Choose Hardy Plants for Cold Climates

common juniper, plant zones
Common juniper is a cold hardy native shrub

When you’re at the garden center or shopping from an online nursery, a plant’s zone is always clearly marked on the plant tag, seed packet or online profile. These hardiness zones reflect the average minimum cold temperatures for an area and tell you whether the plant will survive the winter cold in your backyard. If your hardiness zone is within the plant’s range, the plant has passed the first test for growing success.

For example, my Wisconsin home is in Zone 5a, where the average minimum winter temperature range is -20 to -15 degrees Fahrenheit. Although the temperatures rarely get that cold (and in some years it may be even colder), it’s crucial that I buy plants that tolerate deep winter chills. When you push the limits of your zone, as many gardeners do, you risk failure when temperatures drop below the limits that a plant can endure.

Learn how to prepare and prune roses for winter.

How to Find Your Plant Zone

Hellebore early spring flowers
Penny’s Pink hellebore is hardy to zone 5

Take a look at the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map online. Identify your location, match the color in your region with the key next to the map, and voila: that’s your number. You may want to choose plants that are one zone hardier than your region, just for a bit of added insurance. (If you’re in Canada, you can find your Plant Hardiness Zone Map here.)

Each of the 13 zones in the United States represents a 10-degree Fahrenheit band of minimum winter temperatures. Those areas are then subdivided into 5-degree segments (that’s why you may see “a” or “b”) to more precisely represent that area within each section. You’ll also notice that the lower the number, the colder the winter temperatures.

As you look at the map, you may notice islands of warmer or colder plant zones within the band of another. Large bodies of water, urban heat islands (areas that are warmer than rural areas because of human activity), mountains and valleys influence the surrounding climates and growing conditions. These microclimates also exist within your landscape. Sheltered areas may allow you to grow less-hardy plants, while more-exposed areas require tougher specimens.

Discover the most common plant problems (and how to solve them).

Use Plant Zones for Garden Success

Cold Hardy Pink bush sage
Grow Cold Hardy Pink Texas salvia in zones 6 to 10

The most low-maintenance plants are those suited to your growing conditions. You’ll have the most success with the least effort when you grow plants that perform well in your specific hardiness zone. Psst—learn the difference between annuals vs perennials.

For absolute success, take it one step further. Think about choosing the right plant for the right place. Make sure the plants you choose are suited to all the growing conditions in your landscape. Once again, check the tag, seed packet or online plant profile to know for a fact that your selection will receive the sunlight, soil type and moisture it needs to thrive. Then make sure there is sufficient space for it to reach full size; it’s amazing how fast those little plants grow into large specimens.

It’s also a good idea to find a native plant society in your area or connect with your local extension office. Experts can recommend options that will flourish in your plant zone and growing conditions.

All these factors together will lead to a healthy, thriving and beautiful backyard.

Next, learn how to find the first and last frost dates in your area.

What Does a Costa’s Hummingbird Look Like?

costa's hummingbird
Adult male Costa’s hummingbird

A Costa’s hummingbird, whose neck feathers taper into long mustache-like points on each side, has a head wrapped in royal purple. They weigh in at only one-tenth of an ounce. Their crouched posture makes them look even smaller.

“We have the pleasure of seeing and hosting hummingbirds all year long. This beautiful male Costa’s (above) frequently visits my backyard, and I was lucky enough to snap his photo, says Mark Rasmussen of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Meet the 15 types of hummingbirds found in the United States.

Female Costa’s Hummingbird

Bbxjj14 Luisadaniel
Female Costa’s hummingbirds are less colorful than males

The greenish and white females lack the bold purple throat and head feathers of the males. To identify the, look for a gray cheek patch and a white eyebrow. She builds a tiny cup-shaped nest and lays two jelly-bean sized white eggs. Learn about the fascinating life of a female hummingbird.

“This young female Costa’s (above) is one of two chicks her mother raised in my lighthouse wind chime. She frequently visits and is very protective of her feeder. On this day, she perched nicely for my camera in the ocotillo bush,” says Luisa Daniel of La Quinta, California.

Check out a reader’s heartwarming story about finding a Costa’s hummingbird nest in her yard.

