Baby, it’s cold out there!
Lesser goldfinches, chickadees, flickers, juncos and song sparrows frequent my feeders and let’s not forget the Anna’s hummingbirds I feed with sugar nectar. Of course it’s not nearly as nutritious as real flower nectar, but it gets them through these frigid days and nights. Eating a lot of food is absolutely essential to get them through icy cold weather, so try my plant-based suet recipe for other birds).
Although adult 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, and young are even more so. 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. Feeders hung next to houses tend to stay a bit warmer than those out in the open.
TIP: Use a ratio of 1 part granulated sugar to 4 parts water (do not decrease the water content more than to 3 parts—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. And remember that Anna’s hummingbirds eat a lot of insects and must feed them to their young.
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