For the Birds: Hummers need winter nectar

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Feeder under eave with trouble light keeping it
 and the area warm Photo by Craig Kerns
By Christine Southwick

When the winter cold temperatures start making the hummingbird feeders freeze up, it is time for extra attention. 

Because of their high metabolism hummingbirds always have a thin margin between adequate nutrition and starvation, especially when insects are scarce.

“Anna's hummingbirds eat more insects than any other North American hummingbird, and this may help them in bad weather. 
"It is thought that Anna's hummingbirds are able to spend the winter so far north because they eat more insects and spiders than most hummingbirds.” 

As long as there are no cats, putting a feeder
under shelter can keep nectar warmer.
Photo by Elaine Chuang
Anna’s are able to eat spiders and bugs wedged in crevices to supplement their instant nectar shots. These little smarties know where to look, but ice makes it hard to get to them.

To help conserve their energy, Anna’s Hummingbirds are able to down-shift their metabolism by entering “torpor” where heart rate and body temperature are reduced to a bare minimum of about 40 beats per minute (down from 400) and body temp about 48F (down from 107F).

Many other hummingbird species do this, like the ones in the Andes.

When temperatures get below 30 degrees people with hummingbird feeders need to keep them from freezing. 

One way is to bring them in at night, but Anna’s feed very early in the morning, often before sunrise, because our long northern nights make it too long to wait any longer, so you need to put them out early, early. 

Rotating a couple of feeders throughout the day works but requires diligence.

Anna's Hummer on covered
heated feeder. Photo by Mary
Another way to keep the feeders from freezing is to put the feeder under an eave and shine an incandescent light near it to keep the feeder area warm, or one can buy a hummingbird feeder heater.

Adding a baffle over a feeder will keep the snow and ice off the feeder ports, protect the hummers, and keep the feeder a little warmer during the cold. 

Hand warmers and incandescent Christmas light work marginally, but not down into the teens.

It is important to clean your feeders about once a week during cold weather.

Keep the nectar solution at four-parts water to one-part cane sugar. Don’t believe the myth that the ratio should be changed in cold weather.

These little bundles of energy bring us delight as we watch them zipping around. Help keep them alive by keeping their nectar liquid during cold spells.


Anonymous,  May 27, 2023 at 4:19 PM  

Nice post thank you Lauren

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