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Wildlife Care Center staff provide advice about hummingbirds in cold weather

Dec. 9, 2013: Since the cold temperatures have hit Oregon, the Wildlife Care Center has been receiving a number of phone calls about wintering birds. The majority of these inquires have been about hummingbirds. While it is true that most species of hummingbird migrate out of Oregon for the winter, there is one species that stays in the state all year round: the Anna’s Hummingbird. Learn about how these little birds' energy-saving behaviors, and get tips for keeping hummingbird feeders defrosted.

Wildlife Care Center staff provide advice about hummingbirds in cold weather

Anna's Hummingbird - Jim Cruce

Update February 2014: The following advice also applies to Rufous Hummingbirds, which start returning to Oregon in February.

Dec. 9, 2013: Since the cold temperatures have hit Oregon, the Wildlife Care Center has received a number of phone calls about wintering birds. The majority of these inquires have been about hummingbirds. While it is true that most species of hummingbird migrate out of Oregon for the winter, there is one that lives here all year: the Anna’s Hummingbird.

This little hummingbird weighs only about 4-5 grams and frequents feeders in the area. Since local Anna’s Hummingbirds do not migrate, it can be helpful to keep your feeders up in the winter (it is a myth that keeping feeders up will encourage birds to not migrate).

Anna’s Hummingbirds have special energy-saving behaviors for the cold. People often see them sitting still on feeders or looking like they are “frozen” – these birds are in torpor, which is like mini-hibernation. Hummingbirds will usually do this nightly, but will also do it during the day to conserve energy if it is cold. If you find a hummingbird in torpor, don’t disturb it – it’s doing exactly what it needs to do to survive the cold.

Since hummingbirds need so much energy to stay warm, it’s a good idea for people who feed hummingbirds during the year to keep feeding them in winter. That gets complicated when temperatures plummet – it can be difficult to keep feeders defrosted in freezing temperatures. We don’t recommend feeding a higher ratio of sugar to water, as this will dehydrate the birds. We normally suggest that people stay with the 4:1 ratio, four parts water to one part white sugar (don’t use brown sugar, raw sugar or molasses). Here are some tips to keep your feeders from freezing:

  • Wrap Christmas lights (non-LED) around the feeder, which will keep the nectar warm enough to prevent freezing.
  • Tape handwarmers to the base of the feeder.
  • Bring the feeder in at night (hummers don’t feed overnight) and put it back out first thing in the morning (this is an important feeding time for the birds). 
  • Buy a feeder heater. There are a number of heaters you can buy that clip to the underside of the feeder to keep it warm. We sell the Farm Innovator Bird Bath De-icer in our Nature Store for $24 (please call the store at 503-292-9453 to check on availability).

One last tip: Watch for aggression! Hummingbirds don’t like to share and will often chase away intruders, even ones they may have shared a feeder with previously. If you notice aggression, you can put up another feeder away from the first.

By Lacy Campbell, Wildlife Care Center operations manager

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