My life is about living with nature – here you can live it with me!

Where do birds sleep at night?

On numerous occasions I have always wondered where all of my favorite birdies end up roosting at night? I can remember a few occasions which I have actually found such birds trying to spend their evening sleeping! Of course I always seem to agitate them and then find myself feeling bad that I somehow had to inconvenience them. For example; you have those nesting birds like the American Robin who always seem to settle on that perfect location right next to the main door. During the day they will flush the nest with any attempt to approaching the door but at night they will lay very low and only flush when approached too close.


During the winter months some species will obviously make their wintering roost site noticeable by roosting together in one large group (but rarely do we see them actually sleeping). The most typical example is when the American Crows flying many miles from their wintering territories to this one specific tree in someone’s backyard. It is absolutely breathtaking to see so many crows filing to these specific trees and then together move over to their roosting trees. These roosts have been known to scare neighborhoods by their strange grouping behavior. I can also remember those sounds made by thousands of European Starlings congregating together in that one particular bridge that I walked across each day. Then on that one precise second near sunset; every starling will instantly stopped vocalizing and you hear absolute silence.

three lines of swallow

Then you have those cavity species that will spend their evening roosting in trees like the Eastern Screech Owl or Eastern Bluebird. These birds are trying to avoid the elements of the weather and there are some individuals who might use these same holes for nesting sites during the summer months. I am sad to say that I have found numerous tree swallows smothered on the bottom of bluebird box after a cold spell approached. These birds were over stacked in the box while trying to use their body heat to stay warm. Those individuals on the bottom of the box had too many birds stacked on top of them and lost their life. Lucky this doesn’t happen on a regular basis.

Am Goldfinch

This weekend I happen to come across an unusual encounter that I never expected to uncover. I saw this goldfinch flying towards the house while picking up my kitties food plates. This goldfinch was climbing in-between a 3 inch gap around the foundation of the house and some melted snow. It then climbed out of this crack and into an area that I couldn’t see from the window. I had just assumed this little fluff ball was searching for some food just before dusk (but something wasn’t right). I then decided to put on my boots and go investigate what this bird was getting into! I thought maybe it had found some stone flies or something else that was hidden in there. But, I never expected to find this goldfinch with its head tucked under its wing trying to sleep. It was cold so I assume this little birdie was trying to find a safe sheltered spot to keep out of the elements of the weather. I probably should have tried to photograph it but it was dark and some times we need to focus on the birdies best interest!!

Thistle Feeder

This evening we are expecting this to be our coldest night of the year with the wind-chills being anywhere from -10° to -20°F. I wonder where my many birdie friends will be hiding this evening with such cold temperatures approaching. I do anticipate them making an early rise and starting to fatten up with my sunflower seeds.

Update: In Feb I found where a songbird had roosted for the night and I captured a photo of it!

16 responses

  1. Marg

    The poor little guy I’m glad you didn’t try to take his photo, can’t I guy get some sleep around there? 😉

    Interesting entry Tom!

    25 January 2007 at 10:08 pm

  2. I make sure I have lots of roosting cups hung out when the weather gets ugly, and from how they are looking, someone is using them.
    I love the bluebird houses that you can hang upside down, with the entrance at the bottom so the heat stays in there. But that’s disturbing, that some birds get smothered. My little bird-lovin’ heart would break, seeing that.

    25 January 2007 at 11:21 pm

  3. Didi

    Great article.. and the most amazing part is I took pictures today of the grackles getting together on top of the trees and then leaving to who knows where and I was wondering why they do that?
    Thanks 🙂

    25 January 2007 at 11:45 pm

  4. Good story! I have wondered where all the birds are resting after dark, too. Last summer I had a nest of barn swallows under my front porch roof. The female slept in the nest and the male perched on the other end of the porch. I’d stand right under them – a few feet away and they didn’t mind at all, day or night. Perhaps they knew me well enough…

    26 January 2007 at 7:24 am

  5. I’m always really concerned about the birds on the freezing days and nights like we’re experiencing right now. I’m glad you didn’t bother the goldfinch trying to keep warm. Hopefully they have enough fat around them to keep warm enough!
    And I get really concerned about the birds and their babies in the spring/summer/fall when we have a really bad pounding rain storm along with a high wind storm. But that’s a story for another day!

    26 January 2007 at 8:14 am

  6. Nice story and I love your Goldfinch photo.

    26 January 2007 at 9:58 am

  7. Thanks for a very interesting post. For years, every morning we watch the crows fly from east to west, and then at dusk they fly east again. I know of two roosting areas for crows in the twin cities but they are both south of here. Maybe one evening I’ll have to get in the car and follow them to their roost tree!

