It is hard to believe that it is already November! As the days grow shorter and the nights get longer, it is time to get your heated birdbaths or your birdbath heaters out of storage. It won’t be long before freezing temperatures turn your birdbath into an ice skating rink for the birds.

Providing an open source of water in winter is an important component of bird feeding. Most people realize the importance of water in the summer time when it is hot and dry, but it is equally important to provide water in the winter months. In spite of freezing temperatures, birds still frequent birdbaths—both to drink and to bathe.

Birds seem to know instinctively that in order to keep their feathers in good condition, it is necessary for them to bathe, even in winter. Bird feathers serve many purposes, the ability to fly just being one. One of the more critical functions feathers perform is to provide insulation from cold winter temperatures. The downy coat of feathers helps maintain a bird’s body temperature so it can survive temperatures well below zero. Clean feathers provide greater insulation compared to matted feathers.

The beauty of a heated birdbath—or a “de-icer” in a non-heated bird bath—is that it keeps the water open and ice-free. Good quality bird bath heaters have a built-in thermostat that regulates the water temperature. Just like the thermostat on the wall in your home controlling the air temperature by regulating your furnace, bird bath heaters cycle on and off on an as-needed basis.


When the water temperature gets down around 36 degrees, the heater will kick on, warming the water enough to prevent it from freezing. It then shuts off automatically once it hits a pre-set temperature setting for that model of heater.

There are many different models of bird bath heaters, and like most things in life, the better the quality, the higher the price. The primary difference between models is the wattage. The higher the wattage, the larger the volume of water it can keep ice-free. The lowest wattage is 44 watts, which is not a lot of power to keep a bird bath ice-free when the temperature gets down to single digits. The challenge with this low-wattage model is that it does not have a built-in thermostat. It only runs when it is plugged in, and is only off when it is unplugged.

Heaters with a built-in thermostat have a range between 150 watts to about 1250 watts. Depending upon what kind of water feature you are trying to keep open, here are some recommendations:

• Larger volumes of water need a heater with more wattage to keep it ice-free. A 150-watt heater is sufficient for a typical bird bath, but if you are trying to keep a fountain or a pond ice-free you will probably need at least 500 watts or more.

• It is okay to use an extension cord. After all, birdbath heaters require electricity to operate. Often the instructions say not to use an extension cord, but this is more of an effort by the manufacturer to deflect liability if something were to go wrong.

• Use a waterproof plastic cord lock to keep the connection between the extension cord and the heater free from moisture when it rains or snows.

Having a birdbath heater on cold, icy, or snowy mornings allows you to stay indoors instead of risking slipping or falling in an effort to go outside and put hot water in your frozen birdbath.

Until next week, Happy Birding!