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Shelter Birds During Winter in Your Bird Houses

Provide shelter in your winter backyard habitat.

Our Winter Checklist focuses on one way you can help shelter birds during winter—your backyard bird houses.  Bird houses?! Are they needed in winter? Yes.

Don’t wait to put up a new bird house, or for that matter, to get all your other bird houses cleaned out and ready. Do it now! But, why is that important, what with Spring and nesting season still many weeks away?

Offer songbirds a refuge.

Because there’s one really, really good reason to have your bird houses ready for occupants now:  During cold winter temperatures and extreme weather,  clean, dry bird houses can be a lifesaving refuge for some of our favorite songbirds.

Make roosting warm—and safe.

And it’s not just about staying warm. It also helps with another aspect of winter—lack of natural foliage in which to shelter and hide. Your bird houses also offer opportunities for secure roosting; providing respite and protection from predators.

Which birds will use bird houses in winter?

You’re most likely to see cavity-nesters, like Eastern Bluebirds, Black-capped Chickadees, Titmice and Carolina Wrens using bird houses for shelter. But, even if they’re not using them now, it doesn’t hurt to have bird houses up and ready!

Winter has been relatively mild in our area, so far. But, to err on the side of caution, it’s important to remember that the metro DC area has had snowfall during March—like the one on March 22, 2018, documented here in the Washington Post, that covered cherry blossoms almost at their peak.

Even if you’re not seeing them sheltering in bird houses right now, early nesters, like Eastern Bluebirds, are noticing nesting box locations. Although it’s still a few weeks before they begin pairing up and readying their nests; having your Bluebird boxes up now is ‘good advertising’!

If you don’t have a bird house, learn about choosing a bird house and where to put it in your yard in our Resource pages, ‘The Backyard Naturalist’s Guide to Bird Houses and Recommended Resources‘. Or, stop by the store and tell us about your backyard birds. We’re always here to help.

For more info about how you can support wild birds during winter, see our current seasonal list of tips for backyard birding: The Backyard Birder’s Winter Checklist: Bird Houses.

Winter Checklist Summary

In the Checklist, you’ll find the top winter tip for each of the three elements that make up your habitat:


Get your bird houses up and ready now!

Readying bird houses as shelter for birds during winter is the main focus in our winter ‘to do’ list. See the full newsletter here: The Backyard Birder’s Winter Checklist: Bird Houses.


Maximize nutrition with high-calorie seeds and suets.

Birds need to take advantage of every feeding opportunity in order to get the fats, protein and carbohydrates they require. Staying warm takes more calories! Please, please never feed bread to birds! Bread can be deadly for birds. Find out why, on our Resource page ‘Bread is Bad for Birds‘. Everyone needs to know this, please share.


Keep bird baths filled, fresh and ice-free.

Wild birds need water year round for drinking and bathing. Your bird bath might be the only accessible, unfrozen water source around.