How to stop a bird bath from freezing in winter – 6 expert ways

Keep this valuable resource accessible to wildlife over cold periods

Robin about to break through ice on bird bath in winter
(Image credit: Andrew Young / Alamy Stock Photo)

It's vital we learn how to stop a bird bath from freezing, to provide this much-needed resource for our feathered friends over winter. Like us, birds need water daily to survive. And over cold periods fresh drinking water can be harder to come by. 

You might think it's not worth the effort to keep your bird bath frost-free, and wait for it to thaw naturally as the weather warms up. However, during winter the daylight hours are fewer, meaning birds have a tougher time finding food and water.

As the American Bird Conservancy tells us: 'In less than a single human lifetime, 2.9 billion breeding adult birds have been lost from the United States and Canada.'

This is mainly caused by habitat loss and degradation. So, it's important we do everything we can to prevent the decline in populations by giving birds a little of what they need in our backyards.

Robin on a frozen bird bath on a cold frosty morning

Birds will appreciate sources of fresh water in winter

(Image credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo)

6 ways to stop a bird bath from freezing over winter

There are several wildlife-safe ways to go about this. Methods which won't cause any damage to your bird bath ideas, either. 

1. Keep a floating object in your bird bath

A rubber duck swims in a bird bath during cold weather to stop the water freezing

Floating devices will be blown about by the wind

(Image credit: sleepystockOffbeat / Alamy Stock Photo)

'To prevent a birdbath from freezing in winter, consider using a floating object like a small rubber ball, or we often will use a wine cork to create movement in the water, to inhibit freezing', suggests Amy Hovis, Principal and Landscape Designer at Eden Garden Design.

This is a low-cost, easy method, which will cause minimal disruption to your bird bath and visiting birds.

2. Position it in a bright location

Blue tit bird drinking from de-iced bird bath in snow in garden

Choose sunny spots which have no hiding places for prowling cats

(Image credit: Kay Roxby / Alamy Stock Photo)

A common bird bath mistake is not choosing a bright spot in the garden, which is in direct sun for most of the day. Bird baths placed in winter sunlight will have a better chance of not icing over than one in a shaded spot.

It's important that birds can stop and take a drink in safety. Therefore try and position them in a place to keep them safe from cats, too. 

Howard Youth, senior writer at the American Bird Conservation advises making sure there is a clear line of sight for birds to spot ambushing cats. Be mindful of this when placing your bird house ideas as well.

3. Consider an electrical de-icer

Cardinalis cardinalis, drinking from a heated bird bath in the winter during a light snowfall

You will need a safe power source for electrical de-icers

(Image credit: B LaRue / Alamy Stock Photo)

'There are plug-in bird bath de-icers you can buy that you can use with a long outdoor extension cord,' says Amy Hovis. 

These plug into a power source and float in the water of your bird bath, keeping the temperature above freezing. They are also good for keeping garden ponds from freezing. You will of course need an outdoor power socket and be sure to stop leads becoming a trip hazard.

Options with built-in heaters are also available to buy like this heated bird bath with stand at Macy's.

4. Try a solar option

Goldfinch carduelis carduelis on frozen bird bath

Solar options are easy to instal

(Image credit: steve young / Alamy Stock Photo)

If you don't have an outdoor power source try a solar option. 'Solar-powered aerators or fountains can also be effective by maintaining water movement,' says Amy Hovis. 

Similar to how the floating object works, solar aerators keep constant movement in the bird bath making it difficult for water to freeze over. 

NFESOLAR Solar Pond Aerator at Amazon

NFESOLAR Solar Pond Aerator at Amazon

Usually for use in ponds and tanks, you can hook one of these up to your bird bath during winter. The motion will help keep the water from freezing.

Amy Hovis headshot
Amy Hovis

Amy Hovis is Principal at Eden Garden Design, an award-winning landscape Design + Build Studio as well as the owner of Barton Springs Nursery, an inspiring design-driven Garden Center in Austin, TX that specializes in native plants.

5. Remove ice regularly

A house finch (Haemorhous Mexicanus) visits a backyard bird bath after a light snowfall

Keep removing ice and topping up with water regularly

(Image credit: Shiiko Alexander / Alamy Stock Photo)

The old-fashioned way, though a little tenuous perhaps, is to regularly remove ice from a bird bath as it starts to form.

If you want to try this method, Amy Hovis recommends removing ice during extremely cold periods, as this prevents the formation of a thick layer of ice. Perhaps try to remember doing so when you go out to top up your bird feeder.

6. Empty your bird bath before nightfall

bird bath frozen over with frozen water droplets

Temperatures tend to drop even lower at night

(Image credit: Jordan Eisfelder / Alamy Stock Photo)

If your wildlife garden is in a region where temperatures drop below freezing overnight, Amy Hovis suggests you could remove water when the sun goes down and top it up again the next morning, with warm water. 

Birds won't be searching for water in the dark, and it means you won't need to worry about defrosting the water the next day. Replace your chosen floating device each time to prevent freezing during the day.

Some places will recommend you throw boiling water down. However, depending on the material of your bird bath, this sudden drastic temperature shift could see your bird bath crack.


What can I put in my bird bath to keep it from freezing?

We recommend steering clear of wildlife garden mistakes, such as chemicals which claim to keep your bird bath and ponds from freezing. These may be harmful to birds or upset the natural ecosystem of your backyard.

The best options are to keep a floating object in the water which will keep motion in the water as it's blown about by the wind. This helps stop the water from freezing.

You can also buy plug-in de-icers which will stop the water reaching zero.

How do you defrost a frozen bird bath?

If your bird bath has frozen over the best way to defrost it is to pour over cold or warm water. Some people recommend using boiling water from a kettle, however this sudden temperature change could cause damage to your bird bath.

Your garden birds will greatly benefit from the fresh drinking water available to keep them alive over winter when resources are scarce. If you like the idea of helping out birds even more, you  might be interested in tips on how to feed birds over winter, too.

Teresa Conway
Deputy Gardens Editor

Teresa was part of a team that launched Easy Gardens magazine two years ago and edited it for some time. Teresa has been a Gardens Editor at Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and Living Etc magazine since 2020 and has developed close working relationships with top garden designers, and has been exposed to an array of rich garden content and expertise.