Many birders love putting up a birdhouse every season to provide a comfortable safe haven for birds and their young. Most people will clean out a birdhouse and take it down at the end of the season, while others will leave the birdhouses out year-round. But do birds use birdhouses in the winter?
Life in the Winter
Most people are surprised to learn that a bird will get some use out of a birdhouse in the winter. Not every species of bird will migrate to a hotter climate during the winter months, and not every bird will seek refuge in shrubs or trees. A birdhouse can provide a bird with a safe and warm place to roost out of the cold during the winter months.
But not every species of bird will use a birdhouse. Those that do in the summer will also call these places home during the winter. These birds are known as cavity nesters and look for natural enclosures such as holes in trees, to make their nests. Since there are more birds that prefer to use naturally made holes, a birdhouse can provide these same birds with a warm place to live.
Roosting and Nesting
Nesting will take place during the summer and spring months when a bird builds a nest for their eggs. These houses provide a place for the young to safely hatch and grow.
Roosting refers to a place a bird uses to rest or sleep. A bird will definitely need a place to use to get out of bad weather during the summer, but during the winter, finding a dry warm place to rest is crucial. A birdhouse can provide a secure place for a bird to get out of the cold. During the winter, these houses are commonly referred to as roosting boxes.
Winter Resting Spots
So, where do birds go at night in the winter? During the winter, a birdhouse will provide much-needed protection for birds from both predators and bad weather. They can also give birds a place to gain warmth from the bodies of other birds as they rest. Birds sleep in a variety of places during the winter such as brush piles, shrubs, ground cover, and trees. They also prefer roosting pockets which are much different than birdhouses in that they’re made out of straw and provide an insulated and small space for a bird to sleep at night.
If a bird doesn’t want to sleep in a birdhouse during the winter months, they can keep warm in a couple of different ways: feathers and body fat. Like any other type of animal, a bird will store body fat all year in order to use the extra fat layer as a food source and for warmth during the winter months.
A bird’s feathers, especially the inner feathers, are insulating. This means that the downy features are able to trap heat against the body of the bird, providing much relief from the cold. Birds will also often fluff out their features in order to create more warmth. Doing so will move the heat from their body into the layer of air that’s between the feathers. When a bird puffs up their feathers they create a large warm air pocket around their body. They can also hide any of their exposed body parts in their feathers, such as their legs or beak.
In extremely cold conditions, multiple birds have been known to gather together in a large group in order to benefit from the group’s body heat. This is referred to as group roosting, which can be done inside a birdhouse or a natural cavity, depending on the number of birds involved.
Helping Birds During the Winter
Using the best birdhouses are one way to help your local birds survive a tough winter, but you can also leave out special birdseed during this time, to give these birds a higher chance at survival during the most challenging weather conditions. To learn more, stop by and read my guide on homemade bird food recipes.
Providing a fresh source of water will also be important. Water sources often freeze in the winter and the average bird’s beak simply isn’t tough enough to break through the ice in order to reach the water underneath. Leaving out a fresh water source for birds in the winter can do wonders in terms of minimizing bird death caused by dehydration. One low maintenance option is a heated birdbath.
So, do birds use birdhouses in the winter? Some do. These birds are the same ones that will use your birdhouses in the spring and summer months to nest. If these birds do not migrate for the winter, then they will benefit from using your birdhouse to seek shelter from rain and snow, and as a secure place that can help keep them warm, while providing protection from predators. If you normally take a birdhouse down at the end of the nesting season, now that you know these birds will make good use out of them during the winter months, after you’ve cleaned out the old nesting materials, hang the birdhouse back up and provide a much-needed and appreciated safe haven for your local birds during the winter months.