    26 January 2007 at 4:28 pm

  8. @ Marg – I am not getting any sleep now days, why should they?? Only kidding! Thanks!
    @ Susan – yes, finding those swallows wasn’t a good thing! I have found many after words scat spots where birds have roosted the night before!
    @ Didi – Very cool! Can’t wait to see them!
    @ Mary – visited your posting and love those shots of your swallows! I bet it was a real treat to be watching them like that!
    @ Nature Woman – yes, I also find myself worrying about them! but, they always seem to pull through (well, as far as I know they do)!
    @ Frank – thanks so very much!
    @ Lynn – isn’t it amazing to watch those crows!! I think you should follow them, that would make a great post on your blog!

    26 January 2007 at 9:35 pm

  9. Albert Dionne

    I had four Cedar Waxwings roosting just outside my living room window in Lilac shrubs near out birdfeeders last night and wanted to take some photos of them but didnt think taking a flash photo would be a good idea. Can anyone tell me if I had taken the photos using a flash if it would have disturbed the birds and created some problems for them. It has just snowed yesterday and the temperature last night hovered around 25 degrees F. I took a lot of photos of the birds before it got dard right after I saw them fly in and settle down about an hour before it got dark. It would be nice to know if any0ne else had taken photos at night of birds and how it worked out.

    21 November 2007 at 6:22 am

  10. Deborah

    We live in Seattle where the weather is still cold at night. About a month ago I was changing the sugar water in our humingbird feeder after dark. We have a sheltered courtyard with a deep eave and small round vent hole covered with screening, tucked under the overhang. They are no larger than 2″ in diameter. As I was hanging the refilled feeder I noticed as small bird with it’s tail hanging straight down and just the fluffed arch of it’s back showing. I was mortified as I thought the poor little thing must have tried to get into the eave and gotten it’s head stuck and died there. I immediately called my husband to come and look and told him HE would have to remove it, as I didn’t have the heart to deal with the unfortunate state of the bird.
    He thought it would be best to wait until morning and we would deal with it in daylight. Much to my delight and surprise it was gone the next morning. It returns every evening and not always to the same vent opening. It curls up very small tucking it’s head under and all you can see is it’s tail hanging straight down against the house and it’s downy feathers fluffed in a soft ball. They are speckled with bits of white and we aren’t sure what kind of small bird it is….any one else ever seen anything like this? I will take a picture and post it so it can be shared. It doesn’t seem to be bothered by anything as we have shared this with all our friends and visits that come to the house.

    17 March 2008 at 5:42 pm

  11. @ Albert – thanks for sharing and I do think that the flash would have bothered the birds on their roost! Best thing to do would have been try and get some surrounding lights on, set your tripod up and capture the picture with a long exposure! Cedar Waxwings are very skiddish birds and they might have flew away if you bothered them! There are some pictures out there and many of them might come from them just falling asleep or waking up!
    @ Deborah – I have emailed you already and would love to see the photo! Regarding this being unusual, I think this probably happens much more than people normally expect it to happen! You were just in the right place at the right time to see the little birdie! Thanks again for sharing and would love to hear if anything different happens!

    17 March 2008 at 9:47 pm

  12. Updates! We want updates.
    I Googled “Where do birds sleep?” and found your blog. Great info!

    My favorite bird is the goldfinch. This evening we counted over 35 at the feeders out back. Busy birds, and adorable to watch.

    22 August 2008 at 12:50 am

  13. Lisa G.

    For Deborah – posting 3/17/2008 – Tonite it is cold on Long Island – I have two small birds that have found their own spots in seperate cracks under an awning up against the side of the house (concrete).
    I have “Halloween” lights up very close to their spots but I am worried they might freeze- how do they make it through the night? and keep coming back each evening? I think one might be a sparrow & one a chickadee – I wonder why they did not migrate & why they do not huddle together for warmth – nature is amazing (& frustrating too!).

    25 November 2008 at 12:01 am

  14. Desi

    Now I feel guilty for patiently waiting for some fledglings to leave their very inappropriate nest on top of the sensor light by the front door and destroying their nest, only to wonder afterward where they slept at night. I hope they found safe places to live and sleep until they could migrate. Thanks for your article. I’ll definately watch out for them next Spring and stop them from nesting there.

    24 October 2009 at 7:08 pm

  15. I recently noticed the cutest little birds come at night and ball up and sleep in the branches of the trees under the limbs to stay warm and dry. At first when I looked they appeared to be Easter Eggs up in the tree because of their little shape. They come back every nite and I adore waiting for them every evening at work. This made me wonder howcome they weren’t in a nest because I always thought that that’s where birds live. Now it makes me wonder if they only have a nest when they lay eggs?

    16 February 2010 at 8:11 pm

  16. Really interesting post! I recently was able to snap a photo of a sleeping Carolina Wren.

    6 March 2011 at 4:50 pm

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