Juvenile

Rasmussen 041110
The changing look of a juvenile Costa’s hummingbird

Rasmussen 041110 2

Rasmussen 041110 3

Rasmussen 041110 4

“A few years ago, long before spring lured hummingbirds back from warmer climates, a single juvenile male Costa’s hummingbird (above) claimed our backyard for the season. My wife named him Jack. His favorite perch was our Japanese privet, right at eye level. Jack seemed to enjoy my company, often flying in to pose. I was able to photograph Jack’s growth from juvenile to adult, capturing his transformation as gray feathers gave way to purple in just one short month,” says Mark Rasmussen.

baby costas hummingbird
Young male Costa’s just beginning to show a purple throat patch

“I took this photo (above) near Scottsdale, Arizona. I think it’s an immature male, but is it a black-chinned or an Anna’s?” asks Steve Dummermuth Jr. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: “Young male hummingbirds are tricky to identify, because they’re often somewhere between the appearance of a female and an adult male. We think this is a young male Costa’s hummingbird for several reasons. The dark outline of the throat patch, extending down and back below the eye, is very typical of Costa’s at this stage, and so is the patch of pinkish purple on the lower throat. Also, the breast and sides are clear whitish—most Anna’s and black-chinneds show more of a gray-green wash on the sides.”

Discover amazing baby hummingbird facts and pictures.

Call and Sounds

costas hummingbird
Costa’s hummingbird perched on a bird bath

Male Costa’s hummingbirds are regular singers, making a thin, piercing whistle. With other species, the most common sounds are aggressive calls, which resemble chattering or squealing. You’ll hear them when several hummingbirds are gathered near a food source such as a sugar-water feeder.

Habitat and Range

costas hummingbird
Costa’s hummingbird in Palm Springs, California

To see these birds, you’ll need to look in the southwestern states, such as southern California, Arizona and Nevada. The Costa’s hummingbird, the only member of its family adapted to living in North American deserts (including the Sonoran and Mohave), likes flower nectar just as much as its other hummingbird relatives do. But flowers are scarce in dry habitats, so this hummingbird moves with the seasons, migrating west to the coast in search of flowering plants.

Costa’s Hummingbird Hotspot

Trichocereus cactus blooms at Tohono Chul in Tucson
Cactus flower blooming at Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park lies within the Sonoran Desert in Tucson, Arizona. This park provides easy walking trails and gardens to view some of the 140 bird species that visit the 49-acre site. A hummingbird garden attracts Anna’s, broad-billed and Costa’s hummingbirds year-round to sip nectar from salvia, desert willow and other plants. Migration brings rufous, broad-tailed, calliope and black-chinned hummers here.

See the variety of Arizona hummingbirds (and learn more of the best places to see them).

Meet the American Woodcock and Wilson’s Snipe

Snipe 6867highres (1)
A Wilson’s snipe displays ruffled feathers as it wades through murky water.

Timberdoodle. Night partridge. Mudbat. Labrador twister. Marshdoodle. Bogsucker. No, we aren’t talking about imaginary creatures from a fantasy novel. Those are real nicknames for two of North America’s most remarkable birds, the American woodcock and Wilson’s snipe.

These two are alike in having round bodies, short legs, short necks, big heads and very long, straight beaks. Technically the woodcock and snipe are classified as members of the sandpiper family, but you won’t find them on sandy beaches. Instead, they hide in marshes and swamps or deep in the woods. It takes a serious effort to get to know them.

Range and Habitat: Secretive, Solitary Sulkers

American Woodcock, Scolopax Minor, At Wildcare In Noble, Oklahoma.
An American woodcock’s eyes are high on its head to keep a careful watch for predators while it forages.

Wilson’s snipes lurk in marshes and wet meadows, sometimes venturing out along edges of muddy ponds; American woodcocks hide on the ground inside leafy forests and thickets by day, venturing out into overgrown fields at night. Even when they’re out in the daylight, these birds are difficult to spot. They wear cryptic patterns of buff, brown and black. When they sit still, their camouflage blends in perfectly against a background of dry marsh grass or dead leaves on the forest floor.

Although usually unseen by most people, American woodcocks are common in the eastern states and southeastern Canada, mostly east of the Great Plains. Wilson’s snipes are found from coast to coast across Alaska, Canada and the northern states in summer, migrating south to spend winter throughout the central and southern states and deep into Mexico.

