12 Winter Birds Myths and Facts

Do birds get cold? Some birders worry winter birds will freeze on cold nights or in bird baths. Our expert has the bird facts to answer these questions.

When it comes to winter birds, it seems there are even more myths than usual. Here are a few of the common winter bird myths I’ve heard. Hopefully, I can help debunk these winter birds myths once and for all with the correct facts. And don’t miss our 51 best winter bird photos.

winter bird mythsBarbara Myers
In winter birds will fluff up their feathers to trap body heat.

Winter Birds Myth: Birds will freeze to death when temperatures drop far below zero

Winter Birds Fact: Do birds get cold? Birds are well equipped to survive the coldest of temperatures. They store fat during the short days of winter to keep themselves warm during the long nights. During those freezing nights, they fluff their feathers to trap heat and slow their metabolism to conserve energy. They also look for good places to roost, whether it’s a birdhouse, natural tree cavity, grass thicket, evergreen or shrub. Learn how to create winter shelter for birds.

Myth: Robins always fly south for winter

Winter Birds Fact: If there is sufficient food on their breeding grounds, American robins, bluebirds, and a host of finches and owls remain in the area where they spent the summer. As these birds often eat insects, they will instead forage among tree bark for overwintering bugs rather than on the frozen ground, where you’re more likely to see them in spring and summer. Learn more about robins in winter.

Myth: You should take birdhouses down in winter because birds don’t use them and other creatures will move in

Winter Birds Fact: On the contrary! A birdhouse makes a great roosting house in winter. Eastern bluebirds will pile into houses to spend cold nights. One photographer once even snapped a picture of 13 male bluebirds in a single house! Learn how to make a DIY bluebird house.

Myth: If you leave town, the birds that rely on your feeders will die

Winter Birds Fact: Research has proven this one wrong. Scientists have shown that chickadees, for example, will eat only 25% of their daily winter food from feeders. They find the other 75% in the wild. In addition, with so many people feeding them nowadays, birds in your yard will simply fly to a nearby neighbor to get their food until you return home. Check out the 10 types of bird feeders you need in your backyard.

winter bird mythsRon Newhouse
Suet cages are usually covered in vinyl to prevent winter birds’ feet from sticking, but bird feet are pretty tough anyway.

Myth: Birds’ feet will stick to metal bird feeders and suet cages

Winter Birds Fact: Most suet cages have a laminated covering, so you don’t have to worry about birds’ feet sticking to it. But in general, their feet can endure cold weather. Birds have a protective scale-like covering on their feet, and special veins and arteries that keep their feet warm. Learn how birds use feathers, beaks and feet.

Myth: All hummingbirds migrate south for winter

Winter Birds Fact: Though most hummingbird species in North America do migrate south for the winter, the Anna’s hummingbird remains on its West Coast breeding grounds. Learn where hummingbirds go in winter.

Myth: Birds always migrate in flocks

Winter Birds Fact: Though many birds migrate in flocks—common nighthawks, American robins, swallows and European starlings, for example—other species migrate alone. The most amazing example of this is a juvenile hummingbird that has never migrated before, yet knows when to fly, where to fly, how far to fly and when to stop. And it does this all alone. Learn more jaw-dropping facts about hummingbirds.

Myth: Migration means north in the spring and south in the winter

Fact: Some bird species migrate to higher elevations in the spring and down to lower elevations in the winter. Examples include rosy finches and ptarmigans in the West. Learn where migrating birds spend the winter.

Myth: Peanut butter will get stuck in birds’ throats, and they will choke

Fact: Peanut butter is a very nourishing food for birds, especially in winter when the production of fat is important to their survival. The winter birds myth that it will stick in their throats simply isn’t true. Check out the top tips for winter bird feeding.

Myth: American goldfinches are bright yellow year-round

Fact: As fall approaches, American goldfinches lose their bright-yellow plumages, replacing them with feathers that are a dull, brownish-green. Many people don’t recognize these birds in winter, even though duller-colored birds are still at the feeders. They assume that their “wild canaries” have migrated south for winter. Learn how to attract more goldfinches to your backyard.

winter birds mythsRenee Blake
No need to worry about winter birds freezing to death in bird baths – they avoid getting their feathers wet.

Myth: Woodpeckers peck on house siding in winter for food or to create nesting cavities

Fact: Why do woodpeckers peck? Although there are cases where woodpeckers find food in wood siding (and may even nest inside the boards), nearly all the pecking in late winter is done to make a noise to court mates. This is their way of singing a song to declare territory. Check out the best foods for attracting woodpeckers.

Myth: If you have water in a birdbath when the temperature is below freezing, birds will freeze to death from wet feathers

Fact: Birds will drink from a heated birdbath, but if the temperature is well below freezing, they will not bathe in it and get their feathers wet. If you’re still worried, offer warm water to drink, but make it too deep or inaccessible for the birds to bathe in. Here’s how to attract birds to use a birdbath.

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George Harrison
George Harrison is an expert about feeding and attracting birds and avian behavior. He formerly served as While serving as managing editor of National Wildlife and as a longtime contributor to Birds & Blooms.