Bird Bathtub

Posted by on Apr 26, 2022 in Unmowed Blog | 0 comments

What could a mud puddle possibly be good for? Turns out puddles have a thousand uses. They’re swimming pool, bathtub, and drinking fountain for countless species of birds.

robin in mud puddle

photo by brad wilson

On a hot summer day, birds dive into a puddle like kids playing around in the neighborhood pool. Do wild animals ever just kick back and have a little fun? Surely a robin splishing and splashing in a puddle seems to be enjoying life. But of course all that washing and sluicing of the feathers isn’t just frivolity. Birds need to bathe their feathers often to keep them in peak flying condition.

Next time you happen to see birds splooshing around in a puddle, take a moment to observe. Do they wade in, or stand at the edge? Do they take a drink before bathing, tipping back their heads after each sip?

goldfinch puddle steve bonn

photo by Steve Bonn

And what’s their bathing style? Most birds fluff their feathers so the water can reach their skin. They splash and flick the water all over their bodies, using their wings and bobbing their heads to let the water slide down their back. Some birds, like swallows, take baths on the wing, dipping into the water and then skimming out again.

Birds bathe more often than most people do. On a hot summer day, a chickadee might take as many as five baths a day. They’ll even bathe in wintertime, since it’s so important to keep feathers in top flying condition.

A puddle of water might be a bit muddy, but that’s okay. The birds don’t mind muddy bath. Particles of grit help scrub the skin free of parasites or dirt. What birds need is a puddle not polluted by oil drips from cars or runoff from a pesticide-treated lawn. A nice, clean, muddy puddle can truly be a lifesaver for backyard birds. Clean, well-bathed feathers are essential to let the bird fly fast and far, ready to migrate, find food, or dodge a predator.


To find out more about puddles and the amazing variety of wildlife that depend on this odd, ignored habitat, please check out my picture book: Hello, Puddle!


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