Help Hummingbirds Survive the Cold

Anna's hummingbird
Baby, it’s cold out there!

I haven’t seen many birds around the past couple of cold, extremely windy days, except for a few brave crows and the Anna’s hummingbirds I feed with sugar nectar (not as nutritious as real flower nectar, but it gets them through these frigid days and nights). The songbirds are likely OK and are just conserving their energy to try to keep warm.

Although hummingbirds are able to go into a state of torpor when it gets really cold, lowering their body temperature and metabolic rate so that it takes less energy to keep warm, they are still vulnerable to the elements. Providing nectar could make the difference between life and death for these adorable flying jewels.

TIP: Remember to take your hummingbird feeders in after nightfall and then put them back outside in the morning at first light to make sure they wake up to a liquid breakfast, not a frozen mass of crystals. When daytime temperatures get below freezing the hummers will also appreciate it if you take their feeder in occasionally during the day, too, when possible, to thaw it out. If you have an extra feeder, rotate them so there’s always some nectar available.

TIP: Use a ratio of 1 part granulated sugar to 4 parts water (do not increase the sugar content—doing so could cause birds to dehydrate, possibly leading to death). Always keep feeders clean (but never use bleach) and change nectar every 4-5 days, more often when the weather warms or if the feeder is in direct sunlight.

TIP: Choose feeders that are easy to clean, without nooks and crannies that can harbor pathogens. My favorite: HummZinger feeders.

TIP: If there’s a porch light near your hummer feeder, turn it on temporarily as the light wanes in the afternoon—it could give the birds a little extra time to feed before they retire for the night. But then turn it off to cut down on light pollution.

TIP: After the weather warms, take away the feeder and supply nutritious flowering native plants instead. In the Pacific Northwest, consider cascara trees, red-flowering currant, Oregon grape, and huckleberry shrubs, native honeysuckle vines, and perennials like western columbine, penstemon, and goldenrod.

© 2014 Eileen M. Stark

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3 thoughts on Help Hummingbirds Survive the Cold

      1. They are very entertaining. We had a ltltie guy that would land on a top (bare) branch on the peach tree outside my bedroom window, it always brought a smile to see him there. The branch is gone since the tree was pruned back, and now I only occasionally see one sipping at the yellow hibiscus .;-}pokey

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