’ doesn’t insulate well. That’s when bathing, even in frigid temperatures, becomes vital. The water, and oil they use to care for their feathers found at the base of their tail, helps to keep their feathers in supple, waterproof condition.

I recently pointed my Wingscapes BirdCam toward the heated bird bath in my yard.

The Eastern Bluebird family (see Rare Dinner Guests post) continues to visit every few days. They visit the bath for drinks and occasionally will walk right into the middle and do a scooping dip to run water over their back and shake / wing flutter to bathe. I saw them do this a few days back and just jumped up and down with excitement to see it. That is what prompted me to point my camera toward the bath. I don’t have a picture of them bathing, yet. Check out the picture of one on the edge to take a drink.

A more recent development is the pictured American Robin that has ‘claimed’ my TreatTray feeder and birdbath. We’ve had temps near 0°F and he just sits at one of these most of the day, almost daring anyone to come near to suffer his wrath. Check out the picture of him drinking. It’s like a reverse water fountain with water pouring from his beak.

How wonderful it is to see birds at a winter water source. Who is visiting your winter water source?

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