29/12/2008
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Ping pong merrily on high

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The thought of splashing around in cold water in the garden at this time of year would fill most of us with dread. But for the birds that visit our homes, this chilly dip offers a lifeline. And that’s why the RSPB is appealing to gardeners to help birds with their bathing this winter, and suggesting safe, easy and effective ways to prevent bird baths freezing over.

Robin
Robin, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk (Photo: Mick Green)

With the Met Office recording the coldest start to winter in over thirty years, and warning of more sub-zero temperatures to come, gardeners are likely to get frustrated hacking away at frozen baths each morning. But simple steps like placing ping pong balls or corks into the water could banish this chilly start to the wildlife-friendly gardener’s day. In freezing conditions birds will become more dependent on water provided in gardens, since many natural sources of water are frozen over.

Richard James, RSPB wildlife advisor, says: “Most birds, especially small ones, need to drink at least twice a day. Being able to rely on supplies in gardens can make a huge difference. Birds also need water for feather washing. Bathing and preening are essential to keep feathers in good condition. And keeping in good condition helps birds get around, find food, and evade predators.”

The RSPB suggests placing a ping pong ball, tennis ball or cork in unfrozen water. Movement of these items in the wind keeps the water agitated, making it less likely to freeze. You could also use short lengths of garden cane or twigs in a similar way. They would also provide a great perch for birds. Even if this just keeps a small amount of water ice-free, it still means birds have vital access to something to drink and bathe in.

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The RSPB also recommends that instead of pouring hot water directly onto ice, a pan of hot water placed on top will have the same effect, but without the risk of cracking your birdbath. Boiling water directly on ice could lead to material like stone, which is often used in bird baths, to fracture.

Richard continues: “Some nights, icing over is unavoidable, as temperatures drop significantly. So another good tip is to line your birdbath with a sheet of plastic or a bin liner, so that the ice can be simply lifted out each morning and left on the ground to thaw out naturally. You can then refill the birdbath with fresh, clean water. Providing food and water for garden birds at this time of year can be the difference between life and death. These small things can often make a difference, and keep the birds in your garden in better condition.”

RSPB Supporter Dianne Asplin says: “I can’t imagine how birds dive into the cold water in my bird bath at this time of year but they seem to love splashing around. I love watching them shake themselves off afterwards as if to say ‘brrrr…that was chilly!’ I do all I can to stop the water from freezing and if some of these things reduce the mornings I have to go outside in my dressing gown to try and thaw the water out it would make life so much easier!”

For more information on keeping water ice-free and feeding the birds in your garden this winter visit www.rspb.org.uk/advice.
Written by: RSPB