How Do Birds Spend Cold Winter Nights?

Huddling together and fluffing up are some of the ways that birds protect themselves from the chills of winter.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote!

As December days shorten, you may wonder where birds, including this Steller’s Jay and others, spend the long, cold nights. It might surprise you to learn that they are not snuggled into cozy nests.

The only time of the year when birds sleep in nests is when they are incubating eggs or keeping their young warm. During the rest of the year, birds select a roosting spot. Often they use the same roost night after night.

Songbirds find a protected place to perch, sheltered from rain and safe from nighttime predators. Small forest birds including this Red-breasted Nuthatch, may spend the night huddled together in tree cavities. Ducks float in protected bays. Woodpeckers, like this Downy Woodpecker, cling to vertical tree trunks. Crows roost communally. 

On these cold nights, birds fluff up their feathers for insulation and often hunker down over their bare legs and feet to keep them warm. Most birds can’t tuck their heads under their wings to sleep as we’ve been lead to believe. But they do turn their heads around and poke their beaks under shoulder-feathers to keep their beaks warm.



Calls of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Red-breasted Nuthatch recorded by G.A.Keller; Mallards by A.A. Allen; Downy Woodpecker by W.W.H. Gunn; European Starlings recorded by Martyn Stewart,; Forest ambient including Steller’s Jay, recorded by C. Peterson.

BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Written by Frances Wood

Producer: John Kessler

Narrator: Michael Stein

© 2014 Tune In to   December 2016/2018