Winter Roosting Boxes

Think About Mounting A Roosting Box For Songbirds

I’ve added a couple of new bird feeders to my songbird catering service this year and while I was setting the shepherd’s hooks in our meadow I remembered I needed to mount the old roosting box my Dad and I built probably 30 years ago.  What is a roosting box you ask, and why should you be thinking about setting at least one out in your yard?

While anyone with bird feeders knows there are lots of cute little guys hanging around for that free lunch, have you wondered where do they go at night to sleep, especially in very cold weather?  In cold weather songbirds eat constantly during daylight hours to sustain their energy. At night they expend a lot of that energy fluffing their feathers and shivering to keep warm until dawn.

Often thick evergreens and other vegetation fail to provide enough protection for the smaller birds trying to get through a cold windy night. Though they crowd together for warmth, many birds become seriously dehydrated and freeze to death. Mortality is typically highest among the little birds such as bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, titmice and small woodpeckers. In a very bad snow storm with below freezing temperatures for more than a day or two, as much as 50% of smaller songbirds can perish. This is a real problem and yardeners can really help.  These cute critters need their very own Motel 6.

Traditional roosting boxes are roofed, hollow boxes outfitted inside with pegged perches along their interior walls. Unlike birdhouses, which accommodate a nest, these boxes are only intended to provide shelter from severe weather for those cavity-nesting songbirds. They are accustomed to taking refuge in a protective hole in an old tree made by woodpeckers or tree injury. These days suitable protective hollow trees are removed from populated areas because they are unsightly, unsafe, or in the bulldozer’s path.

While the hole in a bird house is up towards the top of the box, a roosting box has the entrance hole set down low. Also unlike birdhouses they do not have vents or drainage holes, so the critical warm air generated by the roosting birds is retained. So if you have a roosting box on your property, the smaller birds, stuck in cold weather, can roost together in small groups to share body heat. In one documented case, 31 winter wrens were observed to fit inside an unused nesting box only 6 inches square!

Buying Roosting Boxes

There are six Wild Birds Unlimited stores in metro Detroit offering a number of roosting boxes ranging from $10 to $45 (www.wildbirdsunlimited).  Duncraft offers an interesting box that allows you to flip the front wall so the hole is high during the season and used as a nesting box or flip it so the hole is low make the device a roosting box in the winter (, $45).

Building Roosting Boxes

If you are just a little bit handy, roosting boxes are easy to build. I have complete instructions with illustrations on my web site at, placing “roosting box” in the search window.  A 10 inch by 1 inch pine board 12 feet long is sufficient for one box. Perches for the interior are ¼ or 3/8 inch dowels. You will need a hand drill, a saw, a jigsaw (or hole saw), and a screwdriver.

It is a good idea, but not essential, to add a coat of exterior, dark colored paint on the outside of a roosting box to encourage the absorption and retention of daytime heat. Also a coat of varnish on exterior surfaces will extend the life of the box. Renew the coat of varnish each year. As with birdhouses though, never varnish or paint the inside of the roosting box; the birds won’t use it.

Mount roosting boxes 8 to 15 feet off the ground in trees or on buildings. A good place is in a mature pine tree where the foliage buffers the wind of the winter storms. It is best to mount the box in a spot that is easy to reach for cleaning. In any case, orient the entrance toward the south, away from prevailing winter winds. Be sure to locate it where accumulations of bird droppings will not be a problem.


  • Durable eastern white pine
  • Front panel tilts out for easy cleaning
  • Hangs from metal hanger, holds at least 6 birds
  • Opening at bottom allows warm air to rise inside the house
  • 13"h x 7"w x 9"d
  • With a 5" x 5" internal floor this roost box is designed for use in winter when birds need protection from the extreme cold. The entrance hole has a slate guard to deter damage from squirrels. The opening is small and near the bottom, keeping the rising warm air within. The three internal perches enable several birds to roost together. Attracts most common backyard birds including wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and bluebirds. The wood is 3/4" for insulation, and the slanted top lets the water run off. The front tilts out for easy cleaning, and the "L" hook at the bottom of the front holds the front securely in place. Mount facing away from prevailing winds for maximum protection. It can be secured on a tree or post by hanging from the metal hanger. In addition, insert a screw through the hole at the bottom of the back or through the back from inside. Hand crafted in the USA by Coveside, of Eastern White Pine which provides insulation and durability. Over time the wood will darken and more naturally blend in with the environment.


  • Two 15in roosting perches
  • Hand sanded and assembled with stainless steel and dichromate plated screws
  • Dimensions: 16-inch by 11in 10-3/4-inch
  • All cedar construction
  • Hand crafted in Michigan
  • Stovall Roosting Box – Rustic with 2-inch entrance, clean out board. It has two 15-inch roosting perches and screen on the back for woodpeckers to roost on. Multiple species will use it at the same time during extreme cold weather. The houses are planed/coated/finished by sanding, stainless screws and finishing washers (used thru-out). Easy clean out/good ventilation to use as functional garden accents. 16-inch by 11-inch by 10-3/4-inch. Stovall products feature all cedar construction, stainless steel and dichromate plated screws, washers, hooks and chains, hand sanded, assembled with screws, many products coated with wood protector which accents the wood grain and the natural warmth of cedar. Environmentally green practices – hand sorted down graded lumber. The Shop is heated with scrap wood, cooled with natural shade and insulation, nestled in a glen among 25+ acres of beech/maple/oak forest. Rumored staffing of woodland gnomes with a payroll of nuts and berries is still not factual.

Turn Birdhouses Into Roosting Boxes

I got a wonderful tip from Bill Thompson, editor of the wonderful Bird Watcher’s Digest ( $20 for year’s subscription). You can make every bird house into a roosting box by covering the ventilation holes on the sides near the top of the box with that gray clay-like corded material called Mortite; used to seal drafty windows for winter (available in any hardware store); then remove it in the spring.

  • Custom made for your area
  • Constructed from real Ohio Hard Pine
  • Made for chickadees, wrens, titmice, and nuthatches
  • Includes any nesting material, instructions, or mounting fixtures needed
  • Wildlife expert readily available for personal one-on-one questions at (330)221-8799 6am-6pm EST
  • Made from real Ohio hard pine, all Holley wildlife houses are built to last. Ohio hard pine is a great insulator and--unlike red cedar, cyprus, plywood, or chipboard--is not aromatic. Aromatic woods will kill the young until aired out (which takes up to two years)! Holley wildlife houses are designed with the habits, needs, and protection of our wildlife friends in mind. Logos are branded on, not painted. Logos can be omitted if a plain house is desired, as every house is built to order. Because the houses are built to order, expect approximately 2-7 work days to build. Made in the USA. Sorry, no international shipping.

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