Learn everything you need to know about a killdeer bird.

What Do American Woodcocks and Wilson’s Snipes Eat?

Shutterstock 315634652
When on the hunt, Wilson’s snipes dip down, using their sensitive bills to catch worms, bug larvae, snails, crustaceans and the occasional frog or fish.

The long, straight bills of snipes and woodcocks provide a clue to their feeding behavior. They locate food with their sense of touch. The tip of the bill is very sensitive, so when a bird plunges it into the mud, it can feel earthworms, grubs, snails and small creatures moving around. And the upper mandible of the bill is flexible, so these odd birds can open up their bills just at the tip to grab something deep underground.

With eyes located high on their heads, they can watch for danger even when their bills are pointing down.

Quiz: How many shorebirds can you identify?

Flamboyant Fliers: Dances and Sounds

american woodcock
Identify an American woodcock by its thin facial stripes, distinct shape and cinnamon underbelly.

At first glance, they don’t look like skilled fliers. If you surprise a woodcock on the ground, it whirs off through the woods on short, rounded wings. The snipe leaps up from the mud and zigzags away as if it can’t decide which way to go. Both species seem reluctant to fly most of the time.

But on nights in early spring, they perform impressive sky dances. The male woodcock starts his performance around dusk by standing on an open patch of ground and calling a loud, buzzy pzeent!  several times per minute. Then he abruptly launches into the air and flies almost straight up, rising more than 100 feet above ground before he levels off. Then moving in a slow, fluttering circle against the darkening sky, he makes a thin, high-pitched twittering sound, punctuated with sharp chirps.

American Woodcock Calling Peent During Spring Courtship. Image Shot 03/2011. Exact Date Unknown.
A male American woodcock uses a unique call (and dance) to attract potential mates.

After a minute or two he abruptly stops and dives toward the ground, landing exactly where he started, and begins making pzeent notes again. He may do this dozens of times during the first part of the night and again near dawn.

Wilson’s snipes are faster fliers than woodcocks. The male may perform day or night, but even in daylight he can be difficult to spot as he zooms around the sky in huge circles. He’s easy to hear, though, because every so often he goes into shallow dives while making a loud, hollow, quivering trill, often referred to as winnowing. The whole presentation isn’t as fancy as the woodcock’s artful display, but it may last longer. The male snipe sometimes zips around, winnowing, for more than half an hour at a time.

See more elaborate bird mating rituals.

Feather Sounds

Woodcock 4young D 1571
American woodcock chicks start their lives in an unrefined nest. It’s placed on the exposed ground, and features only a shallow bowl.

As if the aerial displays of these birds weren’t bizarre enough, they make sounds in flight not with their voices, but with certain feathers. On the male woodcock, the three outermost feathers on each wing are very narrow. They vibrate in flight to make a twittering sound. On the snipe it’s the outermost tail feathers that are shaped to vibrate. The bird can control the airflow across those feathers by the way it beats its wings, creating the loud winnowing notes that echo across the marshes.

In their own ways, woodcocks and snipes dance in the sky to attract and woo mates and to assert their claims to a nesting territory. The flight displays and musical feathers are meant to impress others of their kind. But they’re also impressive for humans who are lucky enough to witness these elegant acts.

Next, find out if mourning dove feathers and wings make noise?

Perky-Pet Triple Tube Bird Feeders

Tube bird feeder

This feeder is three tube bird feeders in one! Offering 12 feeding stations and three separate seed compartments, it holds up to 10 pounds of seed. The baffle keeps squirrels away, too.

Shop Now

You need these 10 types of bird feeders in your backyard.

Droll Yankees 20-Port Finch Bird Feeder

tube bird feeder finches

This 3-foot long feeder offers plenty of space for all your favorite feathered friends to feed. It’s made from UV-resistant polycarbonate, which means it’ll last a long time—and it’s backed by a lifetime warranty against squirrel damage, too.

Shop Now

These are the 15 best bird feeder deals on Amazon right now.

More Birds Giant Combo Tube Bird Feeder

Screen Shot 2022 12 13 At 8.38.20 Am

Offer sunflower or thistle seed—over 11 pounds of it—with this sizable feeder from Perky-Pet. While there are several perches around the feeder, the mesh screen allows other birds to hang onto the surface and feed, too.

