Nov 15, 2016 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, December 2016

Cozy Winter Housing for Birds

If you think birdhouses are just for nesting, you're wrong. On cold, winter nights, songbirds use tree cavities and human-provided nest boxes as shelter.
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You might be surprised at how many of your bird houses are used as nighttime roosts in winter. Telltale clues are there in the form of droppings, feathers, and bits of food.

If you live in a region with cold winter weather, you can make your nest boxes cozier with a few winterizing tricks. Start by cleaning out the box if it has messy old nesting material in it. Fashion a new nest cup of clean, dried grasses and place it in the box.

This is a good time to check the water resistance of your nest boxes. If the sides or top are weathered or cracked they may absorb rather than shed water. If the wood is too far gone, it's time to replace the house.

Otherwise, a coating of all-weather wood stain or light-colored latex paint will help keep the winter dampness out. Stain or paint the outside surfaces only and try to do it when birds are not likely to use the house.

This is also a good time to check the hardware on your boxes and poles. Wood can shrink as it weathers, and screws and nails can work loose. Are the access doors closing tightly? Is the box securely attached to the pole? Is the baffle still hanging properly?

The final bit of winterizing involves plugging the boxes' vent holes. These holes are vital in summer to keep the nestlings from getting too hot. In winter the holes are just drafty. We plug the vent holes using moldable clay weather stripping. Stuff the weather stripping snugly into the vent holes from the outside. This will help keep the body heat of roosting birds from escaping, and it will keep rain and snow from getting into the box. Cozy winter housing is a small gift you can give to your birds as the cold weather sets in.



About Bill Thompson, III

Bill Thompson, III, was the team captain for Watching Backyard Birds from its inception 23 years ago through his death on March 25, 2019. So much of what he wrote is timeless and remains informative, helpful, and inspiring.

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  • I live in Southeastern Massachusetts. Four "orphaned" very young poults (males) showed up in my yard about a year ago. They have been around all year. I do feed them cracked corn, and they come when I call for them. I don't want to over- domesticate them, but they do recognize me as the lady that brings food. They roost in the big oak trees at night. I have a 1 acre lot, with many acres of protected forest out back and a pond on the property.Lately, during mating season, I have had hens in the yard too. We've counted as many as 7 Toms and hens, but today, had just the one stalwart (a very robust Tom) that comes everyday. One of the Toms that has recently made an appearance is wounded, limping with an obvious predator wound. The local wildlife experts say he should make a full recovery, and that he's best left to recover with his flock.I find them to be interesting and beautiful birds.
    by Heather Cole, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • You have to put food in it.
    by Truckee Man, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020