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Birds and water

Female blackbird bathing in bird bath

Image: Ray Kennedy

Many people put food out for birds, but fewer provide a regular supply of clean water.

Birds need water for drinking and bathing. Water is particularly important during the winter when natural supplies may be frozen, and in dry, hot weather during the summer when water can be hard to find.

Drinking

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.

Bathing

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 rearranges the feathers and spreads oil from the preen gland so they remain waterproof and trap an insulating layer of air underneath to keep them warm.

Bird baths

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. More...

Bird baths

Keeping water clean

Keeping a bird bath clean helps to prevent birds catching diseases. More...

Keeping water clean

Keeping water ice-free

It can be difficult to stop a bird bath from freezing, but try using some of our methods. More...

Keeping water ice-free

What can I do?

We stock several designs of bird bath that will provide somewhere for your garden birds to drink and bathe.

Buy a bird bath from our online shop

In more depth