Water Doesn't Have To Be Fancy - Just Clean
The Midwest can be a tough place to live with temperature variations between -23F and +95F in central Illinois in the last 8 months. In Illinois, clean liquid water is just as important as your backyard food supply. Birds don’t sweat like humans and they typically don’t pant like dogs. Birds need water to stay hydrated and to bathe.
Does a birdbath have to be fancy? No. Just friendly. A little thought will meet all the requirements for a friendly and functional water source.
First, the water needs to be clean. Stale water or water with a lot of fecal material in it is not healthy for birds. Standing water also invites mosquitoes. You should change the water daily by simply emptying the vessel, rinsing it out and then refilling.
Second, most songbirds don’t swim. They know this and won’t use a vessel that is either deep or difficult for them to enter and exit. Deep vessels (> 1”) or vessels with steep sides will not be used by songbirds.
Third, be patient. Nature is generally wary of new things and it will take a few days for birds to discover the new water vessel and trust it.
What can I use for a water vessel? At our house we have a shallow pan that has been with us for 10 years. We clean it and use a non-toxic paint to make it decorative as well as functional. Other ideas for a water vessel include an inexpensive plastic flowerpot saucer or a nice clay one. I like containers that are about 14-16 inches wide and shallow. Good friends of ours use a skillet that has broken the handle. Last winter's snow toboggan can work too! Our son dug a beautiful pond and included stone platforms for birds to land to get a drink.
A little thought and care will help your back-yard birds thrive during extreme weather. They will reward you with their presence, and a stable water source will bring new birds to your house. If night-time visitors become a nuisance, simply bring the vessel in at night or turn it over – just don’t forget to refill it in the morning.
Enjoy your backyard environment as much as you can. Fresh water and high-quality food will encourage your neighborhood birds to visit often and reward you with Nature’s song.