What do small birds do in a storm?

April 1, 2009
Perching birds, like this Blue Jay, have a special mechanism in their foot anatomy that causes their feet to hold tight to their perches even in high winds. Photo by Gerald Barnett via Birdshare. Perching birds, like this Blue Jay, have a special mechanism in their foot anatomy that causes their feet to hold tight to their perches even in high winds. Photo by Gerald Barnett via Birdshare.
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Different birds use different ways to wait out a storm. Birds that normally roost in a cavity—such as chickadees, small owls, woodpeckers—hide out in their cavity. They may also use roost boxes. Sometimes more than a dozen birds will pile into a single box to conserve heat.

Birds that roost on branches, such as jays, sparrows, cardinals, crows, etc, tend to perch on a thick branch very close to the trunk on the side most protected from wind and rain. When these songbirds (also called “perching birds”) are relaxed, their feet grasp automatically, so they can sleep while tightly clasping the branch.

Ducks, herons, and other birds that sleep on or near the water tend to find as sheltered a spot as possible—many swimmers stay out in the open water, and waders tend to gather near some debris or vegetation that protects them from at least some of the rain and wind.

What you can do for backyard birds during the winter

You can help your backyard birds keep warm overnight with a specially designed roost box. Any backyard favorites that typically nest in boxes—bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and small woodpeckers—may seek refuge in it. You can either build a special roost box or modify a nest box.

You can also create a bird friendly winter garden by providing food, shelter and water. Habitat Network has great ideas on different plants that provide winter berries for birds, and other ways you can support your backyard wildlife.