Water is an essential to a bird's health both for drinking and bathing. Birds need water to keep their feathers in good condition, ensuring they are in good condition helps them with body insulation during those cold winter nights. Water is particularly important in dry, hot weather during the summer when water can be hard to find.
Birds have no sweat glands, so they need less water than mammals. However, they do lose water through respiration, and in their droppings. Most small birds need to drink at least twice a day to replace the lost water.
Birds get the liquid they need from their food, and by drinking. Many insectivorous birds get most of their water from food. Seed-eating birds have a dry diet and they do need to drink more.
Water is freely available to small birds at the shallow edges of ponds and streams. They may also drink water droplets that form on leaves, especially if they live in woodland. Aerial species such as swallows and swifts swoop down onto a water body and scoop up a beakful of water while still in flight. Very impressive!
Most birds drink by dipping their bill in water and throwing their head back to swallow. Pigeons and doves are able to immerse their beaks and can drink continuously.
Water to bathe in is just as important for birds, especially in winter. It is essential that they keep their feathers in good condition, and bathing is an important part of feather maintenance. Dampening the feathers loosens the dirt and makes their feathers easier to preen.
When preening, birds carefully rearrange their feathers and spread oil from the preen gland so they remain waterproof and trap an insulating layer of air underneath to keep them warm.
There are many ways of providing water in the garden. The simplest way is a bird bath. This is essentially a dish of water that needs to be functional - the aesthetic aspects are there to please us, not the birds. A good bird bath has a simple, sturdy construction, but is light enough to make it easy to clean and refill.
It needs to have shallow sloping sides with a shallow approach to water. To allow different species to bathe, provide a sloping bath, so the water is between 2.5 cm and 10 cm (1-4 inches) deep. Make sure the surface of the bath is rough so birds can grip it with their claws, and not slip. The vigorous bathing of a flock of starlings can use up a lot of water, so make sure your bird bath is big enough!
The simplest bird bath is a plant saucer with textured finish and a stone in the middle. You could set several of these around your garden. In the picture I have provided, I put a plant saucer in a hanging redwood planter. The Bushtits were TOO CUTE when they took turns jumping in.
You could use a dustbin lid sunk into the ground,or supported on stones or posts. If the lid is shiny or slippery, a thin layer of gravel on the bottom (this makes it more difficult to clean though) and a shallow stone in the middle will help birds get to the water in comfort.
Concrete baths can be made by digging a hole of the desired size and shape, and lining this with concrete. Once the concrete has set, the bath can be removed, trimmed, and placed in the final location.
Where to put your bird bath:
The location of your garden and the type of vegetation immediately around it will determine what birds will visit your bird bath, and in what numbers. Siting of the bath is very important - birds will only use it if they feel safe. Birds get excited and pre-occupied about bathing, and tend to be more vulnerable than at other times.
Make sure birds have clear visibility as they bathe, with bushes or trees nearby to provide cover if alarmed, and perches to use when preening. Ensure cats cannot use the cover to attack bathing birds. You can do this by placing a thick layer of clippings from thorny vegetation, such as rose or pyracantha, beneath the bushes. Try placing the bath at different points around the garden to find the most popular site.
During droughts birds will try to use water barrels or drinking troughs. Sadly, many drown. If these containers cannot be covered, they can be made safer if a plank of wood or a branch is placed in the water so that birds can land, drink and even partially bathe in safety.
Keeping a bird bath clean helps to prevent birds catching diseases. You should clean your birdbath regularly and change the water. A layer of algae, dead leaves or bird droppings will soon build up, so give the bath a thorough clean every week or so. Scrub the sides and bottom to remove algae and other dirt. Vinegar is a safe cleaner as is boiling water.
I have many bird related cards and gifts that include TOTES and Magnets, ORNAMENTS and Mobiles are in the works. Please check out my items for sale in my Etsy Shoppe: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LadyWhoLovesBirds