Shop Now

These large-capacity bird feeders can handle a crowd!

Woodlink Seed Tube Feeder

Screen Shot 2022 12 13 At 8.38.53 Am

If you’re looking for a regular tube feeder or a few tube feeders for birds, look no further than this classic design from Woodlink. An ideal choice for smaller songbirds, it holds up to two pounds of seed, has four feeding ports and is made from metal and polycarbonate that stands up to the elements.

Shop Now

Struggling with messy feathered friends? These no-mess feeders will keep your yard clean.

Perky-Pet Squirrel-Be-Gone Bird Feeder

Screen Shot 2022 12 13 At 8.39.55 Am

Keep squirrels out of your seed supply with this “squirrel-be-gone” feeder from Perky-Pet. Your favorite birds can feed without a problem, but when a much heavier squirrel tries to cling to the feeder, a “Seed Shield” slides down to prevent them from accessing the food.

Shop Now

Learn how to coexist with the squirrels in your yard.

Frisco Ultra Squirrel Defense Feeder

frisco ultra tube feeder

If you’re serious about banning squirrels from your tube bird feeders, this “ultra squirrel defense” feeder will do the trick. On the inside, it’s a normal tube feeder… and on the outside, a large cage stops squirrels in their tracks. The gaps are large enough for songbirds to fly through, but squirrels will be stymied.

Shop Now

More Birds “Abundance” Tube Feeder

Screen Shot 2022 12 13 At 8.41.10 Am, tube bird feeders

You’ll have an abundance of birds when you put up this tube feeder. It features six feeding ports, which adjust for smaller or larger birds based on your preference. The feeder holds 3.5 pounds of seed, so your feathered friends will never go hungry.

Shop Now

Check out these eight platform feeders perfect for a variety of birds.

Perky-Pet Tube Metal Bird Feeder

Screen Shot 2022 12 13 At 8.42.07 Am, tube bird feeders

This brightly colored feeder offers a little more fun than the typical clear plastic offerings. Its fun bright-blue color and “roof” make it look almost more like a birdhouse than a feeder. But it’s still plenty functional—it features six perches and is made from metal, so it’ll bring smiles for years to come.

Shop Now

What Does a Pinyon Jay Look Like?

Pinyon Jay
Male and female pinyon jays look the same.

Often described as looking like a small crow, the pinyon jay is a medium-sized blue-grayish bird. Male and female pinyon jays are identical, so you won’t be able to tell them apart based on appearance.

Pinyon jays travel and nest in flocks, with some groups containing several hundreds of birds. As with other corvid species, pinyon jays often form strong family bonds. Parents and young can remain together their whole lives, in the same flock into which they were born.

Meet the Steller’s jay—bold, beautiful black and blue birds.

Nests and Eggs

Pinyon jays nest in pinyon pine trees, ponderosa pine trees, oaks and junipers. They nest near the end of winter; the male provides the female with sticks to build the nest’s exterior. Amusingly, the birds may steal materials from another pinyon jay’s nest if the structure is left unattended. (Canada jays are also known for their antics—including pilfering food from unsuspecting humans!)

Typical clutch sizes include two to five eggs. The blue eggs with brown spots incubate for a little longer than two weeks. Three weeks after hatching, the youngsters are ready to fledge.

Psst—baby crows are much cuter than you think.

Pinyon Jay Call and Sounds

As with many other members of the jay family, you won’t miss a pinyon jay’s call. It gives a series of high, nasally caws reminiscent of that of a crow.

Get to know the blue jay, another corvid with an unmissable call.

Pinyon Jay Range and Favorite Foods

The pinyon jay Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus eating food in the tree,Grand Canyon Village,Arizona,United States,USA
A pinyon jay eating in Grand Canyon National Park

The pinyon jay is unique in that it primarily resides in Southwestern pinyon woodlands, its range stretching from California and central Oregon to western Nebraska and Colorado. Pinyon-pine seeds are its food of choice.

These birds are technically omnivorous and do eat insects, berries and small fruits, but pinyon seeds make up most of their diet. That said, you might attract them to feeders with cracked corn, suet, sunflower seeds, or a classic jay favorite food: peanuts.

Are Pinyon Jays Endangered?

