Winter roosts are essential to help birds survive cold weather
Cold winter wind saps energy and warmth from birds, especially at night. Birds are able to lower their body temperature to conserve calories at night, but a chilling wind can tax that system. A good way to help the birds stay warm is to leave your nesting boxes and bird houses up all winter.
What should you do first?
First, make sure the box is thoroughly cleaned. Remove the nest if one is in there and scrub the bird house with a mild bleach and water solution and then let dry before setting the bird house back out. This kills any parasites that may remain after the nesting season.
What should you put inside the box?
Stuff dry hay, pine shavings or dried grasses in the bottom of the box. This will provide some insulation and the box will serve as a cozy place for birds to get out of the elements. Blocking the ventilation holes will help too; you can stuff hay along the ventilation openings or try stuffing the openings with rags or foam weatherstripping. Anything that will prevent drafts from getting in will help.
What else should you know?
Some bird houses, especially bluebird houses have a removable front panel. If you can, flip this upside down so that the entry hole for the house is at the bottom. Duncraft’s Convertible Roost is made exactly this way, so that you can use the box in all seasons. Flipping the front panel would be ideal, but if you can’t do that, remember that any shelter, no matter how imperfect, will greatly help the birds.
Some birds that flock together nest together
Bluebirds tend to pile together at the bottom of roosting boxes, but other birds prefer perches. If the bird house is big enough for several birds, an easy way to do this is to drill two or more holes on either side of the house and slip a dowel through the house. Just remove the dowel come spring. The holes will act as extra ventilation. If the house is very small, chances are only a single bird will use it, so perches wouldn’t be necessary.
Finally, place the house where it will receive the most sunlight and warmth. This is usually, but not always, facing west where the setting sun will warm the house just before dusk.
Get ready to come to the rescue for your birds
If you wish to go a step further, you can purchase roosting pockets of woven natural materials and hang those in sheltered places around the yard for solitary roosting birds. With a little forethought before winter sets in, you can have your bird houses ready to come to the rescue of your backyard birds on frigid winter nights.