water for birds

House sparrow drinking from water pipe
House sparrow

Providing water for birds is often forgotten about, but is vital for their survival, just like humans.

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Songbirds need to drink water and bathe, but how much they need and how often depends on the species. Birds lose water through their droppings, respiration, and evaporation. Passerines (songbirds) lose more water than non-passerines due to their biology, so need to replenish this water more readily.


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You may have seen little birds drinking by dipping their bills into small ponds and puddles to drink from. How much water they need depends a lot on their diet; insect-eating birds will need less water than ones that have a dry diet of seeds. 

Providing somewhere for birds to drink fresh, clean water from a container that is regularly cleaned is a great idea, especially during the hot summer months. Birds are more than happy to use a shallow dish or container to drink and wash in.  For example, a plant pot saucer or shallow bowl are ideal.

Blackbird bathing in plastic tray bird bath

An important point to remember is to not make the water too deep to prevent fledglings from drowning. During very warm weather many birds may attempt to access water they may not usually risk, such as deep-water butts.

Another useful tip is to place some bamboo canes or long sticks into the water, protruding above the water level. They make a simple escape route for birds and could prevent drowning. If your container / dish has smooth sides, consider placing clean gravel in it to give the smaller birds something to grip onto. You could also include a wobbly rock to help both as a perching spot, and to keep water from icing over in winter.


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To keep their feathers in tip-top condition birds need to regularly clean themselves.  Shallow water is a great way of washing out any grit or lice in feathers before preening them. A bird bath or small garden pond are excellent options for providing water for wildlife.

  • Bird baths come in various varieties and designs, but all have the same result, to provide some shallow water for the birds.
  • Prices vary but this is more for your taste and style, not what is more effective for the birds.
  • Different birds like different depths of water and most bird baths will have a shallow, gradually deepening basin for this reason.
  • The baths will also have rough edges for the birds to dig their claws in so as not to fall into the deeper water.
  • Cleaning your bird bath is also important maintenance, to make sure the water is clean, and disease doesn’t spread. Cleaning your bird bath every week or two is a great rule of thumb so that dirt doesn’t build up.
Robin on Stone bird bath
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Gavrilov, V.M., Gavrilov. V.V. (2019) Scaling of total evaporative water loss and evaporative heat loss in birds at different ambient temperatures and seasons. International Journal of Avian and Wildlife Biology. 4(2): 40-53. 

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