Unlike several other species of jay, pinyon jays are somewhat uncommon. Because of deforestation and other forms of habitat loss (such as wildfires and other natural disasters) their numbers are decreasing.

Partners in Flight notes an 83% decrease in their population between 1970 and 2014, while the U.S. Forest Service says populations have declined 3 to 4% each year throughout the past half-century. They have this in common with the Florida scrub-jay, whose numbers have also fallen in previous years.

Did you know: the blue jay range is expanding westward.

Like a crown jewel, a hummingbird nest is one of the great wonders in all of nature. They are so tiny, so perfect. Yet, few of us have ever seen a hummingbird nest. This is because they are nearly impossible to find. From the ground, they look like another bump on a branch. From above, an umbrella of leaves conceals them. And from the side, they look like a tiny knot, quilted with lichens, plant down and fibers. Though each of the 17 hummingbird species that breed in North America builds slightly different nests in various habitats, all hummingbird nests have much in common.

Check out adorable pictures of baby hummingbirds.

Hummingbird Nest Facts

  • Female hummingbirds build their nests 10 to 90 feet high, generally in trees or shrubs (with a few exceptions).
  • Hummingbirds build velvety, compact cups with spongy floors and elastic sides that stretch as the young grow. They weave together twigs, plant fibers, and bits of leaves, and use spider silk as threads to bind their nests together and anchor them to the foundation.

Will a hummingbird nest in a birdhouse? Here’s what you should know.

Hummingbird Eggs

  • Hummingbird eggs are about the size of navy beans.
  • Most females lay two eggs, which they incubate for 15 to 18 days.
  • Juvenile hummingbirds fledge (leave the nest) 18 to 28 days after hatching.
Hummingbird chick still in the nest
Hummingbird chick still in the nest

Attracting Hummingbirds to Nest

Any hummingbird lover knows that adding nectar plants to your garden is an important part of attracting hummingbirds. But these tiny creatures rely on a different set of plants for nesting materials. Add some of these to your garden to encourage hummingbirds to nest nearby.

Hummingbirds don’t use nest boxes or tree cavities. Instead they generally build their nests in sheltered trees or shrubbery, often in a fork of branches. Enhance your own hummingbird habitat by growing a diversity of leafy trees and large shrubs that provide shelter at varying heights. And if you want to get more bang for your buck, plant catkin-bearing trees and shrubs, which provide soft plant fibers for nesting material. Some examples of these include willows, witch hazel, alder, American elm, cottonwood, ironwood, poplar, birch, beech, mulberry and maple.

Hummingbird collects nesting material
A broad-billed hummingbird collecting nest material.

Hummingbird eggs are cradled in soft fluffy fibers that hummingbirds choose from plants nearby. Add plants with fuzzy foliage like Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine), which forms dense, ground-hugging rosettes of thick, soft, woolly leaves. The silken plumes of ornamental grasses are also useful in attracting hummingbirds looking to nest. Some plants have seed heads or pods that transform into fuzzy balls of soft fiber, or are encased in soft protective casings. Examples include clematis, honeysuckle, milkweed (Asclepias species) and blanket flower (Gaillardia species). Pasque flowers offer both soft foliage with silken hairs, and mid-spring flowers followed by fuzzy seedpods.

Check out more jaw-dropping facts about hummingbirds.

Hummingbird Nest Characteristics by Species

While these are the basics for hummingbird nests, it is interesting to see what makes each of these species unique. Hal Harrison studied hummingbird nests for decades—here are some of his observations.

  • Anna’s hummingbird females build a mere platform as early as December to lay her eggs. Then she builds up the nest while incubating.
  • Black-chinned hummingbird nests are deep cups, and the rim may be curved inward.
  • Blue-throated hummingbird nests are often built on electric wire inside or outside of cabins.
  • Broad-billed hummingbirds will build their loosely constructed nests on clotheslines.
  • Broad-tailed hummingbirds often returns to same nesting site year after year.
  • Calliope hummingbirds will build a series of two, three or even four nests on top of one another, often attached to a conifer cone.
  • Costa’s hummingbirds will colonize at favorable sites with as many as six nests in a 100-foot radius. The birds are very tame at nesting sites.
  • Rivoli’s hummingbirds build the largest and highest of North American hummingbird nests.
  • Ruby-throated hummingbird females attach their nests with spider silk to a small twig or branch that slants downward and covers the outside with greenish-gray lichens. They may lay eggs in a second nest while still feeding the young in the first.
  • Rufous hummingbirds, a western species, are very pugnacious around the nest, often driving away much larger birds.

