If you love bird watching, chances are that you love watching hummingbirds.
But even if you love watching hummingbirds, chances are that you don’t make preparations to feed them during freezing weather.
During winter, the cold weather can cause the nectar in hummingbird feeders to freeze. Since hummingbirds can not consume frozen nectar, this can make it difficult for these birds to get enough energy and survive.
If you love hummingbirds visiting your backyard and want to help them survive the winter, it is important to learn how to keep hummingbird feeders from freezing.
Effects of Freezing on Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds have a high rate of metabolism. To sustain themselves, they need to consume large amounts of nectar.
In cold weather, finding enough food can be a challenge, and a frozen feeder can be a death sentence for these tiny birds.
If the nectar freezes, hummingbirds may go hungry and become weak, making them more vulnerable to predators and other dangers.
In addition, when hummingbirds are forced to expend extra energy to find food, they may not have enough energy left to migrate or reproduce.
This can have a negative impact on the overall population of these beautiful birds.
Also read: Where Do Hummingbirds Go in Winter?
How to Keep Hummingbird Feeders from Freezing
Now, let’s look a how to keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing.
Make the Nectar Sweeter
The easiest way to keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing in the winter is to change the recipe you use to make the nectar.
Adding sugar lowers the freezing point of the nectar.
If you make nectar from one part of the sugar in five parts of water, it will freeze at about 31° F ( -1° C).
If you make nectar from one part of the sugar in four parts of water, it will freeze at about 27° F (-3° C).
But if you make your nectar from one part of the water in just three parts of water, it will freeze at about 22° F (-5° C).
To keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing, add more sugar!
Just stop adding sugar when you reach a sugar-to-water ratio of 1 to 3. Adding still more sugar will make the nectar so syrupy that hummingbirds have trouble drinking it.
Ordinary white cane sugar works well in hummingbird feeders. Don’t use brown sugar or honey.
They don’t dissolve as well, and they provide substrates for the growth of bacteria that white sugar does not. This is also true of fruit juices.
Never add any kind of “antifreeze,” such as alcohol in any form, to hummingbird nectar.
Also, avoid adding red dye to hummingbird nectar. Hummingbirds will find your feeder without it (the red color of the feeder itself is enough), and there is no solid scientific evidence that it is safe.
Move Your Hummingbird to a Protected Place
Another easy way to keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing is to move it to a protected place.
Keep it out of chilly winds. Place it next to a wall that retains heat, or hang a window feeder.
If you choose to use a window feeder, keep this general principle in mind:
The heat that leaks from your house keeps hummingbirds warm.
That’s why it is better to hang a hummingbird feeder in front of a single-pane window than it is to hang it in front of a double- or triple-pane window.
A little less insulation releases a little more heat to backyard birds.
Bring the Feeder Indoors at Night
Keeping your hummingbird feeder indoors overnight in a heated space (your garage may not be the best place for this) will keep it from freezing.
Then just hang the feeder again early the next morning.
Hummingbirds spending the winter in locations that get cold weather usually find safe places to roost at night.
They instinctively lower their pulse and breathing rate. Otherwise, they would starve before morning. ‘
When hummingbirds wake up the next morning, they are desperate for food.
Your feeder will be a welcome sight, and you can be sure that you will have many opportunities for viewing during the day—because the flowers on which hummingbirds ordinarily feed will be in short supply.
Some birdwatching enthusiasts in southern California maintain feeders for Anna’s hummingbirds 24/7/365.
They light the feeding stations so hummingbirds can find them at night. Ornithologists (scientists who study birds) have observed as many as seven hummingbirds at a single feeder at the same time at night during winter.
Even in winter, however, hummingbirds will be most active in the early morning, when they need to replenish their energy supplies with a sugary breakfast, and around sundown, when they are storing all the energy they can to survive the night.
Put the feeder up as early in the morning as possible and wait until it is getting dark to take it down and take it indoors.
Insulate Your Feeder with Bubble Wrap
Wrapping the glass or plastic cylinder of your hummingbird feeder in bubble wrap will keep it warmer in cold weather.
The bubbles trap heat and release it slowly into the cylinder containing the nectar you feed your hummingbirds.
Wrapping your hummingbird feeder in flat clear plastic, or flat black plastic, won’t help. Single layers of plastic conduct heat away from the feeder in cold air.
Be sure to leave the feeding ports unwrapped!
Hang Incandescent Holiday Lights Around Your Feeder
Old-fashioned Christmas tree lights are another way to keep your hummingbird feeder warm during the winter. (Don’t use LED lights.)
These energy-inefficient lights release just enough heat to keep hummingbird nectar from freezing.
They also make the feeder easier for hummingbirds to find, especially if you use red lights.
Be sure that there are no strings, cords, or tape hanging off the lights that could trap a bird.
Make sure you place the feeder where the lights won’t get shorted out by rain or melting snow.
Place a Snow Baffle on Your Hummingbird Feeder
Backyard bird enthusiasts in Oregon and Washington State feeding Anna’s hummingbirds often use a snow baffle to protect their feeders.
It gives hummingbirds a chance to rest while they drink, and a dark-colored baffle collects heat to keep the feeder warm.
Also read: How Do Hummingbirds Survive the Winter?
