Birds need to hydrate to stay healthy, just like all animals, and finding water in the wild can be difficult, especially during the dry season.
This begs these questions: how do birds find water, how much water do they need, and what can you do to help?
It’s time to find out below.
How Do Birds Find Water?
Birds rely on sound, sight, memory, and luck to find water. The latter applies to birds that live in primarily dry areas – for example, Arizona.
During dry periods, when the usually brimming streams and ponds are empty, birds have to find the few rare water sources. This usually happens by accident – a bird can fly around all day looking for water and find none.
It can also fly around for just a few hours and find a puddle of water that’s going to keep it hydrated for a few days. During times like these, birds are especially reliant on water provided by people.
Bird baths, pools, dams, and water containers are all major bird attractants!
These droughts, however, aren’t constant, and finding water usually isn’t that difficult for birds.
They listen to the sound of a stream or a river, and they look for the shimmery reflection of sunlight on the water’s surface.
Since sound is so important for birds to find water, they’re naturally more attracted to running water (fountains, rivers, and streams) than still water.
Once it finds a stable water source, a bird will remember it (or if it doesn’t remember the specific spot, it will remember the general direction in which it was found).
Next time the bird needs a drink, it will fly out in the direction of the water source and quickly find it by listening for it.
What Do Birds Need Water For?
Aside from drinking, birds also need water for bathing. This is why installing a bird bath in your backyard will attract them.
Bathing is more important for birds than many people assume – they can’t clean their feathers that easily. The most effective way of getting rid of all the dirt is by bathing.
During a bath, a bird will get completely wet to loosen the dirt, but it will quickly dry by spreading its feathers.
They’ll also start preening after bathing. Preening is the process of rearranging and cleaning their feathers, and getting rid of all the parasites (usually fleas and small bugs).
Since their feathers are clean after bathing, they can now apply preen oil. Preen oil is an oily substance that birds produce from a gland, and spreading it all over their feathers protects the feathers from sun, dirt, and water damage.
Preen oil also acts as a layer protecting them from microscopic parasites.
Preening wouldn’t be as effective if a bird wasn’t clean before preening, which is why bathing is so important for birds.
When it comes to drinking, birds need to drink water at least two times a day. Birds that live in hot climates need to drink even more than that.
Although they don’t sweat and don’t lose water that way, they lose it through excretion and breathing.
Birds get most of their water from their food, but if that isn’t enough, they need to find a water source to drink from. Seed-eating birds can’t get their water from food, so they depend on water from streams, lakes, and puddles for hydration.
Some birds, particularly the ones that eat a lot of fruit, don’t need to drink water at all because they get all the water from their food (fruits contain plenty of water).
Seabirds also have it easy, as they developed special salt glands, allowing them to drink seawater and excrete the salt!