Click on the link below to view live feed (8 – 5 EST) from Help-for-Bluebirds camera #1.
Now that winter is upon us, wild song birds need high energy food to survive the cold. Suet is an excellent low-cost high-energy food source. You can help the birds immensely by putting up a number of suet feeders and keeping them well stocked.
Bluebirds eat eat suet in the winter. The bluebirds in my neighborhood visit the feeders several times a day.
suet feeder array
I have tried a number of different types of suet cakes in my yard. From my perspective, the birds don’t seem to differentiate between the cheap suet cakes and the more expensive ones. I buy my suet cakes at Wal-Mart for $.92 + tax. If you decide to continue feeding with suet cakes on into the summer, you should switch to the “non melt” cakes.
If you have problems with squirrels, there are squirrel proof suet feeders available from most wild song bird supply stores or through the Internet.
purchased squirrel proof caged feeder
You can also make your own squirrel proof suet feeder by mounting a suet cake cage feeder inside of a larger cake feeder such as those used for large woodpecker cakes.
home made squirrel proof caged suet feeder (vertical mount)
home made squirrel proof caged suet feeder (horizontal mount)
You can also put pieces of suet cake in cups and place them inside your enclosed bluebird feeders. Once the bluebirds discover the suet, they will visit the feeders frequently throughout the day.
This is a good time of year in Piedmont North Carolina to look for strangers in your yard. If you’re lucky you may spot wild song bird species from other parts of North America moving in to winter over or just passing through on their way to warmer areas.
Be sure to snap plenty of pictures and share them with your friends.
White Throated Sparrow native to Canada – 11/18/2008
Heated winter roost boxes can save your bluebirds during periods of bitter cold by providing a warm temperature controlled roosting place. Bluebirds huddle (roost) together in a pile using their collective body heat to help them survive periods of cold weather. They arrange themselves so they don’t smother.
(Photo taken by Michael L. Smith)
Standard bluebird nest boxes don’t make good roosting places. A well designed bluebird nest box has ventilation ports at the roof line and a ventilation slot at the top of the entrance door. The vents reduce heat build-up during the summer. In the winter, the vents allow the heat generated by the huddled bluebirds to escape.
It is a fairly simple task to make a 110 volt AC powered, thermostatically controlled, heated bluebird winter roost box for your yard using relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf material.
If you decide to build a bluebird winter roosting box, don’t provide perching places inside the box. Bluebirds huddle on the floor.
Thermostatically controlled heated bluebird winter roost box (outside view)
The roost box is constructed of 1 X 8 pine board. The roof is made of 1 X 10 pine board covered by Hardie soffit. The exterior of the roost box should be painted or stained a dark color to facilitate solar energy absorption. Don’t paint or stain the interior. The floor of the roosting chamber is made of light metal used in heating and air conditioning applications. The metal floor acts as a heat exchanger. Notice the entrance hole in the roost box is located much lower than the entrance hole in a nest box. Since heat tends to rise in an enclosed space, the lower entrance hole helps preserve the heat that rises above it.
You can use a regular 60 watt clear or soft white light bulb as the heat source but it will give off a lot of light that might be distracting to birds. You can solve this problem by using a 60 watt black bulb as the heat source. Black bulbs can be purchased at Wal-Mart and other similar stores.
I cover the metal floor of my heated roost box with a thin layer of white pine wood chips. Don’t worry if you add too many chips, the birds will eject them until they are satisfied with the depth. You can buy white pine wood chips (pet bedding) from stores such as Wal-Mart or PetSmart.
Thermostatically controlled heated Bluebird Winter Roost Box (inside view)
The bulb is controlled by an Easy Heat, Inc. EH-38 current tap attached to the ceiling. The EH-38 activates at ~38° F and cuts off at ~50° F. The light bulb is mounted under the metal floor plate and provides heat that is conducted into the roosting chamber. The EH-38 control element is mounted near the top of the roosting chamber and turns the light bulb on and off. The EH-38’s preset cutoff point (~50° F) keeps the roosting chamber from overheating.
EH-38 control element
Tip: It’s always a good idea to test the electrical functions of a winter roost box before you button it up for use. You can put your EH-38 control element in a plastic baggie and stick it in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator. It won’t take long for it to drop below 38° F. Then you can hook it up and make sure your bulb comes on and then turns off. All of this can be accomplished at room temperature.
Test of EH-38 control element just after it was removed from the freezer compartment
I prefer to mount my roost boxes on portable concrete pedestals so they can be placed near enough to a window to be easily observed.
Thermostatically controlled heated bluebird winter roost box (operational)
All the material needed to make a heated bluebird winter roost box can be purchased from building supply stores such as Lowes and Home Depot.
A heated bluebird winter roost box can help your bluebirds survive during winter. All it takes is a few hours of bitter cold for them to perish due to hypothermia.
Eastern Bluebird investigating nest box
In cold weather, bluebirds often huddle (roost) together in a nest box using their collective body heat to help them survive. Unfortunately, the thermal characteristics of a well designed nest box makes it poorly suited for winter roosting purposes. A well designed bluebird nest box will have ventilation ports. These ventilation ports help protect bluebirds by allowing heat to escape during the nesting season. As you would expect, these ports also allow the heat generated by roosting bluebirds to escape. To compound matters, wood is a very poor insulator.
We install insulation in the walls and ceilings of our homes to prevent heat loss in the winter and retain the cooling provided by air conditioners in the summer. Insulation can also be added to a wild song bird roost box. The insulation will significantly improve the thermal characteristics of the roost box.
If you decide to build a bluebird winter roost box, don’t add perching rods or ledges. Bluebirds huddle in a pile and take turns rotating positions so they don’t smother but still maintain an acceptable body temperature. Other species of wild song birds like to perch individually and will require perching places.
Insulated Bluebird Winter Roost Box (front view)
Insulated Bluebird Winter Roost Box (inside view)
Building a bluebird winter roost box is a fairly simple task. The outer shell of the roost box shown above is made of 1 X 8. The roof is made of 1 X 10 covered by a piece of Hardie soffit. Notice the entrance hole is set quite low compared to that of a standard nest box. Since heat tends to rise in an enclosed space, the lower entrance hole in the roost box helps to minimize heat loss. The insulated space is made of foam insulation sandwiched between the outer shell and layers of thin plywood. When the door is closed, the roosting area is completely enclosed in insulation.
I put a layer of white pine wood shavings on the floors of my roost boxes. Don’t worry if you put in too many shavings, the birds will eject them until they get the depth they want.
I use a 1 1/4” galvanized joist hanger nail as a side locking pin to secure the door. If you look closely, you can see the head of the nail protruding from the right side in the top photo.
A well constructed winter roost box can help your bluebirds survive during cold spells.