Night-Night Birdie


     Where do the birds go at night?  Late on winter afternoons, when all the juncoes, chickadees, and titmice I’ve watched flitting about during the day are nowhere to be seen, I wonder where they’ve gone.

I remind myself of Holden Caulfield, the teen-aged narrator of the 1950s classic novel CATCHER IN THE RYE.  Holden worried mightily about the ducks who disappeared from the pond in New York’s Central Park when winter set in.  Where did they go?

Although a worry wart by nature, I don’t exactly worry about our local birds during winter nights.  I am confident that, even if I don’t know what the birds are doing at night, they do.  Despite my late afternoon wonderings, the birds generally show up the next day.

But I am curious.  So I did a little investigating to find out what our avian neighbors do on winter nights.  It turns out, no surprise, that birds who spend the winter here have a number of strategies for staying warm on cold nights.

Many birds roost for the night in the cavities of trees.  One such bird, our perennial neighbor the chickadee, finds–or excavates– a roosting cavity in a dead tree.   And unlike nuthatches and titmice, who crowd into a tree cavity with their fellows, chickadees invariably spend their nights alone, even when temperatures plunge.  I got a thrill one morning when I walked up the hill below our house and suddenly noticed right in front of me a chickadee popping out from a hole in a small dead tree.

And woodpeckers, who made many of those tree cavities in the first place, can always excavate a new one if they don’t find an existing cavity that suits them.  Wrens also roost for the night in tree cavities. Or they may spend the night in a tangle of vines, in a stump, or even in some human creation like a planter or a  garage.

Other bird species will never enter a tree cavity, no matter how low the temperature.  But many of them do spend their nights in trees.   Goldfinches and cardinals, for example, burrow deep into conifers, gathering with their fellows, to seek protection from wind and predators.  A stand of evergreens is more popular with these birds than a single conifer in the open.  The density of multiple conifers offers greater protection.

Many birds roost for the night on a high branch, up against the trunk, which holds more of the day’s warmth than do the branches.  And roosting up next to the trunk makes it easier for a bird to detect the vibrations caused by a predator climbing up the trunk.

I think the most dramatic tree roosting habits are those of crows.  While we see and hear many crows where we live, I only occasionally see them late in the day.  However, I do remember seeing them in other places, late on a winter day, swooping in noisily from all directions into a single tree or into two or more neighboring trees.   With a great deal of commotion, hundreds of crows flutter among the branches, settling in for the night.

And some birds do not spend their winter nights in trees at all, but roost closer to the ground.  Cardinals, finches, and blue jays retire on winter nights to dense thickets of vegetation.  Tangles of briars, grape vines, and brambles seem to be enough to make them feel protected.

Juncoes also roost near the ground, in shrubs and other low plants.  I read that they like steep hillsides.  Why this would be true I don’t know, but my own observation suggests it may be true.  Early and late on winter days I often notice juncoes flitting about the steep hillside by our house, in and around the forsythia or a euonymous bush and among dry leaves and weeds.   Juncoes may also roost in open buildings and sheds in stormy weather.

Clearly, the birds I see all winter where I live are well-adapted to cold nights.  I am always happy to learn more about the habits and strategies of these gorgeous creatures I love and admire so much.–April Moore



4 Responses to “Night-Night Birdie”

  1. Jan Cyr Says:

    I always look forward to your wonderful newsletter. Loved this oneespecially with such good info down any trees, aliveor not and clearing thickets. Thank you Janakingrmation. Knowing this I trust all of your readers will pause before t

  2. Gail Says:

    I love your posts too. This one was jam-packed with things I didn’t know and are fascinating to learn. I also love your lively writing that pulls me in.

    And I wonder where the foxes and deer that we see at dusk spend their days! There seem to me so many of them and I wonder how they hide during the day in our suburban neighborhood.

  3. April Says:

    Comment by Elizabeth Cottrell:

    What an interesting post, April! All of us who enjoy watching these beautiful creatures have wondered—at some time or another—where they go in the evenings. Thank you!

  4. James Says:

    A drone in the sky, is better than two PHD`s in the bush:

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