do robins use bird baths

One of the many waves of migratory birds that has arrived in the Twin Cities area in the past couple of weeks was Robins — a bonanza of Robins — a “robinnanza”. These are not your usual noisy, chattery backyard robins; they are instead secretive, quiet, stealthy birds that fly silently through the forest and gang up together for bathing in small forest streams.

Previously, I wrote a post querying why readers thought Robins bathed so much, and one reader suggested it was because they dig around in the dirty leaves so much. Indeed, there was an ample display of that behavior near the stream bank, where Robins were furiously poking into and throwing leaves up in the air as they explored what lay beneath.

I poked at a few leaves myself, and found some spiders and mealy bugs crawling around under them, so no wonder the Robins have congregated in this rich hunting ground near a lovely bathing spot.

Usually when we think of “water birds”, ducks and geese come to mind. But if you have a backyard bird bath, you might have noticed that Robins are the most enthusiastic bathers of all the birds that use the bird bath. The robins in my backyard monopolize the bird bath, and really deserve to be called “water birds”.

Birds really do love bird baths, or even just shallow depressions that collect water along the side of a road, and most will get thoroughly wet at least once every couple of days. But what does getting wet really accomplish? Is it to rid themselves of skin parasites, or to cool off, or just to rinse the dirt off?

We know that birds spread oil from a gland at the base of the top of the tail onto their feathers while preening — this effectively waterproofs them, causing water to bead up on the surface. But too much waterproofing oil on the feather surface isn’t a good thing either, because it attracts dirt and dust, and eventually clumps making feathers less pliable and less effective airfoils. Hence, a good bath is needed to get those feathers back into shape.

Wetting the feathers makes them more pliable, so that when birds preen themselves, they can more easily readjust the feathers to form the most efficient flying surface. And there is proof that this works: a study in 2009* demonstrated that Starlings prohibited from bathing were clumsier flyers (had more trouble avoiding obstacles in their path) than those that had access to bird baths regularly. Clumsy flying compromises predator avoidance, so bathing does seem to be linked to survival.

But I still don’t know why Robins seem to love the bird bath so much more than other birds…do you?

When I previously asked readers to explain why they believed that Robins took so many baths, one of them suggested that it was because they spent so much time scrubbing around in the filthy leaves. In fact, there was a good example of that behavior close to the streambank, where robins were ferociously probing the ground and flinging leaves into the air to see what was below.

Feathers become more malleable when wet, allowing birds to more easily readjust them to create the most efficient flying surface during preening. And there’s evidence that this works: a 2009* study showed that starlings denied access to bird baths flew less skillfully and encountered more obstacles when flying than starlings with regular access to bird baths. Erroneous flying makes it harder to avoid predators, so bathing does appear to be related to survival.

I’m still not sure, though, why robins seem to enjoy the bird bath so much more than other species of birds.

We know that during preening, birds apply oil to their feathers from a gland at the base of the top of the tail; this effectively waterproofs the feathers and causes water to bead up on the surface. However, excessive waterproofing oil on the feather surface is also detrimental because it gathers dust and dirt and eventually clumps, which reduces the pliability and effectiveness of the feathers as airfoils. Therefore, to get those feathers back into shape, give yourself a good bath.

A “robinnanza” of robins was among the numerous waves of migratory birds that have descended upon the Twin Cities region in recent weeks. These are not your typical chatty, boisterous backyard robins; rather, they are shy, quiet, and cunning birds that fly through the forest in silence and gather in groups to take baths in tiny streams.

Mike O’Connor and the employees of the Bird Watcher’s General Store in Orleans are the authors of this column. Original artwork is supplied by Cathy Clark. If you would like to ask the bird experts a question, send an email to bwgs. capecod@verizon. net or call 508-255-6974.

When birds contaminate their birdbath water, some people become irritated. Why would birds poop in their own water, I’m asked. I answer, “Have they seen what we’ve done to Boston Harbor or the Charles River?” Case closed.

However, if the space surrounding your bathtub truly becomes unclean, just snap a picture, have it framed, and introduce yourself to everyone as Anna-Therese Pollock. There could be big money in it for you.

Some shrubs and trees have a different plan. They bear delicious fruit to entice birds, which will then take off to digest for a while after finishing their meal. Similar to the seeds of our watermelons and corn, the undigested portions of the fruit, which are primarily seeds, are excreted. The bird benefits from this arrangement since it receives a free meal. Additionally, the plant benefits from it because its seeds have now been deposited elsewhere.

Berries, fermented or not, have a further drawback besides making birds drunk: they don’t stay in the birds for very long. Before the invention of seedless varieties, do you recall a time when we actually ate watermelons with seeds? (Best invention ever, btw) We were all concerned about what might occur if we inadvertently swallowed a seed. Would we die, or worse, have watermelons grow inside us?.


Do robins like to take baths?

Providing water is important for robins because they like to drink and bathe regularly. A shallow pond with a muddy area is ideal since robins use mud for nest building. Birdbaths with misters and drippers will also appeal to these birds.

Why do robins love bird baths?

Robins can be pretty territorial, they may just be bogarting your birdbath, lol. They need the water to get the dirt and oil off their feathers, and bathing not only cleans them, but cools them off in the summer, and actually helps keep them warmer in the winter, because clean feathers are warm feathers.

What birds will use a birdbath?

Birds use baths both for drinking and for bathing, and almost every species of bird in your yard will visit a birdbath. This includes both the common feeder-visiting birds and other birds that rarely visit feeders, such as black phoebes, robins, flickers, and bluebirds.

How do robins clean themselves?

Robins bathe partly to get their feathers wet and clean, but also to get their skin wet and clean. They have to fluff up the feathers to let water through to their skin. Then they shake to get the water off.