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Where Birds Sleep

Dear Diane: I just about freeze when I go out to fill my bird feeders. And I wonder where the birds go at night. Why don't
they freeze to death? —Tiffany D., Portland, OR

It is pretty amazing, that a wild bird whose whole body is an inch thick can preserve enough warmth to survive a winter night. How do they do it?

Dead TreeHole up!

A bird that finds a place to take some of the sting out of the weather wins a bird a better chance of surviving a cold night.

Birds who normally nest in cavities aren't afraid of the dark hole. Bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, kestrels, and screech owls are a few of the birds who will go into a hole in a tree to stay warm. Sometimes many birds will crowd into one hole, sharing their body heat.

Dead trees can save birds' lives on cold nights. TIP: this is a good reason to leave snags standing, as long as they are not a threat to life, limb, and your house. Even dead branches on living trees are valuable for their holes.

There are better things than a perfectly neat yard. One of those better things is a yard full of bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, kestrels, and screech owls!

Get in the thick of it

CedarMany birds won't go in a hole, no matter how cold it is. But they still need shelter. As evening comes on, such birds are looking for someplace out of the wind.

Evergreens fill the bill, as a bird can slip deep into the tree. Especially evergreens with thick foliage, which will block wind, rain, and snow. Groups of evergreens are better yet.

Snowy BrushEven loose a pile of brush can offer a night's protection, when snow covers it and makes chambers inside. This is often the choice of sparrows and other birds who habitually feed on or near the ground.

This year Michael and I left a field unmowed at Birdwatching Dot Com in fall, because we enjoyed the natural look of the grasses bending under their loads of seeds. We've received a wonderful gift that we weren't even expecting. Every day we see flocks of American tree sparrows and dark-eyed juncos feeding on the grass heads.

I'm sure that some birds are spending nights in the shelter of those grasses, under roofs of snow. And the seeds that the birds ate before dark will help keep them warm.

That brings us to another part of the birds' strategy for surviving winter nights: fuel.

Stoke the fires before going to bed

Birds need to fuel their bodies with calories before facing a night of fasting. That's why bird feeders become busy places on a late afternoon, especially when the weather is very cold. Food is warmth. It's like logs in the fireplace.

So I try to make time to refill any feeders that are running out of food in the afternoon. I want to make sure every bird who comes to my yard looking for a meal before night will find the nourishment it needs.

I guess that's another bird feeding tip.

— Copyright 2008 Diane Porter

— Pictures copyright 2008 Michael and Diane Porter

Birdwatching Dot Com

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