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Taking a cold bath

June 30, 2015

IMG_1960What would tempt a tiny woodland bird into a bird-bath in mid-winter? This is the question we pondered as we watched these Brown Thornbills splashing about in one of our birds-baths with the air temperature at around 7°C. And it may have been the same pair we saw a few days earlier happily bathing in water where the ice-cap from a minus 3°C frost that morning had only just melted!
So, why do they do it? Parasite control, keeping their feathers in good shape or do they simply find it invigorating? It’s easy to understand them bathing to cool off in stifling summer heat, but with the water temperature not much above zero, and given their small body mass …?
Any comments welcome.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Di Foletta permalink
    June 30, 2015 7:37 am

    We have noticed ALL birds do this! Even when it’s freezing!

    • June 30, 2015 8:13 am

      Yes, Di, we’ve also noticed many other birds bathing in icy water – there was an Eastern Spinebill in another bath at the same time as the thornbills were having their dip.

  2. Jo Wood permalink
    June 30, 2015 9:38 am

    The web site http://www.audubon.org has a great reply for birds bathing in winter…See below

    Don’t birds freeze in the winter when they take baths?

    While it would seem that winter bathing would put birds at risk, actually they can do it quite safely. This is because the feathers of a healthy bird shed most of the water, preventing it from leaking through to the insulating down and skin below. This is most obvious in ducks which paddle about in freezing water, but it also applies to land birds who can shed and shake water from their plumage. The water helps them clean their feathers of dirt that would otherwise interfere with the feather barbules that act like Velcro to lock out water from penetrating. In nature, wintering land birds typically bathe in shallow water along flowing streams. Of course no chemicals should be added to bird bath water to keep it from freezing.

    • June 30, 2015 4:24 pm

      Thanks Jo – interesting stuff. It still make us cringe at the thought of dipping into that freezing water.

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