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Water your wildlife

Last modified: 09 July 2010

Starling perched on wall

We all understand the concepts of drought, water shortages and hosepipe bans.

But the thirsty creatures in our gardens are not so au fait with these issues and still need our help being hydrated this summer.

The RSPB is urging everyone to ensure they continue to provide fresh water for garden birds and other wildlife, and keep lawns, trees and shrubs green and lush so they provide insect food.

And the wildlife charity believes this can be done at no extra cost whilst being mindful of the ever-increasing need to conserve water.

Birds that rely on food they extract from the ground, like worms and slugs, particularly struggle in long, dry spells.

Species like blackbirds, song thrushes and robins will find it extremely difficult to find the food they need if the earth is dry and solid.

Most birds, especially small ones, need to drink at least twice a day and in summer this will increase.

Birds get the liquid they need from both food and drinking. Many insectivorous birds get most of their water from food, while seed-eating birds like greenfinches, have a dry diet and need to drink more.

Birds don’t have sweat glands. So don’t need as much water as mammals,  but do lose water through respiration and in their droppings.

Birds also need water for feather washing. Bathing and preening are essential to keep feathers in good condition. And keeping in good condition helps birds get around, find food, and evade predators.

The best way to provide birds with the water they need is to put out a simple, sturdy dish of water with sloping sides.

One to four inches of water would be best and ideally the surface of the bath needs to be rough so birds can grip it with their claws. Avoid shiny slippery containers.

Lee Hollingsworth from the RSPB’s Wildlife Enquiries team says: “Birds aren’t worried about the aesthetics of their baths and as long as the dish is simple, functional and could withstand a vigorous bathing session from a flock of starling for example, it will be suitable.

“You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a fancy structure and you don’t need to put out a lot of water – a small amount, refreshed twice a day, would be fine.”

The RSPB is also encouraging gardeners to install a water butt, to collect any rainwater that we do get this summer. Even if only small amounts are collected in the next few weeks, when the wetter seasons start they will be completely full for next year’s dry spells.

Water from water butts is ideal for the almost daily watering needed in summer, and can also be used for topping up ponds.

You could also use ‘grey water’ from things such as baths or preparing vegetables and salads to keep your lawns saturated.

For more information on visit

How you can help

If you want to help the birds twice over by knowing you’re feeding top quality foods and using products overseen by our experts, RSPB Bird Care is for you.

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