How Do Birds Weather an Ice Storm?



Did you ever wonder seeing them in this weather? It all depends on the species of bird in how they find protection. I watch wild birds, and having a cockatoo, I do pretty well guessing their moods and possible actions.

Cavity nesting birds, such as chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers, seek out nesting sites in old trees or might even utilize bird houses to find protection during a storm. They may use cavities in your building structures getting additional warmth from the heat the building emits.

I already did a post last year entitled How Do Birds Keep Warm in Winter, but never talked about ice which has its own set of difficulties.


Japanese Maple

Birds such as cardinals and other roosting birds may retreat to dense evergreens where protected from the elements for the duration of a storm.

Birds normally solitary in breeding season, come winter, you find them in huge roosts and feeding flocks on occasion. Different bird species gather around reliable food sources, allowing birds to use less energy searching for predators and more energy feeding. It works that way with shelter too. Birds stay around the reliable food and spend the night in a mixed flock in the shelter plants. If missing the plants providing safety and shelter, you will likely see far less birds than hoped.


Snow Storm

Many species of birds retreat to my juniper, and do you know why birds like juniper? It is like a bed and breakfast for them with little cones or berries, but more importantly, the feral cats don’t climb such a scratchy, dense plant.

And what about cold feet? Well birds have scales covering the feet and legs which is protective and it keeps them insulated. With a unique circulatory system, there is also no problem gripping an icy branch.


Spartan Juniper

Birds also head to heavily branched deciduous shrubs, thickets being most popular. My yard is bird-busy, the Viburnum, Trumpet Vine and lilacs are popular places for bird safety.


Miss Kim Lilac

Many conifers are on my property and walking outside as the sun sets, one can hear the chatter and branches shake as the birds try find room to settle in.

The evergreen juniper, two large Alberta Spruce, multitude of arborvitae, and Taxus protect the roosting birds from wind, rain, ice and snow. Even the small boxwood helps ground feeders. Perennials if left standing are helpful, but cats may hide in them awaiting feeding birds.


Boxwood and Rose


Red Spire Pear

Chickadees find cavities and like the woodpeckers, live in the old Mulberry and Black Walnut behind the garage. Those are two trees like five-star hotels. You should see the bird hanky panky shaking those limbs in Spring.

Two doors down, the huge spruce in a neighbor’s yard houses many of the sparrows. It is a favorite hangout for hawks also.



Bird feathers will fluff up when they hunker down to maintain heat.  Above, that is one chilly wet cardinal in the lilac below, puffed up like a balloon in my garden.


Lilac, Alberta Spruce and Trumpet Vine

Watching the birds is entertaining, and some are a bit clumsy dealing with slippery, iced surfaces. A lot of fancy footwork got this dove finally on the perch.


A problem for some birds like robins, is fruit and berries get encapsulated in ice. I saw the Blue Jays unsuccessfully trying to eat iced pears in my garden.



The yard was filled with cardinals during this storm.

More cardinals show up the worse the storm. For a tiny city yard, 6 pairs visited at one time. Actually, this is normal where you will see more birds coming into your garden for sanctuary and warmth from the harsher conditions they might find in the surrounding countryside. The garden may get unusual species at the feeder as well for this reason.


The sparrows lined up on the fence when not retreating to the Juniper. I think they sit there plotting.


I love seeing the cardinals though, even if just waiting for the sparrows to leave.


This sparrow is the lookout. What an important job he must have.


How do you weather a storm? Next, Hand Feeding Wild Birds. An approaching storm makes them more trusting.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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53 Responses to How Do Birds Weather an Ice Storm?

  1. Nick Hunter says:

    Good follow-up on this event; the avian perspective is a nice touch. The closest ice is about 2 hours north of me, so I must enjoy it vicariously through your photos!

