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I live in Massachusetts, United States. A large number of backyard birds overwinter in our yard. Some of the smaller varieties include American Goldfinch, American Tree Sparrows, European Starlings. The larger ones include Northern Cardinals and Mourning Doves.

Many have been here all year, and are accustomed to our landscape. They know where our feeders and bird baths are located, and that we keep them stocked with fresh food and water. Beginning in November, and lasting for months, the water in the bird baths freezes. We bang out the ice, then clean and fill them with fresh water. That works for a while, but by the depth of winter, the water freezes more quickly than we can keep up with it. We keep some small saucers close to the house, which are easy enough to handle, but our full-size feeders are a distance away, larger, and harder to maintain. (I admit I'm not always in the mood to trudge out a few times a day to break the ice!)

This year we're considering buying a few submersible water heaters. (I've seen them called both heaters and de-icers. I'm not sure what the difference is, or if it's an important thing to know.) They're designed to go into an existing birdbath. They come with cords which plug in, and have thermostats which keep the water from freezing.

They come in many different sizes, shapes, types of materials, thermostat ranges, lengths and widths of cord, wattage levels. Some are round, others flat. I've heard of one that has timers which turn on during the times of day when birds are more likely to be active. I think those are designed to save the cost of electricity, but they're more expensive to buy, so it probably balances out in the end! We don't need something like that. I've also seen free-standing heated bird baths, but we're not interested in adding to our collection.

Some of our feeders are plastic, others are ceramic and concrete. The diameters vary, from approximately 17 inches to 25 inches. None are deeper than 3 inches at the deepest part, as that's the maximum depth recommended for small birds.

Here are the most important criteria:

  • Dependable, accurate thermostat
  • Water kept at or above 35°F (1.7°C)
  • Effective to -20°F (-28°C)
  • Long-lasting, warranteed for at least a few years
  • Durable, won't break under the weight of snow and ice, or while being handled
  • Strong, safe cord, with no risk of short-circuit or electrical fire
  • Cool surface, with no danger of burning birds and backyard animals when touched
  • Easy to clean in case of dirt, mud or algae buildup
  • Easily removable for cleaning the bird bath
  • Either usable in both plastic and ceramic bird baths, or clearly marked for the specific application

We'd like to stay in a mid-range price category. I'm not asking how much to spend, just to keep in mind when recommending something that we don't want to sacrifice quality and features just to save a few dollars, but we also don't want to spend top dollar to get fancy features we don't need.

I'm also not asking for brand recommendations, but would welcome any from people with experience.

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    We use several heated water bowls for large dogs. – ab2 Dec 18 '16 at 23:52
  • I bet you could fashion a bird bath that wouldn't freeze using the radiant floor heater kits if you were good enough to build the concrete mold. – Erik Dec 28 '16 at 7:19
  • why do bird overwinter there if they need water? – njzk2 Nov 10 '18 at 7:36
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    Do you want a water bath in the winter if it is open enough that birds can take a bath in it? Where I live, (winters are mostly frost free here) we are warned that when it freezes we should not have bird baths out but put a bowl upside down in the bath so the birds can only drink. – Willeke Nov 11 '18 at 19:22
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Here's the way I would go about it:

Firstly, don't worry about efficiency. Heaters by their nature are close to 100% efficient. All the energy is turned to heat.

That said, thermostatically controlled is a must. Some have multiple thermocouples for better reliability.

Secondly: Two factors go together: Warranty period and ease of return, with greater weight being given to the latter. Check that if you buy it locally, you can return it locally.

Features to consider:

  • Is the cord flexible in the cold?

  • Is there a way to fasten it in place so that larger birds won't move it or fly off with it.

  • Is it at least not impossibly ugly.

  • Will it be hurt if it the bath is empty.

  • Will it get hot enough to melt a plastic birdbath if it runs dry? (I had a dog dish that did this.)

So far I've been unable to find one with more than a 1 year warranty. Please post back if you do.

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I would largely agree with the previous response. However, most bird bath heaters (a site I`m affiliated with) today do not get hot enough to melt plastic. If you have a plastic or resin bird bath, you can add an electric heater without worrying about it melting. This is because most heaters will keep the water warm up to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. So, not hot enough to melt plastic.

Another factor omitted in the requirements above is, aside from the temperature of the heater, the safety of the materials. Stainless steel is one of the safest materials to use for anything that will come into contact with humans or wildlife. As such, it is a good choice for a bird bath heater.

Also, if you are looking for durability, make sure the cord has a chew guard to prevent it from being gnawed by animals. A chew guard is usually stainless steel coiled around the electrical cord.

A 5-year warranty may be somewhat difficult to find, but one year is pretty standard. For extra safety, I would recommend also getting a water-tight cord lock

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