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Winter Bird Shelters

How to Provide Shelter for Winter Birds


Winter Bird House

Leave bird houses up all winter for easy shelter.

Ted Sakshaug

Birds suffer from high mortality when the temperatures turn colder, but providing winter shelters can help them survive even the coldest nights or most vicious storms.

The Risks of Winter

While birds do have many ways to keep warm in winter, the freezing rain, wind chill and deep snow of the season can easily be fatal if birds don't have at least minimal protection. Unfortunately, just at the time when the birds need extra shelter, deciduous trees are losing their leaves and providing less protection not only from the elements, but also from winter's hungry predators. Backyard birders can help their flocks, however, by providing adequate winter shelter.

Types of Winter Bird Shelters

There are many ways to provide safe shelter for winter birds, and providing that shelter will help attract birds. The most popular winter bird shelters include:

  • Evergreen Landscaping: Planting trees and bushes that keep their cover throughout the year is an easy and natural way to provide birds with winter shelter. Many of these plants will also provide seeds, nuts or berries that can be a natural food source for wintering birds, making them even more valuable in bird-friendly winter landscaping.

  • Brush Pile: Building a brush pile is a fast way to provide winter shelter for a variety of birds. Use both large and small branches to form the bulk of the brush pile with plenty of air spaces for roosting and insulation, and include evergreen boughs for extra shelter and protection.

  • Roost Boxes: Specialized bird roost boxes provide secure, comfortable shelter for different types of small birds. These boxes can be purchased from wild bird supply stores or made easily from scratch.

  • Bird Houses: If roost boxes are not available, backyard birders can leave up bird houses through the winter as shelter for roosting birds. While a bird house will not be as effective for winter shelter as a specialized box, it is far better than no shelter at all.

  • Roost Pockets: Basket style roosting pockets are inexpensive and can be very cozy winter shelters for small birds. These pockets are typically made from woven thatch material and despite their delicate appearance can actually be superbly insulated for winter birds.

Ideally, the most bird-friendly backyard will provide several types of winter bird shelters so a large number of birds can be securely sheltered during cold weather and winter storms.

Tips for Providing Winter Shelter

To make winter bird shelters most effective…

  • Position shelters facing to the south to take the most advantage of passive solar heating from the winter sun, and paint roost boxes dark colors to absorb the most heat.

  • Protect all supplemental shelters from predators by removing perches and placing boxes or houses in isolated, safe areas.

  • Position brush piles, roost boxes and winter bird houses in areas sheltered from the wind and the heaviest snowfalls, such as putting them in a fence corner or under eaves.

  • Provide insulating material in roost boxes, nesting pockets and bird houses such as wood chips, dry grass or nesting materials for birds to plug cracks and holes to retain body heat more efficiently.

  • Prune landscaping in the spring rather than the fall so birds can take advantage of extra insulating spaces and natural cover throughout the winter.

By providing shelter for backyard birds in the winter, it is possible to overcome the cold winds, icy rain and snow that claim many birds' lives in the winter months. By providing suitable shelter and protecting it adequately, birders will enjoy a warm and happy backyard flock all winter long.

Photo – Winter Bird House © Ted Sakshaug

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