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Whether or not you live in an area in which it snows frequently, you’re sure to notice that when it does snow, your backyard which is normally filled with birds is suddenly empty. Where did all the birds go? Although they can fly away to other places, doing so still won’t offer them much protection if snow is actively falling, especially over a large area.
It may seem like they do, but birds don’t just disappear when it snows. They find places to hide that offer them protection and keep them warm as well. In this article, we’ll explore some of the places that birds go when it snows, as well as how they survive cold and often harsh snowstorms.
Birds are great at finding places to hide, even when it isn’t snowing. They must do this to be better protected from predators, rain, and other elements. When it snows, birds often hide in similar places. But, where a bird hides depends on its size, and in some cases, its species. Here are some of the common places in which birds hide when it snows.
Birds will often seek out shelter in things that are easy for them to access, while still allowing them protection from the weather and the ability to view their surroundings. One of the most common places for birds to go when it snows are trees and shrubs. But just any tree or shrub won’t do. Dense ones offer better protection.
When it snows, a bird isn’t going to hide in a tree that loses its leaves for the winter. Instead, it’s going to look for dense evergreen trees or shrubs that are in the woods somewhere or even in your own backyard. These provide enough coverage so that wind and snow can’t get to them, while still allowing the bird to see what’s going on around it. Cardinals, robins, and crows are just a few bird species that use trees and shrubs for shelter.
One group of birds, known as cavity-nesting birds, may seek shelter from the snow in hollowed-out trees and other places in which there is a small cavity for them to fit into. Woodpeckers are examples of cavity-nesting birds and they are often responsible for creating a hollowed-out space in a tree in the first place. In addition to woodpeckers, other examples of cavity-nesting birds include chickadees, nuthatches, swallows, wrens, owls, and even ducks.
Woodpeckers will return to their cavity, or other cavity-nesting birds may occupy a vacant woodpecker cavity when it snows. Although hollow trees are the most common places for birds to seek shelter from the snow, they may also use other cavities such as gaps in rock walls or mailboxes, for example. Some cavity-nesting birds may seek shelter alone, while others may huddle together in groups.
Some birds may seek out shelter from the snow around buildings, especially if they already have a nest there. Common places for birds to shelter around buildings include chimneys, porches, eaves, and even backyard barns and sheds. Sparrows and wrens are common birds that may seek shelter in and around buildings.
Many songbirds and cavity-nesting birds also use birdhouses when it snows. Birdhouses offer some of the best protection for birds from the snow and other elements in addition to keeping predators out. That’s why it’s important to keep your birdhouses up in your yard year-round. Bluebirds, wrens, titmice, and chickadees are known to frequent birdhouses, but other small birds will as well.
In areas in which snow is frequent, many birds avoid it altogether by migrating south to warmer weather until the cold passes. Some birds also migrate as food becomes more scarce in the winter. They move to areas with more abundant food sources, as snow drives many insects into hiding as well. Not all birds migrate, and for birds that do, the length and distance of migration vary among different species.
Birds are quite in tune with nature. While humans have to study weather patterns and watch news networks to know what’s happening with the weather, birds can sense changes in the weather and read barometric pressure with their own internal “barometer.”
Essentially, they know when winter weather and snowstorms are coming and can make the preparations needed for them to survive. Preparations include storing up energy and finding the right shelter, but they have a biological component that enables them to survive a snowstorm as well.
As temperatures start to get cooler and birds start sensing changes in the weather, they begin to forage more. They begin to eat more seeds and insects that are higher in protein. Foraging allows them to store up enough energy to keep them warm, but their bodies also grow more fat which causes them to become plump and stay warmer.
Another thing that birds do is find the right shelter. We’ve mentioned this in detail earlier in the article, but some birds may try out several locations before they find one that works for them. They may also store food in their shelters as well.
The legs of birds are more likely to be affected by the cold from a snowstorm than the rest of a bird’s body since the legs are not covered in feathers. To protect their legs from the cold, birds have a countercurrent heat exchange system that enables them to retain more heat in their legs.
It works because the veins and arteries in a bird’s legs are super close to each other. Warm and cool blood is exchanged between the arteries and veins in a way that allows heat to be transferred between them. Birds can also constrict the blood vessels in their feet to reduce the blood flow which decreases heat loss.
Even if it snows, birds won’t stay in their shelter the whole time. They’ll usually stay sheltered during the worst of the storm and come out when conditions are better. Even if they have food stored up, birds will still come out to look for more food. They also need to come out to look for water and to bathe themselves as part of their preening routine.
Some birds that frequently visit your backyard may migrate to warmer climates. But there are others that will likely stay. You can help these birds by providing them with a safe space to shelter from the snow in addition to providing food and water as well.
Planting dense evergreen trees and shrubs such as cedar, spruce, juniper, holly, and boxwood can create plenty of spaces for birds that shelter in trees to go when it stores. You can also hang or mount birdhouses in trees or from posts for smaller songbirds to shelter in as well.
Some food sources for birds can be scarce in winter, but you can provide food to birds through backyard feeders. Songbird mixes can provide plenty of seeds for birds that do choose to stay, and suet and mealworms can provide food for birds as well. Planting berry bushes that fruit in fall and winter can also provide food for birds as well.
Another great way that you can help birds when it snows is by providing them with a source of water. Place a heated birdbath in your yard. That way, birds can have a source of water to drink and can bathe themselves in the warm water as well.
If you’re worried about birds not surviving a snowstorm, don’t be. Birds are readily adapted to survive winter weather due to both their anatomy and their natural instincts. Birds can sense when snow is coming and can make preparations accordingly, including stocking up on food and finding shelter. But, you can make it easier for birds by providing plenty of places for them to shelter in your yard and providing food in bird feeders as well.
Featured Image Credit: raincarnation40, Pixabay
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Savanna is a former science teacher who is now a full-time freelance writer currently living in the United States with her husband and daughter. Other members of her family include a long-haired chihuahua named Penny, three cats, and an aquatic turtle named Creek. In addition to writing, her passions include gardening, traveling, and protecting our wildlife and natural resources.
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