Be careful! Putting out a heated bird bath may cause your neighbors to tease you about putting out a wild bird "hot tub" when they see steam rising. You may even second guess yourself about the logic of putting water outside in brutal winter weather. But consider why you might want to provide an open water source for your avian visitors.
Here are five reasons why a heated bird bath makes good sense in the depths of a cruel winter:
In climates that regularly experience sub-freezing temperatures and even in climates that are not so brutal but have cool winters, many bird watchers put out bird baths with heating elements. This not only continues to attract winter birds for your birdwatching pleasure, but also helps them survive the coldest season of the year.
Open water becomes scarce in winter when most sources are frozen. Having a dependable open water source draws the birds. Sure, birds can eat snow or ice. But they must burn additional calories to convert that snow or ice to water. Because it reduces the amount of energy a bird must use to convert snow or ice to water, that open water source you provide reduces their energy expenditure and may be more important than food in some instances as it helps them retain their caloric energy.
Birds need to bathe to keep their feathers clean helping them lock out the wet and cold. When they preen, birds arrange the tiny barbs on their feather shafts so they interlock like miniature zippers and so the feathers layer like the shingles on a roof. Having a source of water to clean their feathers actually helps them stay dry and warm.
You'll be rewarded by watching birds gather around your winter bird bath. And you may encounter winter visitors that would not otherwise take nourishment from your feeders.
A bird bath that's heated can be found in many styles including ground level and raised pedestal models. Some bowls come with mounting hardware that can be attached to deck rails or placed on mounted platforms.
In addition to bird baths that are manufactured with internal heaters, individual bird bath heaters or de-icers that can be placed inside the water in the bowl are available. Most bird baths with internal heating elements as well as de-icers are thermostatically controlled.
Some cautionary words about placing a bird bath heater in the bowl of your birdbath .... some bird baths may be damaged by the use of a de-icer. Concrete birdbaths, for example, absorb water. When that water freezes and expands in cold weather, it will crack the concrete bird bath.
The open water in your heated bird bath won't actually be warm, but it will remain unfrozen and liquid when it's below freezing outdoors and even when the air reaches sub-zero temperatures.
Even if it sounds silly to put a heated bird bath out in sub-freezing temperatures, do consider it. You'll help birds survive the winter and you'll take delight in watching them!
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