Are hummingbirds territorial at feeders and flowers?

Do Hummingbirds Reuse Their Nests?

Hummingbird nest
A peek inside of a hummingbird nest

“One day I found two hummingbird nests in my tree. Do they reuse their nests or build new ones?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Kriss Reiff of Grand Junction, Colorado.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: A hummingbird nest is a tiny marvel. Female hummingbirds use the finest plant fibers and spiderwebs to craft a secure cradle for eggs and young. It’s strong for its size, but such a nest is not durable enough for repeated use. Typically, the female will build a new nest for each brood, even within the same year. She may start construction before she finishes feeding the full-grown young from a previous one. In rare cases, a location is so good that females build right on top of the remains of the old nest.

Next, find out if hummingbirds mate for life.

If you spot a motionless hummingbird in an unusual position, don’t be alarmed. Learn what the experts say about hummingbird torpor.

Where do hummingbirds sleep at night?

Hummingbirds Enter Torpor to Conserve Energy

Mickelsen 112314
The behavior shown here is hummingbird torpor, and is no cause for alarm.

“I saw a hummingbird hanging upside down from my feeder by one foot. As I neared, it flew away. What happened to it?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Margaret Hocker of Metropolis Illinois.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: Hummingbirds have a bizarre way of conserving energy. Usually at night, during periods of cold and sometimes when they’re perched at a feeder, hummingbirds can enter a deep, sleep-like state known as torpor, when all body functions slow dramatically. Metabolism slows by as much as 95 percent, and heart rate and body temperature drop significantly. Torpor allows them to conserve precious energy and survive surprisingly low temperatures.

Torpor Helps Hummingbirds Survive in Cold Weather

248418012 1 James Leonard Bnbhc20
Anna’s hummingbirds may enter torpor when temperatures drop below freezing.

Hummingbirds visit my feeders every day, year round. Where do they sleep at night in chilly weather, and how do they survive the cold? asks Kay Teseniar of Kelso, Washington.

Kenn and Kimberly: Hummingbirds often find a twig that’s sheltered from the wind to rest on for the night. Also, in winter they can enter a deep sleep-like state known as torpor. All body functions slow down dramatically; metabolism drops by as much as 95 percent, and heart rate and body temperature decline significantly. In spite of their fragile appearance, they’re tough little critters!

Follow these expert tips to attract hummingbirds in winter.

248506590 1 Mindy Musick King Bnbhc20
Spring snow doesn’t bother broad-tailed hummingbirds.

“This male broad-tailed hummingbird (above) left his more tropical winter home in the south and arrived in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains just in time for a spring snow. Not to worry, they are able to survive freezing temperatures by entering a state of torpor, where their metabolism slows way down to conserve energy during the night. Early in the morning, he was already in position on his favorite perch keeping his eye on the sky to fiercely protect his preferred feeder on our deck. By mid-morning, the sun had melted away, and all was warm and bright. These little birds may be small, but they are mighty!” says Mindy Musick King.

Is it safe to freeze hummingbird nectar?

Hummingbird Hanging Upside Down

Hummingbird Torpor
During hummingbird torpor, metabolism lowers and body temperature and heart rate drops.

“One morning, a female hummingbird landed on the feeder, slowly leaned back and eventually ended up upside down. She ignored the other birds and, after a few minutes, flew away. What causes this behavior?” asks Donna Jenkins of Chesapeake, Virginia.

Kenn and Kimberly: This odd behavior seems to happen because hummingbirds have weak feet and extreme variations in energy levels. Hummingbirds enter torpor (lowered breathing and heart rate) to conserve energy. This usually happens on cold nights, but sometimes they go into a torpid state during the day. When they’re sitting, their feet automatically clamp down, but on a smooth perch, they may slip and wind up hanging upside down. Usually this doesn’t last long and the bird isn’t any worse off when it awakens.

Discover more jaw-dropping hummingbird facts.

