Bird Bathing

Click for more a larger view of a Northern Flicker and two American Robins at a bird bath.  Courtesy and Copyright 2012 Linda Kervin, Photographer

Two American Robins and a
Northern Flicker Drinking
Copyright © 2012 Linda Kervin

Click for more a larger view of three American Robins at a bird bath.  Courtesy and Copyright 2012 Linda Kervin, Photographer

Three American Robins Drinking
Copyright © 2012 Linda Kervin

No songbird can be led to water, and you certainly cannot make them drink. Give them a birdbath, though, and many birds will drink and bathe with gusto, especially here in the arid West. As a yard ornament the idea is not so old; the word “birdbath” was first coined in the Gilded Age. At our birdbath, robins daily crowd the rim, as many as six at a time, alternately bobbing and thoughtfully swallowing. Few birds can suck in water with their beak immersed. Instead, they lift their head with a beak full of water which they drink down in a few gulps. The gray Townsend’s solitaire, another regular visitor, perhaps needs to wash down its winter diet of dry, tangy juniper berries.

Birds like to bathe, even in winter. Just why they bathe is not so obvious. Cleaning their insulative layer of down may keep it fluffy to trap maximum heat. After bathing, birds often nibble their flight feathers. This preening removes dirt, feather detritus and parasites, while realigning each feather’s barbs so that they lock together for flight. Feathers repel water not by oils, but through their fine structure. Some game birds, such as quail, take dust baths, squatting in a shallow dirt scrape to ruffle loose dust through their feathers. When quail were experimentally denied dust baths, their plumage became greasy and disheveled. Bathed, preened birds are dapper.

So what features make a good birdbath? It should be shallow, just an inch or two deep and placed two feet or more above the ground to thwart terrestrial predators. A nearby preening perch is helpful. The bath should be convenient to refill, both because bathing birds splash a lot, and also because changing the water frequently deters disease transmission. Our birdbath mounts to our deck railing and has a low wattage heating element that prevents freezing. If you are already feeding birds, consider adding a birdbath. The exuberance of a bathing bird is a joy to behold.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Graphics: Courtesy and Copyright 2012 Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Bird Notes from Sapsucker Woods, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004,–ProvideWater.pdf

Providing Water for Birds, Great Backyard Bird Count, Cornell Lab of Ornithology,

Winter Song Birds

A Black-capped Chickadee
Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society
Stephen Peterson, Photographer

In the icy, short days of winter, you may think that Nature itself has curled up to hibernate. Our gardens are colorless. Deciduous trees are stripped down to bare limbs and twigs. Many songbirds bid us farewell before flying south. In truth, what remains to be seen and heard of nature here in winter is more subtle and less complex. Now is the time to learn calls and songs of birds that reside here year-round, to hear them in solo performances, before the confusing springtime symphonies of birdsong.

This first bird calls its own name.[sound: “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” #9 Songbirds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills]. That would be a chickadee. Black-capped Chickadees take sunflower seeds one at a time from our feeders. When I’m out snowshoeing or skiing in our forests, inquisitive chickadees are my welcome companions. They put some joy in a wintry day.

Sometimes a winter chickadee flock has other birds. [Sound: “annk-annk” #48 Songbirds of Yellowstone]. This bird sounds like a child’s squeak toy, but that nasal call belongs to the red breasted nuthatch. Look for this chunky small bird at your suet feeder, or cruising up and down tree trunks in its search for bugs.

We also have a minimalist in our winter bird repertoire. [Sound: “tew” #62 Songbirds of Yellowstone]. That single note belongs to the Townsend’s solitaire, which looks like a lean robin, but the somber gray of an overcast sky. Solitaires get through our winters dining mostly on juniper berries. Their call stakes out their winter feeding territory. They are regulars at are heated birdbath, I suppose washing down all those puckery berries.– Winter is the time to appreciate Townsend’s solitaire, before their singular tune is drowned out by the chorus of returning migrants.

You often hear chickadees, nuthatches and solitaires before you see them, as their plumage is neither colorful nor splashy. If you notice these calls on a winter’s day, it is because you are quiet and focused on the nature around you, leaving civilization’s hubub behind. Winter birds can do that for you. We will share more of Kevin Colver’s bird recordings with you this winter on Wild About Utah.


Bird Sounds: Courtesy and Copyright 2008 Dr. Kevin Colver, Songbirds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills and Songbirds of Yellowstone and the High Rockies

Text: Jim Cane and Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Black-capped Chickadee, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology,

Red-breasted Nuthatch, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology,

Townsend’s Solitaire, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology,