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Mon, Jan. 20

Where do birds sleep at night?

I am frequently asked the question, 'where do birds go to sleep at night?°¶The bitter cold temperatures we have experienced this week raises a genuine concern for the comfort and well- being of wild birds. The answer to this question varies by habitat and by what kinds of birds you have in your area.

If you live in an oak/chaparral or forested area where there are trees of sufficient girth to support cavity-nesting activity, you will find that cavity-nesting birds are also cavity roosters. Examples of birds that excavate cavities in the trunk of a tree are acorn woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, ladder-backed woodpeckers and northern flickers.

There are also several species of small birds that use holes that have been excavated by larger species. In the Prescott area mountain chickadee, bridled titmouse, juniper titmouse, Bewick's wren, white-breasted nuthatches, and western bluebirds are all examples of species that roost (sleep) in tree cavities and in nesting boxes.

The availability of nesting cavities is restricted by the occurrence of trees capable of supporting cavities inside of the tree ­ in other words, the tree has to be sufficiently large to have a hole carved inside of the trunk.

If you live in an area where cavity-nesting species occur, it is a good idea to provide nesting boxes for wild birds. If your home is situated in either an oak/chaparral or more heavily forested area, then you will have the types of birds that would use a nesting box for roosting at night. However, if you live in a grassland setting, a nesting box typically will not get any occupants (other than house sparrows, which are non-native).

If you have nesting boxes on your property, you probably know it is important to clean them out every year. I am frequently asked when is the best time to do this. My personal opinion is to leave all of the nest materials in the box after nesting season is over. This way there is some insulation in the box to help provide additional comfort to birds using the nesting box for roosting in wintertime. I think the best time to clean out nesting boxes is in late winter, before the onset of spring nest-building activity.

The number of species that are cavity roosters is actually very small compared to the number of species that roost out in the open at night. Most bird species in the Prescott area are not cavity roosters, so at night they simply hunker down in a dense tree, shrub, or bush, and ride out the night.

When you think about species such as western scrub jays, mourning doves and Gambel's quail, these birds are not cavity nesters; therefore, they are not cavity roosters. They simply find a well-protected location and hold onto a branch and sleep outside, exposed to the wind, moisture, and cold air. Examples of other common species that roost outside include house finches, lesser goldfinches, white-crownedsparrows, dark-eyed juncos and towhees.

Now is the time to be on the lookout for bluebirds. I have had several reports of huge numbers of bluebirds showing up at birdbaths and water features. It is extremely important to keep your water sources open (not frozen over) this time of year so that the water is accessible and available to the wild birds visiting your yard.

If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, you can submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, 1046 Willow Creek Road, Suite 105, Prescott, AZ 86301 or log onto and click on Ask Eric, which will link you with my e-mail address

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, a backyard wild bird store located in the Safeway/Kmart shopping center on Willow Creek Road. He has been an avid birder for over 40 years.

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