5 essential tips for bird bath winter care from the experts

Get to grips with bird bath winter care this season

Tufted Titmouse in winter sitting on heated birdbath with snow and icicles hanging from sides.
(Image credit: H .H. Fox Photography / Moment Open / Getty Images)

In cold weather, bird bath winter care becomes a top priority for wildlife lovers. The winter months can be tough on the birds: as more people stay indoors, bird feeders are left unfilled and bird baths quickly freeze over. In a pinch, birds will eat snow to keep up their hydration levels, but doing this requires a lot of energy and only means they need to eat more to survive.

If you'd like to welcome more wildlife into your garden, winter is a great time to start. Whatever bird bath idea you go for, keeping it fully accessible throughout winter means your feathered visitors can drink sufficiently, as well as preen and clean their feathers to keep them in good working order. 

A robin eats snow on a red birdbath filled with snow.

Try to prevent your bird bath from freezing over

(Image credit: Shiiko Alexander / Alamy Stock Photo)

Make your yard more wildlife friendly with these bird bath winter care tips

Start rewilding your garden with these simple steps on winterizing a bird bath.

1. Consider the material of your bird bath   

In cold areas where temperatures may drop below freezing during the winter months, it's worth knowing what material your bird bath is made from.

Katie and Krystol, the co-founders of Spade & Sparrow Designs (opens in new tab) explain: 'A material that can absorb water (such as stone, ceramic, or cement), is best emptied of water and covered with a plastic tarp or moved to a shed to keep it dry until winter is over.' This is because, over time, bird baths will crack if they're made of materials that are not resistant to the expansion caused by freezing.

Comparatively, bird baths made from metals, reinforced plastics, or resins will not be damaged by freezing temperatures and can be left outdoors year-round.

You can also learn how to make a bird bath from temporary or household materials while the colder months keep your regular bath in storage.

robin on snowy stone bird bath

During winter, use a bird bath sturdy enough to handle freezing temperatures

(Image credit: Sue Robinson / Alamy Stock Photo)

2. Defrost or remove any ice that forms 

A frozen or ice-covered bird bath is no good for attracting birds to your garden in winter. The easiest solution here is to add a little bit of hot water to the bath each morning, so that the ice melts. It's important not to use boiling water, or to add in too much, or you can run the risk of shattering the bowl of the bird bath. 

Other methods to keep water from reaching freezing temperatures include adding a few black rocks or a black liner to the base of the bird bath, as the color black will retain some heat. You can also place a small plastic ping-pong ball in the water, as the movement will act as an 'ice breaker' and help stop the water from freezing. 

If you live in an area where temperatures dip below 40˚F (4˚C), Katie and Krystol suggest placing a heater in the basin of your bird bath. A simple electric or solar bird bath heater like this one from Amazon (opens in new tab)will keep your water from freezing in cold weather. You can also find these at many garden centers. 

Top tip: One mistake to avoid is using salt to de-ice a bird bath. Salt is toxic for birds so should never be used in a bird bath or on a bird table.

Man removing a sheet of ice from a birdbath in winter

Keeping ice at bay is necessary so birds can use their bird bath

(Image credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo)

3. Keep your bird bath clean 

Just because the weather is colder, doesn't mean that algae and bacteria can't still flourish in your bird bath's water. 

It’s essential to keep bird baths clean, says Helen Moffat at RSPB (opens in new tab): stagnant water left out will not only cause a build-up of algae and become unsightly, but it can make birds ill, too. It’s also a place used by multiple birds, so there’s a risk of infections being passed on if the site isn’t kept clean.

Katie and Krystol suggest the following cleaning technique be conducted weekly: 

  1. Remove all debris, dirt and droppings.
  2. Scrub gently to remove algae and other stuck-on material.
  3. Use a solution of one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water to completely saturate the bath.
  4. Rinse with clean water to ensure all bleach has been washed off.
  5. Dry thoroughly before refilling the bath.

A house finch on a backyard bird bath after a light snowfall

Bird baths should be cleaned of algae and debris regularly

(Image credit: Shiiko Alexander / Alamy Stock Photo)

4. Refresh the water regularly 

Aside from washing the bird bath, the water itself also needs to be kept fresh.

Sean McMenemy, wildlife expert and founder of Ark Wildlife (opens in new tab), says drinking and bathing water should be changed daily.

'Make sure you fill the water to a shallow enough level to allow them to stand in the middle,' Sean adds. 'Generally speaking, 5-8cm [2-3in] of water is ideal.'

European Robin about to break through ice on bird bath in winter sunshine

For clean drinking and bathing, bird bath water should be refreshed every day 

(Image credit: Andrew Young / Alamy Stock Photo)

5. Keep the bird bath in a sensible location 

Moving your bird bath to an area that receives some sunshine in the winter garden will help reduce the risk of the water freezing.

That said, it's still important to guard against predators. Helen Moffat explains that birds get preoccupied with bathing and preening, making them vulnerable to attack, so where you site your bath is really vital. 

'Help them feel safe by giving them clear visibility around the bath, and some nearby cover to perch and preen out of sight,' Helen says. 'You also need to deter cats from the cover site – one way is to put some pricky cuttings under the shrubs to discourage them from hiding under there.'

Top tip: Don't forget to feed birds in winter, too. Putting a feeder near your bird bath will keep them returning to your yard.

Ready to attract more feathered friends to your plot? Shop these stylish bird baths below:

Flora Baker
Freelance Writer

Freelance writer and author Flora Baker is a keen amateur gardener and houseplant enthusiast. Her small garden in South London is a constant work in progress as she gets to grips with snail prevention, DIY trellises and what to plant in shady spots overrun with ivy.