Freeze Posture in Birds

Sony Dsc
Red-breasted nuthatch hanging motionless below a suet feeder

“This red-breasted nuthatch didn’t move for at least 10 minutes. Do nuthatches go into torpor, like hummingbirds, or was something else going on?” asks Michele Stark of Grand Blanc, Michigan.

Kenn and Kimberly: What your little nuthatch is doing isn’t torpor. You witnessed a reaction to a predator. We call this “freeze posture,” and it happens when there’s a predator nearby. Even when birds at feeders appear to be completely relaxed, they are on constant alert for predators. When a hawk swoops in, smaller birds have to make a split-second decision—fly for cover or freeze. Often they’ll decide that the best chance for survival is to freeze rather than take their chances in flight against something like sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawks, which are incredibly fast flyers and masters of aerial maneuvers.

shiitake mushroom growing kit
Each kit comes with a mushroom log, vented humidity bag and a spray bottle.

Mushroom logs and mushroom kits have taken root as a favorite gardening activity for amateur and professional gardeners and cooks alike. A mushroom growing kit offers an enjoyable, uncomplicated, and affordable way to grow a variety of edible mushrooms (shiitakes, golden oysters, blue oysters, lion’s mane) in low light and with little hassle. Interested in hopping on this edible garden trend yourself? Here’s my review of a shiitake mushroom growing kit. Read on for a first hand account on growing fresh shiitake.

P.S. If you’re wondering why mushrooms grow in your lawn and garden, here’s what you can do.

Why Did You Try a Shiitake Mushroom Growing Kit?

Back to the Roots sent me their new shiitake mushroom growing kit to test out. I didn’t have any previous experience with growing mushrooms, but I am an experienced vegetable gardener. I enjoy the benefits of growing my own food (and eating it!) and growing mushrooms was no exception.

Ready to try an AeroGarden? Check out our review.

What Did the Shiitake Mushroom Growing Kit Look Like on Arrival?

mushroom growing kit
Unboxing the organic shiitake mushroom growing kit

The mushroom kit was delivered in good shape. Directions on the box said to open it up and start growing mushrooms right away, but I think I kept it sealed up for a day or two. A brown and white colored log was packaged a long cardboard box with a clear plastic bag and a small spray bottle. There was no unpleasant odor or messy soil.

Check out these seed-starter kits to jump-start your spring garden.

Where Did You Grow Your Shiitake Mushroom Kit? 

Img 3415
Soaking the mushroom log in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water

Following the directions, I soaked the log in water inside a 5-gallon plastic hardware bucket overnight (I had to flip it over halfway through because the whole log wouldn’t fit in the bucket). I placed a heavy wooden cutting board on top of the bucket to keep the log from floating up above the water level. After it finished soaking, I slipped the log into the included plastic bag and placed it on a metal baking sheet on top of my kitchen island. The vented bag helps maintain a high humidity level high so the log won’t dry out. 

Learn how to grow an indoor lemon tree.

What Was the Mushroom Growing Process Like?

Img 3455
Spray the log daily with water and mushrooms will grow quickly

Ridiculously easy! You basically spray it and forget it. Mushroom growing kits are really low maintenance, which is part of their appeal. 

I followed the instructions to spray the log with water twice a day. However, we left town for the weekend so I missed a couple of days. When I came home, much to my surprise, the log was already covered in mushrooms. From my experience with this kit, you might see mushrooms pinning in just a few days. I admit that I expected the process to take a lot longer.

If you’re interested in mushroom kits, we think you’ll love microgreens kits, too.

How Did You Take Care of the Shiitake Mushroom Kit?

Img 3461
Freshly harvested shiitake mushrooms

At this point I removed the bag but kept spraying the log to let the mushrooms grow larger. A couple of days later, I picked enough for dinner and cooked them right away that night.

Then I waited a few more days before picking the remaining mushrooms for another recipe. Unfortunately they didn’t grow much larger and started to look dry and wilty. I’m guessing that the log dried out too much in my house due to low humidity. My advice is to not wait too long to enjoy your mushrooms like I did.

Things I wish I knew: After I finished harvesting all of the shiitake mushrooms that grew, I wasn’t sure what to do with the log. It wasn’t clear to me if I could rehydrate the log and start the process over again. 

Any Additional Tools or Supplies Needed to Take Care of the Mushroom Kit?

Everything you need is included inside the box, other than a container to soak the log in. I also recommend a baking tray or sheet pan to protect your furniture.

