Feeding Hummingbirds in Winter – Everything you need to know

feeding-hummingbirds-in-winter

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Depending on where you live, hummingbirds may stick around or even migrate to your yard during the winter months. It’s been documented that many of them return to the same feeding grounds each and every winter.

A lot of hummingbirds are on the move during the winter, but don’t worry about that! A little birdie told us that they stick around if it’s warm enough and there’s still plenty of food available. What you need is some nectar feeders, tubular flowers, and warm habitats for your hummers. With some simple additions to your yard or garden, you can have plenty of hummingbirds around all year round.

The Dangers of Cold Weather

Hummingbirds have a powerful metabolic system, and a quick-freezing snap can be deadly to them. They require reliable nectar sources to recharge the energy their bodies lose trying to keep warm. When temperatures drop low enough to freeze the nectar in flowers and hummingbird feeders, they can’t access the food that is vital to their survival. This is why the hummingbirds in many regions migrate south for winter.

What is the best way to keep hummingbird nectar from freezing?

It can be difficult for hummingbirds to make it through the winter in colder regions, but by following these tips, you can keep their food warm for them even in the coldest temperatures.

Heat With an Infra-Red Light

If you’re looking for a way to keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing over during winter, you can try using an infra-red light bulb of around 125 watts. Be sure to get a white light bulb and not the red ones. Avoid using LED bulbs, as they will not be able to heat the nectar enough to keep it from freezing. You can use a clamp-on-light fixture to hold it. Make sure it’s 1 to 2 feet from the feeder, and check the nectar’s temperature regularly to determine whether the lamp is too close. You’ll need to protect any cords or outlets from moisture so they don’t short circuit.

Christmas Lights Can be Used to Warm Up the Feeder

You can warm up your hummingbird feeder by wrapping it in Christmas lights. Be careful not to use too many lights, or the nectar will get too warm. You can attract more hummingbirds to your yard by using red or pink lights. You’ll need to check the lights carefully for damage and avoid using any frayed strands. You may not want to use this method for plastic feeders, as the warmth of the lights may melt the plastic. It’s a great method for glass feeders, though.

Find a Location That Is Protected from the Cold

You can protect your nectar from freezing by keeping it away from the wind and keeping it covered so that it doesn’t collect snow or ice. If you have a covered porch or a corner that protects from the wind, this will help your hummingbird feeder stay warm.

Keep Your Hummingbird Feeder Insulated

You can wrap the nectar reservoir of your feeder with bubble wrap, fabric, or hand warmers to insulate it from the cold. Don’t block any of the feeding access points, but try to cover the rest of the bottle as much as possible.

Keep Snow Out with a Snow Baffle

You can keep ice and snow out of the feeder’s ports using a baffle. This will also help keep the nectar inside from freezing. You should choose a dark-colored baffle to attract heat, and be sure it is wide enough for the birds to perch underneath it while they are resting or waiting to feed.

Make Safety a Priority

Attaching lights, lamps, and tapes to your backyard equipment can be dangerous if you don’t use proper precautions. You should only use products that are designed to be used outdoors, especially where electricity is involved.

How do you get hummingbird food in the winter?

The classic recipe for hummingbird nectar is still the best food for them during the winter months.

Add sugar to boiling water in a 1:4 ratio. Once it cools, place feeders with the nectar in your yard where the hummingbirds can find them. You’ll want to take some extra steps during winter to keep the hummingbird feeders warm.

Keep the mix at the 1:4 ratio and do not adjust it just to keep the nectar from freezing. There are better ways to do this that do not require changing the hummingbirds’ diet.

Be sure you only use white sugar. Do not use any other sugars, syrups, or honey as they do not provide the pure sucrose that hummingbirds need to stay healthy.

Hummingbird Feeding FAQs

When should I take down my hummingbird feeder for winter?

As long as there are hummingbirds in your yard, you should leave your feeders out. In fact, leaving the feeder out after you no longer see hummingbirds can provide a much-needed stop for late stragglers who continue to hang around later into the winter months. Just remember to discard any unused nectar when you clean your feeder, even if it looks untouched.

When should I put my hummingbird feeder back out?

If you live in one of the areas of North America where hummingbirds leave for winter, you should put your feeder back out around one week before you expect them to return. When this occurs can vary depending on your location. You can check with your local bird club or Audobon chapter if you aren’t sure when this is. 

Is it harmful to leave my feeder out too late?

No, your hummingbirds will know when it’s time to leave. They are a migratory species, and the days getting shorter is enough to signal that it’s time to go. There are also many areas of the United States where hummingbirds remain year-round.

There has been some evidence that hummingbirds choose not to migrate when environmental conditions change. If there is plenty of food and the weather is no longer getting too cold, they may decide to stick around. But don’t worry, they’re smart enough to figure this out for themselves.

How often should I change and clean my hummingbird feeder?

In the winter months, you should change and clean your hummingbird feeder once a week. In the summer, you should clean your feeder twice as often. If your hummingbirds empty the feeder more frequently, you should clean it before refilling.

You can clean your feeder with a weak solution of vinegar or just use hot water. Don’t use any sort of soap, which can leave residue in the container that is harmful to hummingbirds.

Your Hummingbirds Will Thank You

Keep an eye out for hummingbirds in your yard this winter, especially if you live in a region that remains fairly warm year-round. If you keep your hummingbird feeders clean and full throughout the summer and fall, you are much more likely to attract hummingbirds during the winter, as well. These little birds will be thankful to have the extra food source this winter while many flowers are out of season.

To learn more about the many varieties of hummingbirds in North America and how to properly care for them, visit our full guide on how to attract hummingbirds.

About author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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