where do birds roost in winter

On cold, winter nights when the wind is howling, it’s understandable to worry about how your wild birds are surviving the night. Don’t worry though. Between their anatomy and their instincts, they have a number of methods for staying warm. Read on to find out some of their tactics for staying safe and warm through the winter.

In general, birds are quite well-equipped to survive a cold winter’s night. Their feathers are amazing insulators and even exposed areas like their feet have an intricate network of blood vessels to keep them from freezing. Most birds also maintain a body temperature well above human levels – the average is about 105 degrees Fahrenheit – which helps them function even on the most frigid nights.

The most common birds staying in your area through the winter are your resident birds. These are birds that remain in an area all year, regardless of the season. Other birds migrate into an area for the winter, often coming from the sub-arctic regions of Alaska and Canada. These migrant and resident birds are the ones you regularly see at your bird feeders each day through the winter.

So, what do these birds do at night, especially on cold, blustery nights that don’t seem fit for man or beast? These birds spend their winter nights in many different locations. Check out your favorite birds below and see where they go each night.

How to Help Roosting Winter Birds

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You might be wondering where birds spend the long, chilly nights in December as the days get shorter, like this Steller’s Jay and others. You might be surprised to hear that they aren’t curled up in comfortable nests.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York’s Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds provided the bird calls. Red-breasted Nuthatch recorded by G. A. Keller; Mallards by A. A. Allen; Downy Woodpecker by W. W. H. Gunn; European Starlings recorded by Martyn Stewart, naturesound. org; Forest ambient including Steller’s Jay, recorded by C. Peterson.

Songbirds locate a spot to perch where they are shielded from the rain and nighttime predators. This Red-breasted Nuthatch and other small forest birds may spend the night huddled together in tree cavities. Ducks float in protected bays. Woodpeckers, like this Downy Woodpecker, cling to vertical tree trunks. Crows roost communally.

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Birds only spend the winter sleeping in their nests when they are raising their young or incubating eggs. For the remainder of the year, birds choose a place to roost. Often they use the same roost night after night.

Winter Bird Safety at Night

Many birds, including the Northern Cardinal take shelter in evergreen trees during cold winter nights.Aside from protecting themselves from winter weather, birds also have to be mindful of predators while they are sleeping. Their roosting choices are often meant to protect them too. Sleeping on the end of a tree branch allows them to feel vibrations of approaching enemies. Thick foliage keeps owls from swooping down on them. Communal roosting allows for a “safety in numbers” scenario. Tree cavities are often hard to find and difficult to reach for most night-time predators. Sleeping inside or on a human-built structure, such as a barn, carport or shed, is another protection – they’re difficult for a predator to climb and risky to approach.

A further defense mechanism used by birds to endure long winter nights is consuming large amounts of high-energy food during the day. They frequently burn through fat stores on chilly nights in order to stay warm. Because of this energy expenditure, they look for bird seed that is high in protein and fat. Such meals are absolutely vital to winter birds. If their core temperature drops too much over night, they risk dying because they are unable to refuel their fat reserves every day.

Providing secure perches and shelters for birds can aid them in finding a place to spend the night in your yard.

  • Bird houses: Although not all species of birds use them, those that do also use them during the winter Clear out the materials used for spring and summer nests in late summer to make room for birds that will use a bird house for the winter.
  • Barns: Don’t be shocked if birds spend winter evenings in your open-air carport, shed, porch, or barn. They favor areas that remain quiet for the majority of the night.
  • Roosting Pockets: Suitable for one or two birds, these low-cost wicker birdhouses can be hung in a tree or on a porch. They offer a bird just enough cover to keep it warm and dry throughout the night.
  • Evergreens: Many bird species make use of these plants throughout the winter months because they offer a cocoon-like shelter that most birds find appealing. Having just one or two evergreen plants on your land can benefit dozens of birds every evening.
  • Thick Shrubs and Bushes: A thick mass of branches and twigs can shield birds from predators and the harshest winter weather, even if a shrub or bush has lost its leaves for the season. You’ll be happy to know that every night, if you have a hedgerow around your house or on the edge of your property, you’re assisting many birds.


Do birds sleep in the same place every night?

Though most birds don’t rest in the same place each and every night and have a choice of roosting sites they will all tend to be close to where the bird has spent the day feeding. Sleep can be a dangerous time for birds, due to danger from cold and predators.

Where do winter birds sleep?

Evergreens: Most birds prefer the cocoon-like protection that evergreen trees, vines and bushes provide, and many species utilize these plants through the winter. Simply having one or two evergreen plants on your property can help dozens of birds each night.

Where do birds go when its really cold?

Roosting and cuddling Cavities and boxes provide protection from the weather and help birds hide from predators. Larger birds like American crows and ring-billed gulls are also known to flock together for warmth.

Do birds use roosting boxes in winter?

Birds only nest during spring and summer—their breeding season. But during the rest of the year, cavity-nesting birds often use these same boxes for shelter at night, particularly in winter. Sometimes more than a dozen birds will pile into a single box to conserve heat.