Bird Bath Tips for Winter Birds

Winter birds need water too, but bird baths often freeze over. Get cost-saving tips for offering water to birds during cold weather.

Water is a great way to attract birds to your backyard…even in the winter months. Usually, a dish or ceramic bowl will do the trick, but readers have come up with some great tips for ways to keep their bird baths open in winter. Here are five of our favorites.

I made my own heated bird bath by lining a 5-gallon bucket with old carpet and filling it halfway with gravel. Then, I inserted a light socket with a 60-watt lightbulb into the bucket and set a dish of water on top. (Use extreme care that you don’t splash water onto the socket. Always use a GFI outlet.) The light heats the rock, which keeps the water in the dish from freezing. —Larry Vink, Topeka, Kansas

I don’t have a heated bird bath, but I still provide water for my winter birds during the cold season. In the morning when the water in my bird bath is frozen, I simply pour hot water over the ice. This quickly loosens it, and I pop the ice right out of the bird bath. Then I refill it with warm water. When it’s really cold, I’ll do this a few times a day. —Sherry Schoberg, Elkridge, Maryland

To provide water for birds in winter, I fill a metal bucket with hot ash from my fireplace. Then I’ll take the ash outside and set a metal dish on top of the bucket and fill it with water. The ashes keep the water from freezing for quite a while. —Erma Evans, Garfield, Arkansas

I set a dish filled with water on a barrel located just below a window. Because the water freezes quickly, I just open the window, remove the ice that accumulates in the dish and refill it. It’s very convenient, and the birds appreciate my extra effort. —Margaret Retz, Boyceville, Wisconsin

To provide water for the winter birds, I fill a shallow metal pan with water and clamp an auto repair light below it. A 60-watt lightbulb keeps it thawed. —Diana Austin, Douglasville, Georgia

  1. L. Manna says

    Love the ideas using a lightbulb; it sure beats a long, cold trek to the bird bath every morning with a kettle of boiling water and an ice chipper. More than that, it solves the problem of the bird bath freezing over before the birds get to use it. Thanks!

  2. L. Manna says

    Love the ideas using the light bulb; it sure beats a long, cold to trek to the bird bath every morning with a kettle of boiling water and an ice pick. More than that, it solves the problem of the bird bath freezing over before the birds have a chance to use it. Thanks!

  3. Bob Anderson says

    You don’t identify the little cold bird in the photo. Isn’t it a European Robin? And if it is, why not tell the folks that our American Robin got his “Robin Red-Breast” name from early settlers who thought the birds they were seeing might be Robins?
    I use a sort-of expensive, but oh so convenient, electric heated birdbath.

    • Chris Earle says

      It’s a bluebird. A female. There is blue on the wings though it’s hard to see it. We have a couple of them that stay the winter. European robins are colored a little different.

  4. C. Winkler says

    I splurged a bit – bought a regular bird bath heater and outdoor extension cord. The heater turns itself off if the water isn’t freezing, and when the bath goes dry. The heater has to be cleaned occasionally, of course, and the hard water build up removed to keep it temperature-sensitive. It’s less work for me and more available for the winter birds – and saves electricity.

  5. J. DeVoe says

    I bought a heater for the water. You just set it in the bird bath and plug it in. In really cold weathr the edge will sometimes frost or freeze but the center stays warm. My bird bath is circular and about 2 inches deep and sits in a rod iron platform.
    Bought it years ago and its still in great shape!

  6. KARIN BALES says

    I bought a heated dog bowl at Tractor Supply. I put it on top of my regular bird bath and fill with water. Works great!

  7. Diane Hollister says

    I use drainage pan that goes under a flower pot on top of a pot full of dirt so it’s not directly on the cement porch for the birdbath. I bought an aquarium pump with the plastic tubing held in place in the water by rocks. The pump causes the water to circulate and even if the edges freeze, the water in the center does not freeze except in a very hard freeze. Plus there’s the sound of moving water that draws the birds in. Two for one!!

  8. says

    I have had a heated birdbath right outside my dining room window for many years. I stood a 5ft birch log upright and sunk 1ft into the ground. I took 2 large plastic flower pot dishes (same size)-nailed one into the top end of the log. Then I set the other dish in the first. It is easy to remove and clean. Birds are fussy, they don’t like dirty water. We have received so much pleasure year round, from watching the goings on. Squirrels come and drink too. Sometimes there is a “waiting line” of “bathers”. I change the water twice a week. I bought the water heater at a farm supply store.

  9. Joan Gustin says

    I have a heated birdbath that clamps to the porch, a farmers plug cover and heavy extension cord. It keeps the water thawed and very easy to maintain. Dump out the dirty water, wipe it out and refill. 6′ from my deck slider and they love it!

  10. Ed says

    I bought a book with woodworking plans I Believe from B & B a long time ago. There are plans in there using a light bulb under a round cake tin encased in a plywood box. With insulation you will only need a 25W or 40W bulb. I found a higher watt bulb will just make the water evaporate faster.

    • Jan Burrows says

      this worked great until the birds tried to take a bath in it then the water splashed all over and hit the light bulb blowing it out! was fun to watch them bath tho

  11. Ruth Killian says

    I use a heated water dish for dogs with a rock in the middle for the birds to stand.This has worked great for years. The Bluebirds aways come in as soon as the weather is below freezing.

  12. Diane says

    I put a rock in a heated dog dish. I put that in my bird bath. The rock keeps the water where the birds can drink it.

  13. Bev Talbot says

    I put a pin hole in a gallon plastic bottle and it will last a long time just sitting on the bird bath, very small hole is all you need

  14. says

    Great tips from readers! I wonder… I have a rain barrel that is filled to the brim. I usually keep it clear of ice. considering how deep it is, will it be dangerous for birds? Or just what they need? I don’t want them to drown!

  15. Paula Gratz says

    I bought a heated dog dish last year and its working very well. A stray cat was coming around once in awhile for a drink too!

  16. Jesi T says

    I use a heated outdoor dog dish. I put it on top of my patio table. I have been doing this for a couple years now. Every couple days I dump it and wipe it out and refresh the water. Perfect size, perfect height on the patio table, just need an outdoor plug & an extension cord. About $15 for years of use.

  17. velma says

    I just bought a heated dog waterer and put a brick in it for them to stand on (because the dog waterer is deeper). works great and so easy to clean. FYI hot water freezes faster than cold water.

  18. Jack says

    Even though the birdbath heaters are relatively inexpensive I’d rather not run an extension cord out to the birdbath so instead of pouring hot water on the ice in the morning as I had been, I just empty it before it freezes overnight and then fill it in the morning.

  19. Glen Spicer says

    If your bird feeder is a hollow ceramic column like mine, a light inside it warms the air in the hollow space and the ceramic too. Since warm air rises the water in the bowl benefits as well. Before I did this a freeze split the ceramic bowl so I replaced it with a metal pan used for feeding other animals and it won’t break even if the water freezes should the bulb go out.

  20. Sue says

    Use a heat dish dish> Done. Or if you have the money buy a heated bird bath. I sit my on a garbage can and it works great.


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