Three Important Rules for Feeding Hummingbirds During the Winter
Here are three things to remember about feeding hummingbirds in your backyard over the winter:
- Hummingbird feeders need weekly cleaning during the winter, too. Molds and bacteria can accumulate in your hummingbird feeder even during cold weather.
- Don’t be surprised if other winter visitors share your hummingbird feeder. Finchers, thrashers, orioles, titmice, warblers, woodpeckers, grackles, and flickers will all visit a hummingbird feeder for extra energy during cold weather.
- Put off pruning shrubs and trees near your feeder until spring, so hummingbirds will have a place to rest and shelter from predators.
Also read: How to Keep Ants Out of Hummingbird Feeder
Hummingbirds Need Extra Food During the Winter
Hummingbirds don’t adapt to cold weather very easily.
Hummingbirds are the world’s smallest birds. Some hummingbirds are smaller than a bee.
As tiny birds, hummingbirds have a relatively larded body surface to a very small body mass. Their bodies simply don’t retain heat very well.
And, just being hummingbirds, they need a lot of energy to power through their day—a whopping 5k to 7k calories every day.
That doesn’t sound like much until you consider their size. A 250-pound (110 kg) human with an equally fast metabolism would need 238,000 calories a day.
Also read: What Do Hummingbirds Eat?
Why do hummingbirds need so much energy?
A hummingbird beats its wings 62 times a second. That’s 232,000 times an hour, or 2,784,000 times in a 12-hour day.
A hummingbird’s heart beats up to 1,260 times a minute. It maintains a blood glucose of up to 44 mM (850 mg/dl), or seven times higher than would be considered diabetic in a human.
Even though hummingbirds can slow down their metabolisms in cold weather and at night, they need to feed all the time, even during the winter. They also need protection from the cold.
That’s a lot of information about which hummingbirds need supplemental feeding for the winter and why they need it.
Hummingbirds That Don’t Fly to Warmer Climates in Winter
Most hummingbirds, of course, fly to warmer climates for the winter. But there are a few exceptions.
If you live in California, coastal Oregon or Washington State, Vancouver, or Victoria Island, you probably see Anna’s hummingbirds regularly.
They are green and gray. The male has iridescent feathers that look purple in bright sunlight.
Anna’s hummingbird does not migrate. It finds flowers that bloom all year or a dependable hummingbird feeder and braves the winter cold.
This hummingbird deals with cold temperatures by drastically slowing down its metabolism.
On unusually cold days, however, it will starve in just a few hours if it does not have easy access to food.
This writer has seen Anna’s hummingbirds in Texas in the winter and in North Carolina in the summer.
These hummingbirds are spreading throughout the southern half of the United States, and they need your help.
Many bird watchers will tell you that rufous hummingbirds are really pushy for their size.
The hummingbirds will shoo other birds away from their favorite flowers and hummingbird feeders.
You won’t have any trouble recognizing rufous hummingbirds. Males have glowing bright orange feathers on their backs and iridescent red throat feathers that glow in the sun.
Females are green on top, have shades of red on their sides, and have an orange dot on the throat.
Sometimes, rufous hummingbirds “forget” to fly south for the winter.
Cold weather can come so early that they don’t have a chance to build up the fat reserves they need to fly across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop, so they shelter in place.
Some hummingbirds are hatched in late summer, so they are not ready to join their parents on their migration. These birds will depend on your feeder to get through the winter.
If you live anywhere in the eastern half of the continental United States, anywhere in southern Canada east of the Rockies, or Cuba or Mexico, the ruby-throated hummingbird is likely to be your backyard favorite.
These hummingbirds raise their young in North America, so you may have seen little ruby-throated hummingbirds flying around about six weeks after the adults make their first appearance in spring.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are a flash of green and red. They dart around the backyard flower beds so fast they can be hard to see.
Like rufous hummingbirds, ruby-throated hummingbirds sometimes “forget” to fly south for the winter. They will not survive without human assistance.
Frequently Asked Questions About Winter Feeding for Hummingbirds
Q. What kind of feeder is best for feeding hummingbirds in the winter?
A. Try a Hummers Heated Delight, available from Hummingbird Market. It keeps hummingbird nectar and hummingbirds warm at temperatures as low as 1° F (-17° C) in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Since this feeder has to be plugged in, it should not be left out in the weather. Place it in a sheltered location.
Another possibility is a window feeder. You can add heat by stringing an incandescent light bulb next to the heater, leaving it on all the time.
If neither of these possibilities works for you, you can always take the feeder inside at night, putting it out again as soon as possible in the morning.
Q. if my backyard hummingbirds don’t fly south for the winter, is it my fault?
A. No! Hummingbirds respond to their own internal clock for choosing when to fly south for the winter.
Whether the feeder is full or empty, they will begin their migration. You actually help them build up energy for the long trip south by keeping their feeder full in the fall.
Q. Can I feed hummingbirds anything other than sugar water?
A. Hummingbirds love mites and spiders. If you have a houseplant with spider mites, don’t spray it.
Put it out by the hummingbird feeder (but don’t spray if you do).
Hummingbirds also eat pollen (available from health food stores), fruit juice, and mealworms. You can place these on a platform feeder out of reach of cats.
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