Water’s vital properties
Water is just as much an essential of life for birds as it is for us. They not only need it for drinking and bathing but also for basic survival. Many ground-foraging species like robins and blackbirds struggle during prolonged droughts when the ground is baked hard, while lack of rain in May can make it impossible for house martins and swallows to find mud to build their nests.
Thus no bird garden is complete without water. Few of us are lucky enough to have natural streams or ponds so it’s up to us to provide them. Even tiny ponds can prove invaluable but remember that birds like shallow areas no more than an inch or so deep where they can bathe in safety. If you haven’t got a pond, then a bird bath will prove very popular with a variety of species. Birds are highly sociable bathers: when one bird starts bathing, others will often join it. Mixed bathing parties are quite usual with perhaps a robin, several starlings, a few greenfinches and chaffinch all plunging into the bath one after the other. Such activity can quickly empty a shallow bath; in summer it’s quite usual to have to refill daily (always give the bath a quick scrub before refilling).
Birds bathe to keep their feathers in tip-top condition, and this is just as important in winter as summer. During prolonged cold spells it’s a good idea to empty the bath every evening before it freezes and to fill it up again the next day.