We’ve long said that providing water for your garden birds is as important as feeding them, and that’s still our position. This is especially true if you live in an urban area, because on days when there’s no rainfall a bird bath, or even just a small tray of water, in a garden can, quite literally, be the only water available for songbirds. And songbirds need water – and clean water at that – for two main reasons:

1.       Okay the first reason is fairly obvious, but birds need water for drinking. Most small birds need to drink at least twice per day, as fluid is lost through respiration and their droppings – but, unlike mammals, not through sweat as birds have no sweat glands. The amount of water a bird needs varies by species and by the season.  The tit family, for example, get most of their water from the invertebrates they eat, such as caterpillars in the summer months. However other species such as house sparrow and greenfinch - especially in urban areas with little or no native trees – will get virtually all of their water from supplied sources, as they are very dependent on seeds and the various dry foods we put out for them in our gardens, such as sunflower hearts, peanuts and suet products.

2.       Bathing is the second reason, with this being necessary as water loosens the dirt on plumage ahead of preening, which is the process birds go through to keep their feathers in good condition. And this is the reason you can often observe birds preening their feathers immediately after bathing, with the process involving the bird running its bill across the preen gland (located near the base of the tail) to collect oil which is then spread on the plumage to make it waterproof.

For both of the above and especially for drinking, it is absolutely essential that the water is clean to prevent the spread of disease. At this time of year, and with noisy groups of starling often emptying bird baths several times a day as up to six of them attempt to bathe all at once, cleaning a bird bath or simple tray on the ground and keeping it full of clean water can be a bit of task. But it is worth it, which brings us nicely to the third great reason why you should provide water for your garden birds:

It’s a great spectacle! And it really is, from the group of entertaining starlings mentioned above to the single robin which nips in for a fleeting drink at dusk.

So if your garden has bird feeders but currently no bird bath, then have think about putting one out – you won’t be disappointed by the results.