Would You Buy Another Shiitake Mushroom Growing Kit?

Img 3462
The best part is cooking and eating your shiitake mushrooms

Yes! I really enjoy growing my own herbs and food when possible because it tastes the best and it was a fun family project. I start my own seeds every year, including tomatoes and jalapenos.

Additional Shiitake Mushroom Log Reviews

I’m not only one who loves this mushroom log. The Organic Shiitake Mushroom Kit has 4.2 out of five stars on Amazon. Here’s what other verified Amazon purchasers thought.

Frequent Buyer, “Kit sat for a couple days before opening, then sprouted (‘pinned’) almost immediately, a week later logs are fully covered!
Having done shiitake before and waiting a month or more, this was a pleasant surprise. Have not eaten yet, but expect them to be good. Tomorrow stir fry!!”

Amazon customer, “Stupid easy! Opened, soaked for 12 hours, placed in provided bag, and 2 days later we came to find this. I got this for my wife for Christmas since she’s considering growing as a hobby, and this experience really fun and easy to dip your toes into it. It was late to arrive (around 10 days stuck in shipping) during the colder winter months and they still seemed to thrive in our basement. Haven’t eaten them yet but definitely recommend for growth alone.”

Shop Now

nesting shelves
This DIY nesting shelf is easy to make with recycled materials.

Some birds are less likely to use nesting boxes, preferring instead the shelter of natural trees or even the overhang of a roof. You can still encourage these birds to nest in your yard, attracting cardinals, robins, mourning doves and more by offering open-fronted nesting shelves.

One year a pair of Carolina wrens showed interest in making a home outside our sunroom. After witnessing days of indecision and debate, I thought I might help them along by installing a nesting shelf. Rather than purchasing something, I wanted to create a DIY birdhouse that was also a recycled crafts project, so I chose a small galvanized bucket that I’d been using for years. It was perfect—not too big or too small, with angled sides and a wire handle. You can create this kind of shelter in a version that suits your style; here’s how I made mine.

Will hummingbirds use a birdhouse?

Nesting Shelf Materials:

  • Old bucket
  • Hammer and nails
  • Screwdriver and wood screw
  • Wire
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Spray paint

Step-By-Step Instructions:

Step 1

Paint the exterior. Painting is often the easiest way to transform the ordinary into something snazzy. I chose a pumpkin-orange spray paint for the outside of my bucket. Leave the inside unpainted to minimize the risk to birds.

Psst—we found wooden birdhouses your birds will love to call home.

Step 2

Prepare to hang. I knew I was going to screw this bucket directly onto our porch column (made out of a tree trunk, courtesy of Hurricane Isabel in 2003), so all I needed to do was drill a hole in the center of the bucket. But if you think you might attach your nesting shelf differently, make sure it’s ready to hang before accessorizing it with delicate objects.

Get all of your cardinal birdhouse questions answered.

Step 3

nesting shelf
Closeup of metal flower details

Accessorize. The shape of this little bucket reminded me of a head, which made me want to add a hat with flower accessories. I didn’t want this topper to overwhelm the bucket, so I decided to use wire. I also like the way wire bends, and the fact that birds (unlike bigger critters) have no problem perching on it. The bucket’s wire handle gave me an easy way to attach the hat.

Welcome nesting wrens to a wren birdhouse.

Step 4

Nesting Shelf DIY Birdhouse
Robins, wrens and cardinals may use nesting shelves.

Hang your nesting shelf. When choosing a location, keep in mind that Carolina wrens, cardinals, and robins are the most likely birds to take up residence in a nesting shelf. Carolina wren nests are frequently found near homes, usually 3 to 6 feet off the ground, and in odd places. Robins’ nests tend to be in the lower halves of trees, as well as in gutters or eaves, and on outdoor light fixtures and other structures. You’ll have better luck attracting cardinals if you place the nesting shelf in a very sheltered area with plenty of dense cover.

When should you clean out birdhouses?

7 More Bird Shelter Ideas

  • Baskets
  • Old Mailboxes
  • Cardboard Boxes
  • Kitchenware (pots and pans)
  • Garden Pots and Planters
  • Old Porch Lights
  • Empty Hardware Buckets

Next, learn how to make a DIY bluebird house.