Bird bath winter care – 5 essential tips from the experts

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

Garden bird on a bird bath covered in snow
(Image credit: Getty Images/Tammi Mild)

In cold weather, bird bath winter care is a top priority for wildlife lovers. The winter months can be tough on garden birds. As more people stay indoors, bird feeders are left unfilled and bird baths can 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 yard, 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. 

Goldfinch perched on bird bath covered with snow

(Image credit: Getty Images/Andrew_Howe)

5 expert tips for bird bath winter care

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

bird bath in flower beds in summer

(Image credit: Gail Shotlander/Getty Images)

1. Consider the material of your bird bath   

Frozen bird bath

(Image credit: Getty Images/raksyBH)

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 Phillips and Krystol O'Rourke, the co-founders of Spade & Sparrow Designs, 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.

Krystol O'Rourke headshot
Krystol O'Rourke

Krystol O'Rourke has enjoyed a lifelong love affair with all things green and growing. After 25 years in medicine, as a physician and adjunct professor, she followed her heart by going back to school to study horticulture at North Carolina State University and exploring some of the most magnificent gardens around the world. She is co-founder of Spade & Sparrow exterior design business. 

2. Defrost or remove any ice that forms 

Starlings on a frozen bird bath

(Image credit: Getty Images/raksyBH)

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, 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 will keep your water from freezing in cold weather.

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.

3. Keep your bird bath clean 

Tufted titmouse sitting on heated bird bath in winter

(Image credit: Getty Images/H .H. Fox Photography)

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, as stagnant water left out will not only cause a build-up of algae and become unsightly, but it can make birds ill, too. Not doing so would be a bird bath mistake

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: 

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

4. Refresh the water regularly 

American goldfinch sat on bird bath

(Image credit: Getty Images/On;y_Sky_artist)

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

Sean McMenemy, wildlife expert and founder of Ark Wildlife, 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, 2-3in of water is ideal.'

Sean McMenemy
Sean McMenemy

Sean McMenemy is the founder of Ark Wildlife and a wildlife expert with an unparalleled understanding of garden wildlife, which dates back to a passion developed during his childhood. He is regarded as a leading authority on garden wildlife and has driven innovation, quality and convenience to the bird food and wildlife market.

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. Birds get preoccupied with bathing and preening, making them vulnerable to attack, so where you site your bath is vital. 

You can help them to feel safe by giving them clear visibility around the bath, and some nearby cover to perch and preen out of sight.

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.

Shop these stylish bird baths


What is the best material for a bird bath?

Consider a durable material such as copper or iron, which will be resistant to severely cold temperatures and heavy rain. Stone or ceramic bird baths may be more susceptible to frosts, and could crack or break over winter if not protected properly. 

Should I bring my bird bath inside over winter?

Ideally, it is best for your feathered garden friends not to bring your bird bath inside over winter, as birds rely on them as a source of water in the colder months. If you choose a design made from durable metals, or one with a protective coating, and ensure you remove any ice that forms on the top, it will be fine to leave outside. 

If you love to welcome birds into your yard, you may be interested to find out the best plants for birds. Alternatively, if you have some large trees in your backyard, you might be able to attract woodpeckers or even owls

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.