  2. I love the cardinals in the lilac bushes covered with ice. Gorgeous photos and interesting information. Thanks Donna.

  3. As the snows fell again here all day I had easily 100 at the feeders, in the bushes as well as on the ground I would shovel then scatter then shovel again and scatter more. Having bred parakeets and owned an African Gray I do love birds no matter what kind well except for bullies 🙂

  4. Victor Ho says:

    Ah!!! The things you knew but didn’t know you knew. Great explanation. It almost makes me wish I were watching the bird feeder in NY. Julia says she got shots at the feeder this weekend. Me, I’m in warm weather and swimming with fishies, so it’s not too much suffering.

  5. Brrrrr! Viewing those images from my vantage point at the equator reminds me to be grateful that I’m not having to deal with ice and snow! \ice is so beautiful yet can be so very unforgiving!
    The bird images are lovely! Thanks for sharing! lisa/z

  6. During our icemageddon, we have lots and lots of birds coming to our feeders. Many of them were cardinals. Now that things have thawed out they must be foraging again for food. I don’t see nearly as many or as often as then. The house next to me has a huge stand of bamboo behind in the alley, and that’s where a lot of my birds nest and stay warm. But too have other places in the yard where they stay and roost. I love my birds and I loved your photos of your birds. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

    • Even after the snow melts, the feeders still go empty. I almost wish the birds found their own food more often. Yesterday they went through a large bag of bird food. Bamboo would make a dense shelter for birds, but I am glad none is near me though. Too aggressive.

      • Oh, I know. We spend a fortune on birdfood, but I really do enjoy my birds so we just keep on buying it. The bamboo does make a dense cover but like you I hate it!!!! The people we bought our house from in the 1970’s had planted some in the utility right of way alley behind our house. It seems the neighbors behind them did not keep a very nice yard. At first I liked it because it’s evergreen and looks so pretty when it sways in the wind. But then I realized how invasive it was and that nothing else would grow anywhere near it so it had to go. The stuff is almost impossible to get rid of but over a 20 year period, I managed to killed it out, and I kept telling my neighbors to stop the spread of it to their yards. But they didn’t listen and so it has become a nightmare for others too. We have to continually fight it back again every spring. It should never be sold without people knowing exactly what they are getting themselves in for. My neighbor would like to get rid of it, but so far that hasn’t happened. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

  7. janechese says:

    Very interesting and some wonderful photos of the ice. You are such a good observer and I enjoy what you are seeing. I like how the berries look under ice but makes me want to put out berries for the birds.The chickadees hide out under the branches of the spruce trees and will burrow underground ,but with the ice storms, not so sure.There’s a hare behind my building under the juniper bushes and I fed it some lettuce. I know the feeders get emptied almost every other day when the thermometer drops. People wise, I have relatives in the east (southern Ontario) and most have their power back but did without for a couple of days – there are thousands more who have no power and might not have any ’til January- tough going when it is going down to -20.Here the weather is wacky with rain , snow, freeze, melt, dump. My parking lot is a mess.But I had a great Christmas with friends.Hope you did too.

    • Some of the photos did turn out well, the one cardinal especially. Photographing in ice can be a challenge for exposure and I tried quite a few variations. It is really cold outside for one challenge, slippery for another. I used the tripod for sharpness on some images because that is what makes the ice interesting – all the cracks and fissures. I did read on the outage. Lucky is was not here.

  8. babka113 says:

    замёрз бедненький!Я думала,что это дятел.У дятла шапочка красная.А как называется эта птичка?

  9. There are few who feed the birds in the winter , in the city. Many people do not realize that there are birds out there-even if you don’t see them. I feed the birds more in the winter than I do in summer. All summer long other people come out to see the beautiful birds and they feed them. So, call me a “winter feeder” for now.

  10. Annette says:

    Very interesting notes and as always I love your pics! Looking at your icy world makes me realize that this is the weather you need to make them all come and join the feeder. Here they still find so much, too mild I guess.

  11. Emily Heath says:

    Poor birds. I’m glad they have your garden to shelter in. Amazing photos as always.

