©Andrea Leigh Ptak
Northern Flicker-Quick Preset_347x352When the thermometer dips below freezing, my thoughts turn to my backyard wildlife—the birds that visit my feeders. They need food, water and shelter to make it through the winter. Keeping their feeders stocked with fatty treats like suet cakes, black oil sunflower seeds and Nigerian thistle is the easy part. Evergreen shrubs and birdhouses create shelter (we even put our Christmas tree out in the yard after the holidays). Providing water is the real challenge.

As a certified backyard wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, my garden has three permanent birdbaths that offer drinking and bathing opportunities for my feathered friends most of the year. Once the temperature drops below freezing for more than a few hours, however, they become solid blocks of ice. I know the birds are in trouble when I see them practicing their figure skating.

With a light freeze, it takes little effort to go out and break up the ice and add fresh water. But a deep freeze makes it impossible. After a few days of carrying out boiling water in an attempt to melt the ice, I knew I had to find a better way. I wanted something easy to manage, that I could keep closer to the house.

robins at a backyard birdbath in winterI found the perfect solution at my local garden store—high-quality, flexible, plastic pot saucers. These are a step up from the cheap kind, and have “feet” to raise them up a bit. The cost was under $5.00 each. I bought two sizes: a larger one for bigger birds like robins, and a smaller one for the chickadees and wrens. I placed them on my deck railing, filled them with warm water from the tap and went back inside. Within a few minutes a flock of robins had gathered around, drinking and splashing to their hearts content. When they left, the smaller birds swooped in to quench their thirst—success!

bush tits at a suet feeder in the snowIt’s now an easy task to take in the saucers, pop the ice out into the sink, and replace them outside to refill. On extremely cold days, steam rises off the surface as the frigid air makes contact. I know I’ll need to check them from time to time during the day, especially when they are no longer in the sun, but it’s little trouble. I am rewarded by a variety of lovely visitors that I can watch from my cozy spot inside.