An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Birds & Water in Winter

2-21-14  hairy eating snow  012In winter, dehydration can be as much as or more of a threat than starvation for birds. At this time of year, they often get their water supply from melting icicles and puddles. When it is severely cold and there is no available water, they eat snow, as this Hairy Woodpecker is doing. It takes a lot more energy for birds to thaw snow and for their bodies to bring the freezing temperature of the snow to their body temperature (roughly 102°F.) than when they take a drink of water. Water is also key to keeping a bird warm in the winter, as it is used to preen, or clean and realign, their feathers so that they can maintain pockets of air next to the bird’s skin that retain the birds’ body heat.

While access to water is essential, there can be too much of a good thing, especially in freezing temperatures. If you have a heated bird bath, it’s a good idea to put stones in it or sticks across it to prevent the birds from immersing themselves in very cold weather.

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6 responses

  1. Great post, great photo!

    February 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm

  2. Doreen Morse

    Thank you for this information. We need to find some stones now!!

    February 21, 2014 at 3:09 pm

  3. Cecelia Blair

    Thank you for this helpful information!

    February 21, 2014 at 3:16 pm

  4. Good advice about water feeders. I offered water when we first moved here, but never had visitors because there are so many streams with fresh running water. Even with all this cold there are still open places to get a drink.

    February 21, 2014 at 8:33 pm

  5. I have to write about an issue a friend of mine had with an onion net being used to hold suet for the birds. A Downy woodpecker got his claw caught in the netting and he tried to free himself but it was not successful, by time my friend got to the net the birds leg was hanging and broken. The bird was able to survive for a while after that, but was not seen within a month. This kind of netting used to hold suet precipitated in a early demise of the bird and my friend who studies birds now asks all to just go out and get a proper holder for suet. Thank you for letting me relay this story.

    February 22, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    • Thank you, Amy. I was not aware of this. Much appreciated.

      February 23, 2014 at 9:36 pm

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