About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
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Monday, June 6, 2011

Why do crows and blackbirds dip their food in bird baths?

I watched the funniest thing today. A crow flew in with a piece of pizza crust obviously scavenged from someone's garbage and started to wash it in my bird bath. Then he flew off with half of his soggy prize to eat it, I presume, somewhere else. Half was left for me to clean out of the bath. Do you know what he was doing? ~ Burnips, Michigan

A Northwestern Crow near Whittier, Alaska.Image via Wikipedia
Well that's a very thoughtful question. Blackbirds, crows and ravens are known for washing their food before eating. You are lucky it was just a pizza crust! I've heard reports of birds dipping road kill and variety of other foods in bird baths and leaving very unpleasant surprises behind.

Anyway why are they doing that? That's a good question. It's been pretty hot recently and nesting crows need to keep their babies hydrated. Dipping "baby food" in water not only softens it but allows the babies to get sufficient water to meet their daily needs.

Water is very important to birds. Offering a dependable source of water is probably the simplest and most important step you can take to increase the variety of birds in your yard.

Birds must be ready to fly at all times, and bathing is a critical part of feather maintenance and staying in top-flight condition. Water is also vitally important when it's extremely hot and a bird’s ability to regulate its body temperature can become stressed. Birds do not sweat and must remove excess body heat through their respiratory system.

So when temperatures rise, a bird's respiration rate increases and dehydrates birds. If that bird still hasn't left the nest they are dependant on their parents to supply liquids. Some babies are brought nice juicy bugs or berries. Many seed-eating species of birds provide some regurgitated seed and water. While others like the crows dip their food in water.

Thank you for sending in your observation. I'm sure a lot of people were wondering.
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susieq said...

Thanks for telling us why crows dip their food in water.I live in Florida and have a bird bath and a bird feeder outside my bedroom window.I just seen a crow dip food in the bird bath and I was thinking what is he doing? LOL
So that must be a female bird than if she is diping the food for her babies?
Thanks again

satinka said...

I have two bird baths in my yard. The crows seem to dip their food in one, then drink from the second one. I can't tell you how many times I come to the "dipping" birdbath only to find a piece of meat left behind. I am concerned about the buildup of bacteria, so I carefully scrub it out with a brush. Knowing it is a mommy bird makes it easier for me to bear and more willing to do the cleanup --- every day!!!
Thanks for sharing this information!

El Diablo said...

I have just watched a Blackbird "wash" a slug by wiping it back and forth on the grass, I thought it was done then it caught another and proceeded to wipe it back and forth too.

Unknown said...

I live in North Arizona and kept wondering why there was peanuts in my bird bath fowling the water...now I know why!

david f . essex. UK said...

Here in the UK dipping food in the water by crows, especially bread, occurs. I believe this may be to provide water for the nestlings.

Terry Platt said...

My crows leave me "gifts"on my door step. Gifts like shells from the beach, shiny things,and even a beautiful spine with ribs attached from a fish of some sort. They have even gone as far as leaving me the gift of a large feather. I know they leave me these thing: I have watched them gently place them on my door step. In exchange, I feed them dog food and have a bird bath with three stages where they can drink, bathe and just wash their food. It gives me pleasure watching their antics. They do not "swoop" me as they do others.

L Lewis said...

This spring I have a massive raven using my birdbath as a washing station. I am so fascinated by the 'brightest bird in the bunch' that my song birds are taking a second seat. I have pack rat, small bird, and chicken leg/thigh carcasses left in my birdbath. Wet bread is the worst! So far, I am just hosing out and will clean with white vinegar weekly. We had a big steak bone and left it for him in the yard and he was very pleased. Gone now! I am amazed at how meticulous he is at getting the marrow out of the chicken bones. I know where the nest is in a tall pine tree across the street. We are in Northern Arizona on the edge of vast ranch land in a golf development. Like the coyotes and other wildlife, the ravens seem to have adapted to overbuilding. I hope some day that the fledglings will come.

Pamela Stevenson said...

I found southern fryed chocken in my bird bath,the next day boiled rice,today i watched the big black crow put chips in it
Lol im glad i know now what he's doing.

Anonymous said...

and today the ravine left me a small partially eaten dead rattlesnake!

Dawn Miller said...

I have a Maggie doing the same.

Anonymous said...

I have been watching the black birds come to my bird bath also with food in their mouths and then dipping it in the water and then flying up to a pine tree where the nest is. I was wondering what was going on, now I know. I also have robbins and finches, doves that come to the bird bath also.