  12. Lovely photos of birds and ice. Hope your Christmas was fun.

  13. Fossillady says:

    Beautiful photos Donna . . . I often wonder and worry how the birds stay warm in the winter and make sure to keep my feeders supplied! Wishing you all the best this holiday season! ♥

    • Thank you for the wishes. I hope you have a healthy, happy New Year. If it goes down to 0°F and they don’t find shelter, they can perish in these cold temps. I just read that somewhere and it surprised me.

  14. What a great post. I have a big old Japanese yew which I think is very ugly but I don’t take it down because it is so popular with birds in winter. They also like the Deutzia and the thicket of wild currant. I dislike junipers but you are right it is a great tree for birds. Sorry to say I took down ours but the neighbors still have one.

    • I myself am not really fond of Juniper for the scratchy reason mostly, but the birds make a mess of it each winter from use also. Nesting birds make big holes in it to access their nests. Squirrels use it as a highway from the fence to the garden. The hawks fly into it for food. I originally had three of them, but dug up two to give away.

  15. I swear, I do not know how you make the captures you do, but I am in awe. Magnificent! Wishing you an amazing 2014, Margie

  16. Gosh, I learned a lot from this post! Some of it rings true in my experience, too, but you know more of the “why” behind their behavior. Thanks for sharing. I chuckled several times while reading, too (the chickadees in the springtime). All the photos are fantastic, but I absolutely adore the shot of the black-capped chickadee in the Pear tree! I think they are my favorite little birds, because they’re with us year-round and they have such a cheerful summer song. One of your best posts, Donna!

    • Next post, the Chickadees are being hand fed. They are such brave little birds. Chickadees sing in winter too. I am not sure what they are saying, but they can be a noisy bunch. Their chatter is what brings in all the other birds since they always seem to know when food is about. Do you find them harder to photograph? I do. Having a black head, it is difficult to get eye detail. The other thing is they are really quick, flitting about constantly. I have another post on why the are always on the move. They have a reason for being so busy. I bet you can guess it.

  17. We love feeding the birds, squirls and chipmunks in the Pacific Northwest, Washington.

  18. igardendaily says:

    Oh my, I don’t know if I’ve every seen so many intriguing photos in one post. I just love looking at them. Are these photos from a recent storm or several different ones? You have SO many birds it is unbelievable to me. I LOVE it!

  19. Julie says:

    We do not have ice storms here, so its very interesting to see the after effects on the trees you have so beautifully photographed. Amazing too that the birds adapt to survive such harsh conditions.

  20. Sonja says:

    Another informative post with your exceptional photos as a bonus. Does it take you hours and hours to get those shots? With your skill maybe not, but I so enjoy seeing them. In So Cal we don’t have to worry about our birdies and ice etc. but when I lived in the Midwest , I used to concern myself. It is a wonderous thing how various bits and pieces work together so we all can adapt and survive in hard times and conditions .

    • When in the backyard or through the window to the backyard, it really is a quick shoot. My better photos are when I am at the Falls and have to take my time. The ice, being in my backyard, was snap, snap. snap. I went outside for some of the images, but it was really cold out there. S.CA would be nice at this time of year. I was in San Fran this year and they had record heat during my trip. Boy did I plan wrong on that trip.

  21. franzisofie says:

    Really great!!

  22. I always wondered how birds kept their feet warm. Scales! Very cool.

  23. A.M.B. says:

    Beautiful photographs! It’s been a long time since we’ve had an ice storm my our area, but I suspect it will happen this year. When it does, I’ll be watching the birds!

  24. gageier says:

    Hallo es sind wunderschöne Fotos super fotografiert ein schönes neue Jahr wünscht dir Klaus

  25. This post was a comfort because I worried about “my” birds during the “Arctic Vortex.” About half of our lot is a wooded ravine ( ), and it’s fun watching the cardinals, titmice, sparrows, chickadees, woodpeckers, etc., swoop to and from our feeder (mounted high on a porch wall) and the trees.

  26. Beautiful Donna. We did not get the ice that you did. But we were quite frigid for a while and the birds seem to do great as they are back at the suet feeder and hanging about finding berries and seeds.

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