how much water do birds need

Dr. Rob is a world renowned avian veterinarian in Sydney, Australia. He was the veterinary consultant for the Northern Territory Nature and Conservation Commission for a scientific study of the disease status in the wild population of the endangered Gouldian Finches as it related to a “Recovery Plan”. T

A portion of all of our sales will be donated to the fund, in the hope that we may contribute in a small way to saving the wild

Over the last 10-17 years (depending on length of time any particular species was kept), I’ve tracked everything from seed hulls to water intake and have referenced the water intake for normal, healthy birds – several species. Average temperature in my bird room ranges from 65-72 degrees during the spring, summer & fall months, 48-68 during the winter. Humidity is always a bit on the high side right around 50-55%, but often much higher because my bird room is located in the basement. I will occasionally run a dehumidifier when the humidity is higher than 55%, but not often. I prefer to allow the birds to acclimate to their environment and build up immunities to issues that would be present during high humidity time. These totals are taken only from my own aviary and may be very different in other aviaries.

In my aviary, every species drinks a different amount of water. I track it daily and keep detailed notes on clipboards attached to each cage. Birds in flights tend to drink less – no matter the species or mix of species – while pairs tend to drink more with or without chicks.

My specialty lies in Australian species so I have limited experience with African and Indo-Pacific species. I’ve recorded averages for species I have kept ONLY. I do not have averages for species beyond what is recorded below:

Taking into consideration that a medication or supplement may taste or smell bad, these amounts may vary greatly depending on what is added to the drinking water. Gouldians here, for example, will totally refuse to drink for up to 48 hours if they dont like the taste or smell. By then they are wobbly and looking dehydrated and will finally give in and drink, but in very small amounts averaging less than 1/4 oz. I have seen similar behavior in all of the species Ive kept over the years, but to a lesser extent than with the Goulds.

These totals also change dramatically depending on the foods offered. Salt content and wet foods affect intake – changes in diet will also affect consumption, usually seeing it rise as much as 5x the norm until they’ve acclimated to the new diet, so obviously these totals may be very different from one aviary to the next. Overall health of the flock also plays a large role in consumption. In my experience ill birds, or those with mild issues, tend to drink more than those with strong immune systems and no outward signs of illness. And, of course, heat and humidity play a large role as well.

An important aspect of tracking water intake is observing whether a bird has received enough of a medication to actually stop an issue. In the past it has been a problem here, and what prompted me to begin tracking intake. Unless I closely monitor their intake, I may not know for sure they are getting enough. When I do not monitor the water intake, my only other recourse is to check droppings and run crop washes (depending on the issue) to ensure treatment has worked. I perform follow-ups at 3 days, 7 days and 10 days following treatment, and monitor water intake the entire time. But all water is tracked daily, regardless of health in the flock. ~k

These totals also change dramatically depending on the foods offered. Changes in diet will also affect intake, typically causing it to rise up to five times the norm until they’ve acclimated to the new diet. Obviously, these totals may differ significantly from one aviary to the next. Salt content and wet foods affect intake. The flock’s general health has a significant impact on consumption as well. From my observation, birds that are ill or have mild issues typically drink more than birds that are well and show no symptoms of illness. Of course, heat and humidity also have a significant impact.

Keeping track of a bird’s water intake is crucial for determining whether it has received enough medication to address an issue. This has been an issue in the past, which is what made me start monitoring intake. I might not be able to tell if they are getting enough unless I keep a close eye on what they consume. My only other option when I don’t watch the water intake is to look at droppings and, depending on the problem, run crop washes to make sure the treatment is effective. I track water intake the entire time and conduct follow-ups three, seven, and ten days after treatment. However, every day, all water is monitored, regardless of the flock’s condition. ~k.

Each species in my aviary has a different water intake. Every day, I monitor it and document everything on clipboards that are fastened to every cage. No matter what species or combination of species they are, birds in flight generally drink less, but pairs, whether they have chicks or not, typically drink more.

We hope to be able to help save the wild in some small way by donating a portion of every sale to the fund.

I have little experience with African and Indo-Pacific species because my area of expertise is Australian species. I’ve recorded averages for species I have kept ONLY. I don’t have any averages for any other species than those listed below:

Shallow puddles, which naturally serve as birdbaths in the wild, are comparable to excellent birdbaths. Pick an easy-to-clean shallow container, like the plastic lids of large containers, an old frying pan, or a shallow baking pan. You could dig a shallow hole in your yard and cover it with plastic or another water-resistant material. Even though birds favor ground-level water basins, think about whether cats could pose a threat. Place the birdbath three or four feet above the ground if you believe that it would be too alluring for cats to be on the ground. So that birds can stand on the branches or stones and drink without getting wet, fill the bath with sand and arrange a few of them inside. This is particularly crucial in the winter, when maintaining body heat is necessary to survive the cold.

Learn more about providing water for birds from the Great Backyard Bird Count (PDF).

Celebrate Urban Birds works to co-create community science initiatives that are equity-based, inclusive, and bilingual in order to benefit communities that have historically been marginalized or excluded from citizen science, conservation, and birding. Through fair knowledge exchange, improved accessibility, highlighting underrepresented perspectives and experiences, and consciously promoting community ownership and scientific research leadership, the project aims to advance better science. The project has co-developed procedures to co-design, test, and execute scientific research and programming with a focus on racial equity alongside participating communities.

Remember to clean and replace the water in the birdbath every few days to maintain the freshness of the water. If you notice green algae, clean the birdbath’s walls and bottom right away. Try to clean the birdbath before the water gets stale. After adding water to the birdbath, watch the feathered guests having fun in your little “puddle.”

Birds need fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing. Most birds drink water every day. To keep their feathers clean and free of parasites, they also appear to enjoy taking baths. A birdbath will draw more birds to your balcony, roof patio, or yard because they are drawn to clean, well-maintained ones. Water also enhances the habitat for birds and other animals, increasing your chances of witnessing their entertaining behaviors up close.

FAQ

How often do birds need to drink water?

Birds must drink at least twice a day to survive. And since a bird’s feathers function as both insulation and transportation, they also need to bathe regularly to keep their feathers clean and free of snow and ice.

How long can a bird go without water?

As with all of these answers, there are a variety of factors involved. However, for smaller birds like finches and warblers, major dehydration can occur in as little as 2-3 hours as temperatures peak. Larger birds like pigeons can survive for 48+ hours at mild temperatures when deprived of water.

Do birds need a lot of water?

Despite its relative scarcity, birds need water just as much as humans do. Drinking water helps regulate body processes, improve metabolism and keep birds healthy. Birds use water for preening and bathing, and on hot days, standing in cool water or taking a quick splash can help birds keep cool.

Will birds drink water from a bowl?

Fortunately, there are other safe ways we can provide water for birds. Setting an unbreakable shallow bowl of water out, and bringing it in after ice forms, is one way. By setting your bowl out at the same time each day, you can help birds discover it quickly.