How to Create Winter Shelter for Birds

Birding experts and readers offer their best tips to create shelter and protect birds from the snow, wind and cold temperatures.

cardinal in a snowy evergreen treeCourtesy Ann Oliver
A female cardinal tucks into the evergreen branches to the side of the bird feeders, patiently waiting for her turn.

“How do I create ‘winter thickets’ where birds can roost or take cover during the cold?” asks Jeff Jackson of St. Louis, Missouri.

It’s a good idea to create winter shelter for backyard birds, and there are several different ways you can do it. Evergreen trees and shrubs are ideal, especially if you avoid trimming off the lower branches. Hedges or groups of native shrubs work, too; dogwood, sumac and native roses are good examples.

For a quick start, build a brush pile in a quiet corner. Stack fallen branches, garden cuttings, discarded Christmas trees and other plant material in a crosshatched pattern to create an inviting shelter for many kinds of birds.

Readers also offer their best tips to provide winter shelter for birds.

Block the Wind with Cornstalks

“I gather cornstalks from my garden and weave them through loose wire fencing stuck into the ground around my feeders. They block the wind and predators,” says Glenn Orchard of Amherstburg, Ontario.

Let Birds Roost in Hanging Baskets

“I turn my hanging flower baskets into ‘birdie hotels’ for roosting on cold nights,” says Karen Cofer of Gainesville, Georgia.

Put a Roof on Feeders

“You can provide extra winter safety at your feeders by attaching plexiglass to the roofs,” says Richard Snyder of Emmaus, Pennsylvania.

Protect Birds with Branches

“In winter, we attach branches cut from cedar trees to our feeders to offer added protection,” says Sue Bogart of Topeka, Kansas.

Leave Up Nesting Boxes

I offer shelter for birds wintering in my backyard by leaving up roosting boxes and nesting ledges at all times of the year,” says Gloria Meredith of Harrington, Delaware.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard. Fascinated with the natural world since the age of 6, Kenn has traveled to observe birds on all seven continents, and has authored or coauthored 14 books about birds and nature, including include seven titles in his own series, Kaufman Field Guides, designed to encourage beginners by making the first steps in nature study as easy as possible. His next book, The Birds That Audubon Missed, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2024. Kenn is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has received the American Birding Association’s lifetime achievement award twice. Kimberly is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in northwest Ohio. She became the Education Director in 2005 and Executive Director in 2009. As the Education Director, Kimberly played a key role in building BSBO’s school programs, as well as the highly successful Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for teenagers that has served as a model for youth birding programs. Kimberly is also the co-founder of The Biggest Week In American Birding, the largest birding festival in the U.S. Under Kimberly’s leadership, BSBO developed a birding tourism season in northwest Ohio that brings an annual economic impact of more than $40 million to the local economy. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms Magazine, and coauthor of the Kaufman Field Guides to Nature of New England and Nature of the Midwest. Accolades to her credit include the Chandler Robbins Award, given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to education and/or bird conservation. In 2017, she received a prestigious Milestone Award from the Toledo Area YWCA. Kimberly serves on the boards of Shores and Islands Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy.