Bird Watcher's General Store

Birds' Feet Don't Stick to Metal Perches After a Bath - 11/30/01


Dear Bird Folks,

While commuting to work the other day, I started worrying about the heater in my birdbath. Could the water on the bird's feet cause it to stick to the metal perches on my feeder when the weather gets cold?

- Heidi, Yarmouth

Hi Heidi,

How are the goats and your grandfather? So you are worried about birds, fresh out of your hot tub birdbath, sticking to your metal perches, eh? Well, you can relax. Of all the perils that face birds in the winter, sticking to feeder perches isn't one of them. Sure, a bird with wet feet could stick to a metal perch, but even a bird right out of the bath doesn't have wet feet for more than a few seconds. Birds' feet are rather thin and scraggily and offer very little for moisture to cling to. Once they leave your birdbath, most birds do not want to eat. They fly off to a protected bush to preen. The cold winter air quickly evaporates any remaining moisture from the bird's foot. Also, as the bird flies, the passing air helps to dry the bird's feet, much in the same way a swimsuit is quickly dried when it is handing off a car antenna that is speeding down the Mid-Cape on a hot summer's day. Only the bird's feet don't come flying off halfway down the road.

Your concern about metal perches is a common one. Many people worry about it. Some feeder companies have turned this concern into a marketing tool. They add a rubber of plastic sleeve to cover the metal perches on their feeders, thus giving the consumer the feeling that the bird's feet are now safe from freezing. However, after a few weeks, the squirrels will have chewed the plastic cover off, forcing the feeder owner to purchase new perch covers, which the feeder maker happily sells. What a surprise.

That is not to say that accidents can't happen. Years ago I did see a bird's foot stick to an aluminum birdbath that had a heater in it. The bird walked into the water for a drink and them hopped to the cold aluminum edge of the bath, where it instantly became stuck. Perhaps the short hop to the birdbath's edge did not allow enough time for any evaporation to take place. Fortunately for the bird, I saw its predicament and rushed to its aid. With two or three yanks with my pliers, I was able to pull most of the bird off the bath. No, I'm just kiddling. I didn't use pliers, it was a pipe wrench. The truth is that the bird freed itself after a brief moment of struggling.

Perhaps the bird getting stuck was just a freak incident, but that experience was enough to make me stop using metal birdbaths in cold weather. I'm sure other freak accidents are possible and I've read about a few, but as a rule, birds don't bathe when it is very cold, they mostly come to water to drink. if you are still concerned, keep any metal objects a fair distance away from your bath to allow enough time for evaporation. Or better yet, put out pairs of tiny slippers.

You can make your commute in peace, Heidi, your birds' feet are fine. There are millions of metal perches out there and I have yet to hear of a single bird sticking to one. However, while you are driving down the Mid-Cape, please keep an eye out for my swimsuit. Some people at the swim club are starting to complain.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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