Birds need water in winter. Here’s how to help them get it

Water is the most important thing you can give birds in winter.

This is written at noon on January 2, outside temperature -8 ° F. Water, at least in our western suburban neighborhood, must be next to impossible to find.

Except in our heated bird bath, badly named according to the seasons because it is mainly a water point in winter. All of our eating birds except woodpeckers use it.

Humans can go two weeks or more without food. No water for three days and you’re screwed.

I cannot find comparable figures for birds. True, the time periods are much, much shorter, especially for small birds.

I have Cornell’s “Handbook of Bird Biology”, Cornell’s “Manual of Ornithology (Avian Structure and Function)”, and Google Scholar resources, where you can find research papers on almost any topic you want. .

They offer a lot of information on birds and hot weather, not a lot on winter water requirements.

I have learned that when a bird exhales in cold weather, it first withdraws and uses the water vapor contained in that breath. It does the same for its waste, eliminating the water before the vacuum.

In addition, birds cannot get along when eating snow. Melting snow once ingested takes too much energy.

What is the impact of a cold, dry day like this? Humans are advised to stay hydrated. We use humidifiers, lotions, oils, and creams to keep our skin from drying out.

A web entry on caring for caged birds, like parakeets, strongly tells bird owners to keep a humidifier running in any room occupied by these birds. What birds lose due to evaporation should be replaced.

A study on chickens (Journal of Agriculture Science) found that they lost 25% of their water to evaporation from the whole body when the air temperature was 104 ° F. When the temperature dropped to 32 ° F, the water loss increased to 78%.

Bird feathers offer some protection in this regard, according to Cornell.

Birds can get water from their food. The chicks never see the water until they take flight. They draw water from the bodies of the insects they feed on. Adult birds do the same, except, of course, in winter.

The food in your bird feeders, no matter how dry, provides water.

Metabolism produces water as a by-product. One gram of protein is good for 0.4 gram of water, one gram of carbohydrate contains 0.56 gram of water, one gram of fat (think tallow) 1.07 gram of water (0.066% of a tablespoon).

This could explain why our regular peak visitors weren’t seen drinking here: they eat a lot of tallow.

Some birds conserve water and energy by using hypothermia to lower body temperature at night, up to 10 ° C. This slows down all bodily processes and energy costs. Tits do that. Still, they will lose 10% of their weight each night (web.stanford.edu).

Our bird bath is made of a plastic composite; it will not crack if the water freezes. It contains built-in electric coils to prevent freezing. It sits atop a large planter, plugged into an outdoor outlet on our patio.

It may not be easy to fly over the birds, but once found by the birds it is very busy. Traffic breeds traffic. Oh, and it’s handy for the filling, which is very important for the birds and me.

It is also important to never add anything to the water to prevent freezing. Better not to add anything, period.

For more information, search on Google “Heated water for birds in winter”. I got 39 million results.

Bird watcher Jim Williams can be contacted at [email protected]

Avoid cicle birds

Most birds do not bathe in very cold weather. If, however, you are concerned about the idea of ​​creating bird circles, simply place half a dozen sticks on the water, covering the pool edge to edge. This should discourage risky behavior.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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