So, you are a fan of watching birds. Well, know this: you are not alone.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, each year more than 45 million Americans watch birds. They contribute nearly $80 billion to the nation’s economy in the process.

Some people travel to do their bird watching, taking eco-tourism-type vacations.

Most, though, stay right around home.

That’s not just a summertime thing, though. The reality is, there’s some pretty good bird watching to be had right now, in the heart of winter.

And there’s one simple thing you can offer birds to ensure you get to enjoy your share of it.

That’s provide a birdbath.

Not for birds to actually bathe in necessarily. They won’t if the weather is cold enough that the cost of warming up – in terms of energy expended -- afterward outweighs the benefits.

But birds need water to drink throughout winter to stay hydrated. Offering them easy access to water is a sure way to draw them in.

Of course, the challenge is to keep the water in your birdbath from freezing. There are some things you can do to address that.

One, simply, is to buy a heated birdbath. There are many varieties on the market, some thermostat controlled, and using one solves any problems.

But they can be a little pricey.

If a heated bath isn’t in the budget, try these other tricks.

Line the bottom of your bird bath with dark-colored rocks or even black plastic – like a piece of a heavy garbage bag -- held in place with a few stones. The dark color will absorb and retain the sun’s heat, keeping the water open longer.

Speaking of the sun, you can move your birdbath in winter so that it sits in the sunniest spot possible. That helps keep water open, too.

Another trick you can try is putting a tennis ball in the bath. It will move around as it floats, and in the process limit the formation of ice, at least for a while.

Be sure to keep the bath as full as possible, too. Like a shallow puddle compared to a deeper one, a bath with little water will freeze faster than a full one.

Do you make instant coffee or tea each morning? If so, heat a little extra water. You can pour that into the bath daily, to refill it and melt any ice that might have formed overnight.

However you keep your birdbath open, just be sure to keep it clean. Birds are more susceptible to disease and illness whenever they congregate, so keep it free of algae or other potential contaminants.

And then?

Why, enjoy watching birds. Lots of other people will be doing the same.

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See also: Winter bird feeding tips and tricks.