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As in large parts of the US, it has been bitterly cold here in Maryland. My bird feeders are hopping with birds, as are the birdbaths. When everything else is frozen solid, a heated birdbath is a big draw for birds . . . and OK, also squirrels and neighborhood cats. Everyone is looking for a place to get a drink. To keep birds coming, you need to choose your birdbath well and take care of it!
Maintaining Heated Birdbaths: Tips
Keep An Eye on Them
When the weather is especially cold, I need to top off or replace in birdbath water as often as every day. This is partly because there are so many creatures drinking from it. But I suspect dry winter air pulling some water into the air may have a part as well.
This past week, temperatures have been as low as 3 degrees F. I often see steam-like wisps coming up off the water when it is newly filled, even when the water I’m using is inside room temperature. Although it looks like it is steaming hot, it isn’t. I think this is the water wisping up into the dry air.
Keep It Full
When it is really cold, a de-icer, whether separate or built in, can be really challenged to keep water completely ice-free unless you keep the bath full.
A separate de-icer (like the one shown below) may not be able to keep the water ice-free if there is not enough water in the bath to cover the de-icer itself. Ice can form in the shallow water farthest away from the de-icer. If that happens, add more water. It will melt again.
Keep in mind that the need to keep enough water in the bath might allow larger birds to bathe in it, but it might be too deep for the smallest birds. They might just use it to drink and not bathe. I have a large plastic pitcher that I use to fill bird baths in the winter when the hoses are turned off.
A de-icer built into the bath (like in the deck-mounted bath shown above) can get icy around the edges if the water gets low and it is very cold. I found this week that if I didn’t keep it topped off, a crust of thin ice would form on the water surface along the inside edges. The water at the center still stays clear. Again, keeping the bath full to the top keeps the water ice-free.
Clean Birdbath Often
With so much activity, I need to clean bird baths more often than in warmer months. After dumping the dirty water, I use a sturdy bird bath brush to quickly scrub the inside of the bath. Then I re-fill it. It only takes a minute of two about every other day.
So I heat three birdbaths in winter months. Each a different type. For the first, I use a separate de-icer purchased from Amazon in a non-heated birdbath. Originally I used this de-icer in an improvised plant saucer birdbath. Because the de-icer cord was only ten feet long, at that time I added a Master Electrician 20-Foot 16/3 Vinyl Landscape Outdoor Extension Cord and a Hot Headz Extension Cord Safety Seal Water Resistant Cord Cover for where the de-icer cord and the extension cord come together.
But last spring, I replaced that particular improvised birdbath with a tall decorative commercial birdbath. The de-icer now goes in it. This birdbath is a bit farther out in the yard so I purchased an even longer landscape outdoor extension cord to reach it from the local home improvement store.
Replacing the Original De-icer
This de-icer is thermostat controlled so it keeps the water from freezing but doesn’t let it get overly hot, even if the winter day gets a bit warmer. For safety, you need an outdoor electrical outlet with a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.) If you don’t already have this, you might need an electrician to set that up for you.
My original de-icer died at the beginning of the current winter season after two years of use. I liked it so much though, that I went to my local birding store, Mother Natures, to purchase a replacement the same day.
How did I know it had died? I found ice in the birdbath. Checking the outlet it was plugged into, I found it had tripped the GFCI switch. Re-plugging it tripped the switch every time. (This is a good thing; you want the switch to interrupt the circuit if there is a problem with the de-icer.)
So off to the store I went. If you don’t have a local store that stocks these, you can find them on Amazon (where I purchased the original one.)
I also purchased a commercial heated birdbath this year, the Erva Clamp Mount Heated Bird Bath. This one goes on the front porch and has the heater built into the birdbath bowl.
Originally I had a heated pet bowl sitting on a table on the porch. But a very tenacious crop of neighborhood cats started camping out next to the table to hunt birds. So I replaced it with this deck-mounted birdbath that is harder for cats to menace. Cats don’t camp out here anymore.
This birdbath has a metal deck mount that serves as a collar to hold the birdbath. It hangs off the outside of a deck railing. We have it on our front deck. My husband needed to do a little surgery to our deck railing because it was too thick for the clamp that grabs the railing.
I bought this one at our local bird store, Mother Natures. Local birding stores seem to be a good place to find Erva products. But you can sometimes find them on Amazon.
At the store, I could purchase the bath with either a simple plastic insert for warmer months or a plastic insert with a plug attached so you can heat it. The store sold inserts separately so I bought both, making it an all-weather solution. In the spring, I’ll swap out the heater insert for the unheated one.
Because this birdbath is very shallow (less than 2″ deep) it is nice for birds of various sizes to bathe in. It is popular for drinking as well. Because it is so shallow, it needs to be topped off often, especially in the winter.
Getting the Electrical Right
Like the de-icer, these birdbaths also need an outdoor electrical outlet with a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.) The Erva deck mount bath I got also comes with a very short cord. So I needed a short outdoor extension cord even though it is only about eight feet from the outlet. Also like the de-icer, I protect the area where the cords connect with a cord cover as I did with my other birdbath cord.
My third heated bird bath isn’t really a birdbath but a heated pet bowl. It has a medium length cord and is much deeper than a typical bird bath. These, or something similar, can be found at some pet stores or on Amazon. The one I am using now was purchased at a Petsmart store. It has lasted many years and sits on my back step under a bench.
This one is not thermostat controlled, so if you let it get low or keep it plugged in on warm days, the water can get hot. I suspect that if you let this one sit empty plugged in, it would probably burn out. I do have this one on a GFCI circuit for safety which I believe would cause the outlet’s switch to trip if this happened.
In this location, it is popular with squirrels and cats but also with Carolina Wrens for some reason. It’s deep, so most birds only sit on the side and take a sip. But one year I had a whole group of American Robins take turns bathing in it during a wintery day. When it is really cold, I need to top it off every day.
Because of its location, most birds do prefer one of the other birdbaths. But because cats and squirrels are more likely to use this one, they leave the other baths alone a bit more. Until this year, I had a second one of these on a small table on my front porch that did get a lot of bird activity.
Get A Heated Birdbath!
Whichever way you decide to go, consider providing a heated bird bath for your backyard birds. They will greatly appreciate it!
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