After the breeding season ends and birds have migrated, it is time to winterize your bird houses so they will stay safe and suitable for the next spring's families. Many birders remove their bird houses in the fall to preserve them, while others convert them to roosting boxes for shelter all winter long.
Bird Houses After the Breeding Season
While birds do not breed during the winter, bird houses can still be useful as roosting boxes. Some backyard birders, however, prefer to put away their bird houses to keep them better preserved for the next spring. Whether you plan to store or convert your bird houses, it is essential to thoroughly clean bird houses after the breeding season to remove any pests, bacteria or mites that could be hazardous to birds. Remove any old nesting material at this time, and sanitize the house well. This is also an ideal time to inspect the house for necessary repairs, such as unclogging drainage holes, removing splinters and strengthening seams.
Storing Bird Houses for Winter
After cleaning and repairs, if you plan to put your bird houses away for the winter...
- Dry each house thoroughly for several days in a cool indoor location so there is no possibility of mold or mildew developing.
- Seal each house separately in a plastic bag to protect it from additional moisture, insects or other pests during the winter.
- Store the house in a dry, safe location where it will not be damaged. Avoid stacking houses on top of one another or placing them in a location where they may fall or be crushed by other items.
Converting Bird Houses to Roost Boxes
Converting bird houses to winter bird roost boxes is easy and helps provide safe winter shelters for birds. Some bird houses are designed to convert to roost boxes, and if those are the houses you use, follow the manufacturer's instructions for the conversion. If you have only a basic bird house and wish to convert it to a winter roost box, you can do so after it has been cleaned and repaired.
- If possible, remove the front panel of the house with the entrance hole and invert it so the hole is closer to the bottom of the house than the top. Because warm air rises, this will keep more heat inside the house.
- Block most of the upper and lower ventilation holes in the bird house to help trap heat inside the structure to keep birds warm. Small pieces of foam can be cut to fit under the eaves of the house or to plug holes. Silicone gel can be smoothed along the outside of the house's seams to seal even tiny cracks, and it will prevent moisture from getting into the house.
- Put perches inside the bird house to allow more birds to use the space. Multiple adult birds may crowd inside the same house to stay warm, and without extra perches, birds on the bottom may smother. Even inserting small twigs to lean against the sides of the house from corner to corner can provide better perching space.
- Add a thin layer of grass, wood shavings or sawdust to the bottom of the birdhouse to provide additional insulation and to make it easier to clean the house the following spring.
- Use a dark shingle or similar cover on the roof of the bird house to darken it. Not only will this provide additional insulation, but the darker color will trap more solar heat each day. Allow the cover to overhang the entrance more than a typical roof to provide better protection from snow and rain.
- Position the house in an appropriate location to protect roosting birds. Be sure the entrance is facing away from prevailing winds, and place it where it will receive afternoon sunlight to keep warmer later in the evening. Placing the house under a home's eaves or tucked near the trunk of a tree are both great options, but be sure the placement is still safe from predators.
When Winter Ends
No matter whether you plan to store your bird houses or convert them to roost boxes, be ready for spring to arrive and have your bird houses prepared for early nesting birds. While stored bird houses will only need a cursory inspection the following spring before they are ready for birds, roost boxes will need to be changed back into bird houses and thoroughly cleaned again before families take up residence.
Winterizing your bird houses will help protect them for next spring's nesting season, and if you choose to convert them to roost boxes, birds will enjoy the shelter all winter long. By taking the appropriate steps for either storage or conversion, birders can extend the life and usefulness of all their bird houses so they will be able to enjoy generation after generation of healthy bird families in every season.
Photo – Winter Bird House © Ryan Stubbs