Where do birds sleep? At night, in winter & during storms


I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans

During the day they can be seen singing or foraging but where do birds sleep at night? Are nesting boxes used by birds for roosting? We will answer these questions below.

doves sleeping on branch
Even turtle doves sometimes get tired [Photo: Nenad Nedomacki/ Shutterstock.com]

Eating, singing, flying, laying eggs and raising their offspring – the life of a bird is exhausting and rarely offers the opportunity to relax. Especially during the mating and breeding season, the feathered animals are constantly in action. However, since no one has infinite energy reserves, birds also need to rest in between and – just like us humans and any other animal – sleep. But where exactly do birds sleep? And how do they protect themselves from enemy attacks or winter cold during this time? We would like to answer these and other questions in our info article.

How do birds sleep?

With the exception of nocturnal birds, the majority of birds sleep at night. This shuts down most of the physical processes and allows the animals to recover from their physical exertions of the day. However, their awareness is not completely switched off in the process. Most birds are very light sleepers and can scurry to safety at the slightest sign of danger. Some birds, for example ducks, never fall asleep completely but alternately let only one half of the brain rest at a time so that they can continue to keep an eye on their surroundings.

sleeping duck
Ducks are very attentive during their sleep [Photo: Adriano Castelli/ Shutterstock.com]

Where do birds sleep at night?

The roosting places of birds can sometimes vary greatly and be very creative. Most songbirds spend the night in trees, where they cling to branches. A special clamp mechanism in their legs ensures that they cannot unconsciously open their claws and fall from the tree, even while sleeping. During the breeding season, bird parents sometimes also sleep in the bird’s nest to keep the eggs and brood warm.

Other birds, such as the woodpecker, on the other hand, carve out special sleeping cavities in which they spend the night. Swifts, in turn, are known to sleep during flight. These gliders rise high towards the evening and then rest during a predominantly passive glide that brings them slowly back to the ground. In order not to lose control in the process, swifts also never sleep particularly deeply.

Waterfowl such as geese and swans, on the other hand, sleep mainly in the water – swimming or sitting on small islands – where they are safe from predators while sleeping. Flamingos even prefer to sleep standing up, stabilising the standing leg in a similar way to the claws of songbirds.

sleeping swan
Waterfowl usually sleep on the water [Photo: Just Anton/ Shutterstock.com]

Where do birds sleep in winter?

In winter or even during storms, birds like to sleep a little more sheltered. While most birds travel in pairs during the breeding season, many species, for example starlings, field sparrows, or even wrens, congregate into smaller roosting communities during the cold half of the year. The frequency and size of these communities usually depends on the cold of the winter. The birds are then found crowded together on branches, in tree hollows or even in nest boxes.

tree sparrows sitting on a branch
Many birds seek proximity to others in winter [Photo: Bachkova Natalia/ Shutterstock.com]

Do birds sleep in nesting boxes?

A nesting box therefore not only provides a practical home for a variety of garden birds in summer but can also offer these feathered creatures a protected shelter in winter. For this reason, nesting boxes should definitely be left hanging in winter and cleaned either immediately after the breeding season in late spring or again in spring.

owl sleeping in nexting box in winter
A nesting box can also serve as a shelter in winter [Photo: SofotoCool/Shutterstock.com]

For more tips on proper nest box cleaning and how you can easily build a nesting box yourself, check out our dedicated article.

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