Winter can be a cruel, deadly season for all types of wildlife. While many birds migrate to warmer climates and other critters hunker down and hibernate through the season, there are those that tough it out, and these are the ones that need our help. There are many ways to provide a safe and comfortable shelter for winter birds and wildlife that can make a great difference for survival through the coldest season.
How Shelter Can Make a Difference
A good shelter cuts drafts and biting winds and helps keep birds and wildlife dry. This reduces the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. It also allows animals to use fewer calories to keep warm at a time when food is scarcest. Birds and small mammals sharing the same shelter are also sharing body heat to keep the space warm. A good shelter will keep birds and other wildlife safe from hungry predators and give them a safe space to retreat when they feel threatened.
6 Best Shelters for Winter Birds and Wildlife
There are several different shelters that birds, small mammals, snoozing reptiles, overwintering insects, and other critters may take advantage of during the winter months. Providing a variety of shelter options in your yard will help protect all wildlife and keep them safe until spring.
1. Evergreen Landscaping
The same evergreen trees, shrubs, and ground covers you enjoy year-round can also shelter wildlife. Plant evergreen landscaping such as junipers, hollies, pines, and arborvitaes in dense layers to provide thicker cover and more robust shelter. Minimize late summer or autumn pruning so the plants have more space to shelter wildlife. Other plants that yield seeds, nuts, or berries also do double duty as a food source for winter wildlife.
2. Brush Pile
A simple brush pile provides a sheltered location all types of wildlife can use. Prop larger branches or tree trunk pieces into a roughly pyramidal shape to offer interior space for wildlife to rest. Layer branches, boughs, and leaves on top. Leaving leaf litter intact beneath the pile helps insulate the space. It also provides a ready food source for foraging. Another benefit of tossing fallen leaves on top of the pile is that it seals more drafts and gaps.
3. Wood Piles
If you have cut wood seasoning, leaving the woodpile a bit haphazard can make it a great winter shelter for wildlife. Leave some spaces in the stack, particularly closer to the ground where animals can better access the pile and feel more secure. Consider covering the pile with a tarp to protect it from excess precipitation and provide more of a windbreak to keep wildlife guests safe and comfortable.
4. Fallen Logs and Snags
If you have fallen logs or dead trees on your property that aren’t threatening any structures, leaving them intact and undisturbed through the winter can provide easy, natural shelter for many creatures. As logs and snags (the name for dead trees that are left upright to decompose naturally) decay, they will harbor a wide variety of insects and fungi that will be nourishment for other woodland wildlife.
5. Roost Boxes
It’s easy to add supplemental roost boxes to your yard to provide instant shelter for winter birds. Roost boxes are a bit larger than birdhouses and have less ventilation to preserve heat. The entrance is lower so rising heat is conserved. Interior perches also provide more space for multiple birds with less risk of smothering. If roost boxes aren’t available, convertible birdhouses are another option, or regular birdhouses could be left up all winter with some extra insulation added to the sides and roof to help protect them better.
6. Discarded Holiday Trees
A used Christmas tree can become an instant shelter for winter birds and wildlife. Remove all decorations and simply toss the tree into a sheltered corner of your yard for chilly guests to use. Piling several trees together will create an even more robust pile—ask neighbors to add their trees to the stack to helps winter wildlife.
The more winter shelters you add to your yard, the more of a sanctuary it will be for birds and wildlife, and the healthier and more diverse your local ecosystem will be year-round.
Melissa Mayntz is a writer who specializes in birds and birding, though her work spans a wide range—from folklore to healthy living. Her first book, Migration: Exploring the Remarkable Journeys of Birds was published in 2020. Mayntz also writes for National Wildlife Magazine and The Spruce. Find her at MelissaMayntz.com.