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.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why do bluebirds bathe more than cardinals?

Your seed is great but I also find that in the summer the birds are attracted to my bird baths...especially the bluebirds. I do wonder why I have never seen the cardinals in the bird baths...just at the feeders.

Most birds prefer to forage for food naturally, but it’s a treat for us when birds visit our feeders and baths and bring a little excitement to the yard.
Variety of birds enjoying Wild Birds Unlimited Seed cylinders

Lots of birds that winter in areas where the weather is harsh will switch their diet from invertebrates in the summer to a plant based diet in the winter. Bluebirds are bug eaters that switch over to suet, fruit, nuts, and berries in the winter. A bluebird that visits a seed feeder in the winter is much more likely to visit a mealworm feeder or hunt for bugs in the summer.

Water is just as important as food for birds in the summer as well as the winter. All birds drink, but some birds visit baths more often than others. Cardinals can get a lot of liquid through their food and might not drink at baths as often as other birds. Nice juicy bugs, berries and fruit may require the cardinal to make fewer stops at the bath.

When they do drink, they scoop water up with their bill from tiny pools in the branches of trees, puddles, streams, ponds and even bird baths when needed. My cardinals seem to prefer a shallow bath. Then I also have a larger bath that attracts the bathers.

American Robins, Eastern Bluebirds and other birds in the thrush family all seem to frolic in the water more than other backyard birds. They may bathe more to remove excessive oil from their feathers. Most birds have a preen gland or uropygial gland at the base of the tail. With their beak, birds realign the barbs correctly, remove any dirt or parasites and sometimes apply preen oil. Robins and bluebirds seem to produce more preen oil than other birds.

Fluffy feathers provide proper insulation against bitter winds. Too much oil on the feathers can cause the feathers to clump and lower the body temperature to dangerous levels. Most birds have one main molt a year, so birds have to maintain their feathers carefully for a year until they go through another molt.

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Dennis Keefe said...

I don't get bluebirds in my yard in East Lansing but cardinals are one of the most frequent users of my birdbath. Lots of sparrows, finches and an occasional jay. The other day it was 12 degrees above zero and a cardinal was in the water splashing away. Amazing.

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

I have lots of cardinals too. It's so cold right now people are surprised that birds take full baths but the alternative is to freeze because their dirty feathers can keep the cold out.

Bluebirds, robins and starlings seem to enjoy wallowing more often in the deeper ponds and baths.

Thanks for commenting, Sarah